Statistics Canada calls the census "the country's storyteller" but the accuracy of that story depends deeply on the quality of the questions being asked of Canadians.
For years, Humanists, atheists and other nonreligious Canadians have been concerned by the wording of the question that Statistics Canada includes in the census. Similar to the census in England and Wales, Statistics Canada asks "What is this person's religion?", which is problematic enough for the presumption of religious belief that it carries with it.
But Statistics Canada goes further and asks census takers to indicate a religion "even if this person is not currently a practising member of that group."
It's not all bad news. Statistics Canada recently announced some positive changes that have been made for Census 2021 to improve the diversity of example religions provided, particularly for non-Christian religions. Previously, the census included no denominations for several of the world's major religions, including Judaism and Islam, while there were dozens of Christian denominations and sub-denominations provided. This meant we could know in detail what percentage of Canadians were Melkite Catholics, but had no differentiation between the major branches of Islam.
The new linked list of denominations includes over 200 examples, including agnostic, atheist and Humanist as "secular perspectives."
Nevertheless, the census still asks individuals:
30. What is this person's religion?
Indicate a specific denomination or religion even if this person is not currently a practising member of that group.
For example, Roman Catholic, United Church, Anglican, Muslim, Baptist, Hindu, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, etc.
For additional examples of denominations and religions, visit www12.statcan.gc.ca/religion-e
- Specify one denomination or religion only.
- No religion
In the 2011 National Household Survey, which replaced the long form census that year, Statistics Canada reported that 44% of British Columbians identified as having "no religion." However, polls by the BC Humanist Association in 2013 and 2016 found a much higher result when British Columbians were directly asked if they practice a religion or faith: 64% and 69% of people said no, respectively.
This chronic under reporting of the size of the nonreligious constituency in the census can have knock on effects in social policies as, according to Statistics Canada, some provincial governments governments rely on the data in the survey to "assess the need and potential for separate religious schools."
Without accurate data, we cannot tell an accurate story about our province and our country.