The 2021 census will for the first time count transgender Canadians and include questions designed to get better data on Indigenous communities, linguistic minorities and ethnic groups.

According to federal officials, the new census questionnaires will address long-standing requests from groups who said the previous census questionnaire did not count everyone in their communities or that the numbers were imprecise.

In particular, the changes will affect the way Statistics Canada counts members of Indigenous communities, ethnic communities such as Jews, transgender Canadians and members of anglophone and francophone minorities. In the case of linguistic minorities, the new short-form and long-form census questionnaires are designed to improve their access to public schools, as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Globe and Mail is not identifying the federal officials because they were not authorized to speak about the matter before the new questionnaires are made public in the Canada Gazette on Friday afternoon.

While the 2016 census asked people to list their sex as male or female, the officials said the 2021 census will ask a question about the respondent’s sex at birth and another question about the person’s current gender, marking the first time the census has counted transgender Canadians.

It will also aim to provide more data on Indigenous groups, who will no longer be referred to in the document as Aboriginal. For example, the new questions will help identify the beneficiaries of Inuit land-claims agreements and determine the number of members of the Métis Nation.

Officials said the government will also address criticism from Jewish groups who said a change to the question about ethnic identity in the 2016 census left them drastically underrepresented. With the omission of “Jewish” as one of the listed examples of ethnic ancestry, the official count of Canada’s Jewish population fell from about 309,000 in 2011 to little more than 143,000 in 2016. As a result, the government will add a significant number of examples of ethnic origin to the 2021 census, which will once again include “Jewish” as a possible answer.

After coming to power in 2015, the Trudeau government made it mandatory for recipients of the long-form census to fill out the questionnaire, reversing a decision by the Harper government.

A new law adopted in 2017 gave Statistics Canada more independence, but the power to determine census questions remains in the hands of the government, with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains acting as the lead minister on the file.

Federal officials said cabinet recently approved changes to both the short-form census questionnaire, which goes to 80 per cent of households, and the more detailed long-form questionnaire, which goes to the remaining 20 per cent. Statistics Canada had set this month as the deadline for the final versions to be approved in order to be ready for next year’s census.

Both will include new questions about education history as part of an effort to determine precisely how many Canadian children are eligible to go to an English-language school in Quebec or a French-language school in the rest of the country.

The proponents of the census changes have argued that provinces and school boards currently lack the necessary data to plan the construction of new schools, leading to a shortage of spaces in many parts of the country. They say the new questions will help them obtain an exact count of Canadians known as “rights-holders,” who have the right to send their children to either French- or English-language public schools.

By making all Canadians answer questions about language skills and schooling history, Ottawa will be providing linguistic minorities with another victory on the education front. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that, even when their numbers are relatively small, linguistic minorities have a right to their own high-quality schools.

The Globe and Mail, July 19, 2020