The census is said to be the “narrator of the country”: a way of reading Canadian society in great detail. But you still have to ask the right questions … And the 2021 edition of the five-year exercise offers precisely one that will make it possible for the first time to count trans or non-binary people in the country.
It’s a very small question that has been added to the form that Canadians will be able to fill out as of May 3. But its impact is significant, believes Ariane Marchand-Labelle, executive director of the Quebec LGBT Council.
“That a gender identity issue is found in Statistics Canada data is a very good thing,” she says. The fact that there was nothing until now participated in a form of erasure, in the invisibility of non-binary people. “
These would account for just under 0.5% of the population, according to estimates. But to explain its decision to integrate a more pointed question like this one, Statistics Canada recalled last year that the content of the census “must be adapted to the social and economic climate” if it is to remain relevant – and adequately support the decision makers.
However, “in recent years, the public’s recognition and sensitivity to LGBTQ2 communities has increased considerably,” added the federal body.
The fact that there was nothing until now participated in a form of erasure, in the invisibility of non-binary people.
In Quebec, a law aimed at combating transphobia was notably adopted in 2016. Three months ago, the Superior Court also invalidated several articles of the Civil Code of Quebec deemed discriminatory against trans or non-binary people.
Sex and gender
To take the measure of things, Statistics Canada therefore opted for a two-step approach: modifying the traditional question on sex and adding one on gender.
We will first ask “what was the sex at birth” of the person concerned. Two answers will be possible: male or female. “Sex at birth is determined by a person’s biological characteristics,” says Statistics Canada in its documents.
Then, we will ask “what is the gender” of the person concerned. This is understood to mean “the current gender, which may differ from the sex assigned at birth or from that recorded in legal documents” – gender being a “multidimensional concept which includes psychological, social and behavioral aspects”.
To this question, it will obviously be possible to answer “male” or “female”. But another box will allow those who do not identify with these categories to “specify” their gender. “For us, at the grassroots level, in the recognition of rights, self-determination is the priority,” says Ariane Marchand-Labelle.
“With this approach, everyone can describe themselves, explained Wednesday to the Duty Stéphane Dufour, Assistant Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada. And we can know the diversity of the population ”with more precision than the census allowed until now. “There was a segment of the population that did not recognize themselves in the binary male / female approach” of the form, recognizes Mr. Dufour.
Ariane Marchand-Labelle underlines that, without precise data on trans or non-binary people, “decision-makers do not see” what characterizes their lives. “We know from studies that these are populations who have less access to health care, who are less employed, who live in a certain poverty, and so on. “.
Among the other new features of the 2021 census, we also note the addition of questions that will make it possible to count more precisely who has the right to instruction in the language of the minority as provided for by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is fundamental, according to the Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities (FCFA) of Canada. “For four decades, the census systematically undercounted people who have the right to education in French in minority communities under the Charter,” said Jean Johnson, president of the organization, on Wednesday. “As a result, French-language schools are too often built too small and crowded just a few years after their construction. “
That said, the 2021 census will also have the particularity of being carried out in the midst of a pandemic. But according to Statistics Canada, the health context should not interfere with the smooth running of operations.
With this approach, anyone can describe themselves. And we can know the diversity of the population.
This is because at least eight in ten households are expected to complete the forms online (the short form is sent to all households; one in four households also receive the long form). In 2016, nearly 88% of households had carried out the operation without an “enumerator” having to travel.
The questions contained in the census were determined before the pandemic, recalls Stéphane Dufour. “But the pandemic will change trends,” he said. In all matters relating to employment and travel, in particular, we will definitely see changes. “
Because, after all, the “narrator of the country” can hardly ignore the backstory of life in spring 2021 …