Chapter 5 Ethnocultural and religious characteristics
Based on the number of comments received, ethnocultural characteristics1 ranked second among all census topics with 232 entries. It was the census topic most frequently addressed by participants from nearly every sector (see “Summary table”).
Most of the 58 comments on ethnic origin focused on the census questionnaire examples.
Ethnic origin examples • Input obtained during consultation confirmed many participants agreed the ethnic origin examples should accurately reflect Canadian society. Sensitivity was noted regarding the use of ‘East Indian,' as ‘Indo-Canadian' was preferred and new examples, such as ‘Arab' and ‘Newfoundlander,' were suggested.
The example of ‘Canadian' as an ethnic origin was debated. Some researchers expressed concern about the comparability of data over time and the value of the ancestry data since ‘Canadian' was included. On one hand, it was argued the ethnic origin question, as it is currently formulated, confuses ancestry with identity which can vary depending on factors such as social pressures. On the other hand, it was contended that for some respondents Canadian may be the most accurate cultural identity of their ancestors.
Other comments on ethnic origin include the following:
- exclude Aboriginal people from responding to the ethnic origin question. The Aboriginal identity questions provide sufficient information on this population
- introduce a new ethnic identity question and remove the reference to Canadian from the current ethnic origin question
- clarify the definition of origin—how far back do you go?
Ethnic origin content • It was reported that the ethnic origin question is essential for labour force planning and analysis. A small number of participants, however, thought the content could be eliminated because the question is considered unclear; the data are not used or are not believed to be accurate enough for their research purposes. It was also proposed that the question could be moved to every 10 years, and alternated with the religion content.
Feedback on the population group question accounted for 29 comments. Most of it focused on the answer categories which are according to employment equity legislation.
Many participants that commented on this topic considered the response categories in the population group question problematic. It was felt the options should be revised because they include race (or skin colour), country of birth and ethnic origin categories. Other issues brought forth include sensitivity to some of the response options, the need for more clarity in the instructions for mixed-raced individuals as well as more relevant and better defined response categories. Conversely, it was argued that the current question and directive should be left intact.
Population group content • It was reported that the population group data are considered essential for planning public policy and public programs and services delivery.
The topic of religion yielded 145 comments. One of the questions contained in the 2011 Content Consultation Guide under the ”Discussion points” heading related to whether religion, which is included on every decennial census, should be asked in the upcoming census. Most of the people that commented on religion did so in response to this question (see “Religion content”).
Religious affiliation and religiosity • To several participants, broadening the section on religion to include a question on participation would improve results. Moreover, a better understanding of a person's spirituality could present a more accurate and detailed picture of religion in Canada.
Other comments on religion include the following:
- broaden the Muslim faith examples
- use specific denominations in the examples as it affects response patterns
- permit multiple responses
- remove the ‘No religion' check box and include it in the list of examples
- ask respondents to give more detail in the ‘No religion' responses (e.g., agnostic)
- define religious affiliation (i.e., whether the respondent needs to be practising) to avoid confusion
- add a question asking the religion of the respondent's parents
- consider religion for a postcensal survey.
Religion content • While trends in religion have remained relatively stable in the recent past, some believe patterns are changing given the growth in immigration. Numerous participants favoured retaining the religion question on the decennial census with some recommending its inclusion in every census. The importance of the religious affiliation question on the 2011 Census was stressed because of its historical value and the role it plays in understanding the nature and evolution of Canada's religious diversity.
Consultation participants emphasized the significance of religion data to many sectors and organization types (e.g., municipalities and regions, school boards, parishes, cultural groups) stating they were used
- by churches to know their congregations and by religious organizations for growth planning and community profiling
- to assist government in the formation of public policy with respect to multiculturalism
- to support educational policies, develop community-based programs, and for zoning and planning places of worship at small levels of geographical detail
- to better understand publicly debated societal issues such as funding for religious schools, or the wearing of a kirpan.
However, some participants deliberated the appropriateness of the census as the collection vehicle for religion data or maintained that the question should be optional. A few users thought it could be eliminated to make room for other questions or that, while essential, this information was not required for small areas and could be obtained from other surveys.
The decision to include new questions and modify or eliminate existing census content takes into account a number of factors, such as consultation feedback, support to legislation, program and policy needs, data quality, costs, historical comparability, respondent burden, privacy, operational considerations and alternative data sources.
No significant changes were made to the ethnocultural section of the 2008 content test questionnaire. The examples for the ethnic origin question were reviewed to ensure they reflect Canadian society based on the most frequent responses of the 2006 Census. The list of population group categories were also ordered according to the frequency reported in the 2006 Census results. The intent of this question is to collect data on the visible minority population to support employment equity legislation and as such the list of response categories are in accordance to the federal employment equity program. As well, the religion question (as formulated in the 2001 Census) was tested in May 2008 with the most frequent 2001 Census denominations making up the list of examples.
Ethnocultural and religious characteristics content on the census is used for evaluating and monitoring federal legislation, policies and programs including:
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- Employment Equity Act
- Multiculturalism Program
Source: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 92-379-XIE, 2001 Census Handbook.
Questions 17 and 19 on the 2006 Census questionnaire (see Appendix 3) relate to ethnocultural characteristics.
- The content consultation guide specified that examples for ethnocultural characteristics were being examined for 2011. Consultation participants were asked their views on the proposed content changes and whether they thought the question on religion should be included for 2011.
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