Statistics Canada takes second look at ethnicity question on census

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OTTAWA — Statistics Canada officials estimate the number of people identifying as Jewish in the 2016 census could have been double what it was if not for a small change on the questionnaire.

The number of people identifying themselves as ethnically Jewish on the census has been on a decline since 2001, but the drop between 2011 and 2016 far outpaced the declines between previous census cycles.

A newly released review by Statistics Canada says the census could have identified between 270,000 and 298,000 Jews in Canada in 2016 if response patterns remained steady, instead of the almost 144,000 captured in the population count.

The review says the decline is most likely linked to the removal of Jewish from a list of examples that goes along with the question about ethnic and cultural origins.

But the reviewers also note that dropping the examples entirely could cause additional problems, such as respondents not understanding the question or affecting the results in different ways.

The national statistics agency is now testing a new way to ask people about their ethnic origins, trying to wrangle a complex issue into a simple-to-understand question in time for the 2021 population counts.

The Canadian Press