The reinstated mandatory long-form census will still ask Canadians to identify as either male or female when it's mailed out later this spring, ignoring the thousands of transgender individuals who don't fit that sexual binary.
Luckily, there’s a workaround.
The census was restored by the newly-elected Liberal government in November after having been scrapped and replaced with a voluntary household survey five years ago by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
“Today, Canadians are reclaiming their right to accurate and more reliable information,” Navdeep Bains, the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said when announcing the plans.
On that same day, University of Calgary sociology student Quinn Nelson emailed Bains with a major concern about how gender and sex had been categorized and limited to male and female in previous government surveys.
“As a non-binary transgender individual, I would be wholly unable to fill out a census (long or short) accurate and completely,” Nelson writes in the email, posted publicly on Facebook.
Nelson writes that non-binary transgender individuals are estimated to make up one percent of the population—or 350,000 Canadians.
The actual number could be much higher or much lower. That we don't know a more accurate number is one reason why data gathering in a national census is so important for overlooked communities.
“We will be forced to choose an inaccurate category,” Nelson warns. “According to data gathered this way, one could say 100 percent of Canadians are either male or female, and this is clearly false.”
Unfortunately, the questions for the 2016 census have already been finalized. An emailed reply from Statistics Canada’s assistant chief statistician Connie Graziadei—which Nelson also shared online—says respondent sex information will only be collected according to male and female categories.
The government encourages transgender individuals to indicate the sex they most identify, Graziadei writes, but its staff understands that’s not a great option for non-binary individuals.
Instead, Graziadei advises that non-binary individuals should leave the question of sex blank and indicate in the comment section at the end of the census the reason for the omission.
“That will provide valuable and accurate information for this segment of the population.”
Just make sure to fill out the comment section, as refusing to answer a mandatory census question is an offence.
“I am pretty happy with the response,” Nelson writes. “I understood that the questionnaire would have already been finalized, but I think the answer I got really showed no lack of understanding on the issue.”
There will also be public consultation on the next census after 2016, to discuss how to better formulate questions and hopefully be more inclusive for all Canadians.
The new census package will be mailed out to 2.9 million Canadian households in May.