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New figures released yesterday by Statistics Canada suggest the increasing ethnic and religious diversification of the Canadian population. But, as Statistics Canada itself warns, the numbers (based on the 2011 Census) should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when compared to previous year’s data (more on that below).

First some general statistics on Canada’s ethnographic makeup. As of 2011, Canada’s total population was 33.477 million people (31.613 million in 2006; current estimates put the number at 35.056 million as of January 2013 ). The Aboriginal population is now 1.401 million people or 4.3% of the total population (3.8% in 2006). About 1 in 5 Canadians identify as a visible minority (19.1% in 2011; 16.2% in 2006). The total immigrant population in Canada as of 2011 was 6.776 million or 20.6% of the total population (19.8% in 2006). Of these immigrants, 93.5% are conversant in at least one of Canada’s two official languages. Total recent immigrants (arriving between 2006 and 2011) add up to 17.2% of Canada’s total immigrant population, with 56.9% of recent immigrants coming from Asia (including the Middle East).

Now on to religion itself. The first thing to note is that the census “collected information on religious affiliation, regardless of whether respondents practiced their religion.” So there are plenty of cultural Christians (and others) in the following numbers. As of 2011, 22.103 million Canadians identified as Christian, about 67.3% of the total Canadian population. That’s down ten percent from 2001 when Christians made up 77% of the population.

Here are the largest denominational affiliations reported on the census:

  • Roman Catholic: 12.729 million or 38.7% of the total Canadian population

  • United Church: 2.008 million (6.1% of the total Canadian population)

  • Anglican: 1.632 million (5.0% of the total Canadian population)

  • Christian (denomination not specified): 4.5% of the total Canadian population

  • Baptist: 1.9% of the total Canadian population

  • Christian Orthodox (all groups): 1.7% of the total Canadian population (40.0% of these were Greek Orthodox)

Non-Christian religions continue to grow in Canada. As of 2011, 2.374 million people or 7.2% of the total Canadian population (up from 4.9% in 2001) associated themselves with a religion other than Christianity. Here’s the breakdown on the largest groups:

  • Muslim: 3.2% of the total Canadian population

  • Hindu: 1.5% of the total Canadian population

  • Sikh: 1.4% of the total Canadian population

  • Buddhist: 1.1% of the total Canadian population

  • Jewish: 1.0% of the total Canadian population

There was a noticeable surge among Canadians who identified as non-religious. 7.851 million or 23.9% of the total Canadian population now identifies as non-religious (the numbers were 16.5% in 2001).

Some of the change to Canada’s religious identity is attributable to our immigration patterns. From 2001-2011, 33.0% of immigrants belonged to a non-Christian religion, while 19.5% were religiously unaffiliated.

Those are the official new numbers, but we need to take them with a bit of caution. Unlike previous censuses, the 2011 Census is the first one to take place after the federal government replaced the previously-mandatory “long form” census in favour of a voluntary “National Household Survey.” At the time, Statistics Canada warned the move would seriously undermine its ability to give an accurate picture of Canadian demographics. In fact, the Chief Statitician of Canada Munir Sheikh, who had been appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 disagreed so strongly with the government’s move that he resigned, saying :

I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion . . . the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census. It can not. Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the prime minister.

Accordingly, the new results from Statistics Canada come with a caveat: “The [2011] estimates are derived from a voluntary survey,” the report states, “and are therefore subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the 2006 Census long form.”

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