The triumphant return of Canada's census
May 3, 2016 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Canada's census has returned after a 10 year hiatus. And when the number-crunchers at Stats Can link this event to the Battle of Hogwarts [Stats Can Facebook], you've gotta know it feels like a new era to those who dwell in the world of evidence based policy. Canadians seem to agree with the statisticians' enthusiasm, crashing the census site with their nerdy rush to participate and end the data drought. Meanwhile the Beaverton covers the Tory response to this egregious end of privacy. Meanwhile, gender analysis has evolved since the last census, so here is your guide to answering binary gender questions in the census (stop gap until this can be reviewed).
posted by chapps (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Meanwhile, statistics show I use the term "meanwhile" too often. blerg.
posted by chapps at 1:42 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I got one! I got one!
posted by Kabanos at 1:42 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Every day, I feel a little blip of happiness because the Harper Conservatives are no longer running my country.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 1:43 PM on May 3, 2016 [36 favorites]


I filled ours out slowly and with great relish, reading the questions aloud to Himself. Every mouseclick felt like a tiny poke in the Conservative Party's collective eye.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 1:49 PM on May 3, 2016 [23 favorites]


The only piece of government paperwork that I enjoy filling out other than my tax return.
posted by Kreiger at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


It would be interesting to know what little rituals people are creating with this census. I saw several fb posts from friends saying they cracked open a beer while filling it out to celebrate.
posted by chapps at 1:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Someone observed that the best thing about this census is knowing that Stephen Harper has to fill one out.
posted by zadcat at 1:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [50 favorites]


I was actually disappointed to receive the short form census... and this right after doing taxes for the year which would normally have put me off any form of governmental paperwork!
posted by apcmwh at 1:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


anyone who ever complains about a census should be damned to try to do socio-economic research on times & places where they did/do not exist.

long live the (very detailed) census!
posted by jb at 2:01 PM on May 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


You would think Conservative voters would be rioting in the streets over the return of this Very Terrible Breach Of Privacy that was totally a Big Deal that Lots Of Canadians were Very Upset About.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:09 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah I've been checking my mailbox and haven't gotten mine yet, presumably because I put my taxes in at the last minute. Looking forward to it, I hope I get the long-form.

I'm so excited about government paperwork you guys, I'm not sure this is a legal emotion to have.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 2:09 PM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Nerdy rush". "Enthusiasm". I saw those peppy words earlier on my newsfeed. Speaking as someone who got the form and did the census last night...
You are legally obligated to do the Census: you can't opt out unless you're seconds from death or in a coma. Maybe. It has to be done by May 10th and that left me and anyone else who got it yesterday 8 days to complete the form. "Excitement" is not the word I'd apply to that situation.

"Wow better get it done now as I'm busy between now and then and might not get the time and if I don't, those fuckers will fucking fuck me." Well of course the servers are going to crash if you give people not much time to do something that they HAVE to do or they get some kind of criminal proceeding brought against them. A longer time period in which to do it might've spread the load out.. but it's the government, so it's working as intended, I guess.
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm so excited about government paperwork you guys, I'm not sure this is a legal emotion to have.

Tell me about it.

I submitted ours today, first chance I got. But then I realized belatedly that my German-born fiancée, who's out of town this week, would have absolutely loved to do it, on account of her being a) a climate change researcher who only agreed to marry me and stay in Canada on the condition that Harper wasn't allowed to win the election, and b) well, German*.

I feel bad that I robbed my life partner of the opportunity to engage in government paperwork. This census is doing weird things to all of us.

*Yes, I know, but no, this is not a lazy stereotype, because I have ascertained that when she and her siblings were kids, their favourite game was creating lengthy forms and making each other fill them out. They literally played bureaucracy and this is one of my favourite facts about her and it may come up at the wedding.
posted by saturday_morning at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2016 [32 favorites]


I was also disappointed to get the short form census - and by the poor design of the question that requires an answer on whether your birth or adoptive mother and father were born inside or outside Canada (which does not account for people who do not know their fathers, people adopted by single parents, or people raised by same-sex couples). I expect better from survey nerds!
posted by northernish at 3:01 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was only mildly disappointed to receive the short-form census, as I'm about halfway through my six-month stretch of submitting monthly employment survey data to StatCan.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 3:04 PM on May 3, 2016


When we did the census here in the US in 2010 I was supremely disappointed at the form's brevity. How will future genealogical researchers get any bizarre/personal/wonderful information out of that little thing?!?! I firmly support every Canadian's attempt to personalize their census form.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:06 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


the question that requires an answer on whether your birth or adoptive mother and father were born inside or outside Canada

I do not recall that question.

If you want a paper form, the instructions in the mailer tell you how to request one. I don't see how this excludes any extra people. I don't have a clue how the census deals with the homeless, though.
posted by jeather at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2016


Well, if you're disappointed you got the short-form version of the census, you can always voluntarily mail in your answers from The Big MetaFilter Survey of 2015, and maybe Statscan will find some use for it.
posted by Kabanos at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also remember that they were only allowed to work on the census since the election, and there were previously a lot of positions cut. This hasn't been that easy for StatsCan.
posted by jeather at 3:14 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I do not recall that question.

I believe it was question #24. It's radio buttons that require you to choose either "Born in Canada" or "Born outside Canada - specify country" for both your father and mother. The explanatory note says that if you are adopted and don't know the answers for your birth parents, to give the answers for your adoptive parents instead. But that's a no-go for people like me who aren't adopted but don't know their father (I had to choose "Born outside Canada" and then write in "paternity unknown" in the field where a country was supposed to go). It's likewise unanswerable for those who don't know both biological parents but were raised by single adoptive parents, or for people raised by same-sex parents.
posted by northernish at 3:30 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Stats Can FAQ has info about data collection to include (imperfectly) people who are homeless:

Will Statistics Canada be enumerating the homeless population in 2016?

For the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada will enumerate people living in shelters, as this is an important segment of the homeless population. Any homeless persons who are temporarily staying in a private or collective dwelling, such as a friend’s house or a rooming house on Census Day, should be enumerated at that dwelling.

As in previous censuses, all persons in dwellings, both private and collective, should be included on a census questionnaire in 2016. Since dwellings are used as the basis for census enumeration, it is very difficult to count people who are not in a private or collective dwelling on Census Day (for example, people who sleep outdoors on the night of May 9 to May 10, 2016).


The FAQ also covers details for transexual respondants, the issue of binary gender. No FAQ about unknown parents, though. Was that the long form census?
posted by chapps at 3:33 PM on May 3, 2016


This is the form I filled out. Short-form, sadly.

https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/ref/questionnaires/questions-eng.cfm

Also, zadcat, thank you so much for sharing that observation. I'm still chuckling. :D
posted by juliebug at 3:59 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's the form I filled out as well - I definitely would have remembered a Born in Canada button since I was not, nor were my parents.
posted by sauril at 4:07 PM on May 3, 2016


I am strangely touched to see via this thread that I'm not alone in a) having been thrilled to receive the census again, after Harper tried to kill it b) being disappointed that it was the short form c) having posted on Facebook to commemorate the occasion.

And oh how I relish the thought of that human pimple Stephen Harper having to fill out the census.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:09 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I got the long form. Never felt more patriotic.
posted by nubs at 4:13 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you want a paper form, the instructions in the mailer tell you how to request one. I don't see how this excludes any extra people. I don't have a clue how the census deals with the homeless, though.

Re people with no computers, etc: Stats Can hires thousands of enumerators to go door-to-door and also call people on the telephone to count everyone, including those who aren't online. They also hire people who speak other languages.

Homeless people are always undercounted, in any census. But I believe that Stats Can contacts homeless shelters and other service agencies for help in counting even the most marginalized.
posted by jb at 4:17 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mine is waiting for me at home. No idea if I've got long or short yet.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:40 PM on May 3, 2016


Oh snap, I guess I did get the long form version! I assumed it was short-form because I was expecting more personal questions than that, like religion or income or something. This was actually my first census, as it's the first time I've been living in a legal apartment in a census year.
posted by northernish at 4:43 PM on May 3, 2016


Got my neighbour to open and give me my code. Short form. Astonishingly easy, though the 'what is your sex' question irked me. I gave feedback.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:49 PM on May 3, 2016


Yes, I was not impressed by the choice of only binary gender. It seemed very odd--I assumed there would be more awareness around this issue from a government trying to show they are progressive.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:56 PM on May 3, 2016


I did look at the reasoning in the FAQ linked above, but it wasn't a very satisfactory explanation IMO. Glad they are collecting feedback for the next one though.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't fill out the census because my roommate is away, and I don't know her birthdate.

And this state of affairs is DRIVING. ME. CRAZY.

It has to be done by May 10th and that left me and anyone else who got it yesterday 8 days to complete the form.

May 10th is the official date of the census, not a deadline for completing the form. People are supposed to be counted based on their residence as of that particular day, but you don't have to complete it by that day. In fact, for some categories of people who are supposed to be counted -- guests with no other home, shelter residents, etc -- it can't possibly be completed before that day, because you won't necessarily know you had that guest on that day.

If you haven't submitted your census within a couple of weeks of the 10th, the government's gonna get naggy, but that's about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:19 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


You might get a visit from the Elite Statistics Canada Census Enforcement Team...
posted by zadcat at 5:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, I was not impressed by the choice of only binary gender. It seemed very odd--I assumed there would be more awareness around this issue from a government trying to show they are progressive.

Censuses are tricky things! In so many ways, a census is a balancing act between many forces and it's hard to make the right decision. Some of the tensions:
  • Historical consistency - census data is compared across multiple years to look at long-term trends, so it's better if the same question is asked every time; obviously there is also a question of relevance, but it's better to be a little conservative on these matters so that data doesn't change every time. Questions obviously do change as society does; the 1901 census was the first to add "divorced" as a marital status (previously it was just "married" or "widowed") - you don't even want to know about the way racial information was collected. This is one reason the Harper census destruction was so bad; it's not like once the 2016 is processed we'll know updated numbers and can move on; there will always be that smudge in the historical record. (Historical censuses are cool.)
  • Simplicity of question - imagine literally the stupidest adult in Canada; they are still supposed to be able to answer the census questions correctly. Lots of Canadians don't speak English or French natively, lots of people don't have great educations, and the point of a census is that you don't come up with something that works for 90% of the population and that's good enough. (The gender question is short form, so everybody gets asked it.) Census enumerators are fine people, but they're not all sociologists on leave or something; it's a massive, short-term workforce; a lot of retirees and the like, and all the training has to be done in advance. So simpler questions and simpler wordings are better (this is why they said "sex" instead of "gender" in the question).
  • Money - if a question can be filled in as a radio button, it makes it a lot easier and cheaper to process than text boxes. If gender was a fill-in-the-blank, you'd have to root through millions of "Male" and "M" and "Man" and "Homme" and "H" and "Mael" (see above; not everybody spells everything correctly) etc. to get mostly to where the radio button gives you. I note that the only fill-in-the-blank on the short form is about nonofficial languages, where there is really thousands of answers you might expect and not two that suit almost everybody.
  • Time to prepare- a census isn't banged out overnight; the US did tests last September [PDF} on some changes they're considering for 2020. Because of these tensions, these things need to be worked out well in advance; the census is produced in two languages online and 13 on paper/PDF (including 11 indigenous languages) as well as 1h45m of ASL in video format, and it's not something that can change at the drop of a hat - particularly relevant since societal acceptance of the gender nonbinary is, fortunately, changing relatively quickly. The sample size and mandatoryness of the long form did change with the new government, but that's a question of "how much" rather than "what" and is much easier to do quickly.
  • Politics - let's face it, six short months ago, Statistics Canada was an agency under a socially conservative government who had already shown unprecedented - perhaps unprecedented in the developed world - willingness to fuck them over for partisan culture war bullshit. Statistics agencies are supposed to be neutral technocrats, but they aren't idiots. If the mere existence of a census is a hot-button issue amongst Harperites, think about the shitstorm from an actual conservative wedge issue.
I was initially a little saddened by the binary gender question myself, to be honest, but I was glad to see the FAQ showing that StatsCan has thought about the issues involved, and I'd bet money there was something more nuanced in 2021. It took until 2001 for same sex couples to be added, as a historical precedent. (It took until 2010 for the US census.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:25 PM on May 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


That's such a great, nuanced comment, Homeboy Trouble. Thank you for providing all that insight!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:58 AM on May 4, 2016


And as noted in the final link, the form does permit you to leave the "sex" question blank. It gives you a warning, but you can dismiss this warning, which is a good choice, IMHO. I think they should have been up-front that this was an option. I find myself wondering if northernish could have left the mother and father question blank but just didn't know that was possible.
posted by RobotHero at 7:09 AM on May 4, 2016


I got the long form. Never felt more patriotic.

Lucky!
posted by jokeefe at 10:30 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Considering it's computer processed does anyone know the reasoning behind not making the long for the only form? Is it because of the additional door-to-door census worker hours or is there some other reason?
posted by Mitheral at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2016


Just finished mine. Only the short form, alas.

It's really good to see the new government actively reversing the harm done by Harper. I'm not used to seeing this much movement this quickly. I've come to settle for the non-terrible successor of a terrible leader just not being terrible anymore. But with this and the upcoming changes to immigration policy, I'm actually really impressed by the Trudeau Liberals.
posted by suetanvil at 7:13 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


You might get a visit from the Elite Statistics Canada Census Enforcement Team...

Bad boys, bad boys
What ya gonna do
What ya gonna do
When they enumerate you?
posted by nubs at 8:11 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Build lots and lots (and lots) of new power plants   |   The odd friendship of Harry the skeptic and Arthur... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments