Update: Resolving the Census Challenge for Jewish Canadians

This week, Statistics Canada released a report analyzing the impact of changes to the ethnic origin question on Jewish respondents in the 2016 census.

That analysis confirmed that the decision to remove “Jewish” as an example in the question was a leading factor in the unprecedented and artificial drop in the reported number of Jews in Canada. Alarmingly, that number declined by more than 50% in a single census, despite all evidence showing that the Jewish population of Canada continues to thrive.

This research underscores the importance of CIJA’s efforts to resolve this issue prior to the 2021 census, with the goal of ending this drastic underreporting of the Jewish population. Since late 2017, CIJA has been working closely with Statistics Canada – alongside a team of scholars and experts in Jewish demography – to offer feedback and insights on how the question can be effectively framed. The willingness of Statistics Canada, as well as Minister Bains, to work with the Jewish community to rectify this issue is appreciated.

CIJA’s firm view, which is shared by scholars and experts in this field, is that the only acceptable solution is to more clearly define ethnic origin, using ‘Jewish’ and multiple other non-country examples as explanatory guides in the question itself.

Having a precise and clear question is uniquely crucial for Jewish respondents, given the multi-faceted nature of Jewish identity. Other suggestions that are being considered, such as including Jewish within a drop-down list of hundreds of options, risk confusing respondents and perpetuating the drastic underreporting of Jews on the census.

If this challenge is not effectively resolved, it will have substantial consequences for the Jewish community. Jewish Federations and affiliated social service agencies collectively spend more than $100 million in charitable dollars every year to support vulnerable segments of society. Having access to accurate data on Jewish populations across the country is essential for these agencies in making evidence-based decisions, ensuring the success of their critical services and programs.

CIJA will continuing providing updates on this policy issue as they are available.

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