What’s Wrong With the Canadian Census?

The 2011 Canadian census is taking place this week — one out of three Canadians will receive the long-form version of the survey while the rest will simply be asked for a headcount.

Normally, this would be a wonderful way to get a decent snapshot of what the Canadian population looks like, but one of the questions is so poorly written that the numbers may be skewed in favor of religion:

The emphasis below is mine:

What is this person’s religion?

Indicate a specific denomination or religion even if this person is not currently a practising member of that group.

For example, Roman Catholic, United Church, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Muslim, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Greek Orthodox, etc.

Specify one denomination or religion only.
____________________________________
____________________________________

  • No religion

I know they’re allowing you to say “no religion,” but why are the encouraging you to indicate a certain religion even if you’re not a practicing member?

If you don’t go to church and haven’t even thought about god in years, but your parents raised you as a Christian, that doesn’t make you a Christian.

If you’re apathetic toward religion but your mother was Jewish, that doesn’t make you a Jew (no matter what Jewish people want to believe…).

It looks like the numbers for various faiths will be inflated based on this survey. There are a number of people who don’t want to call themselves “atheist” (or even put themselves in the “no religion” category), but usually there’s an “other” category you can put yourself into. Where’s that option?

As Canadian reader Dorothy points out, “What the hell are they trying to prove with this?”

I’d love to know.

  • Luther

    Do you believe scientific surveys are accurate? (Say Yes even if you are not sure or if you are aware of some that seem accurate)

  • Luther

    Also, compare this to the previous post where a claimed “former atheist” was a person who claimed to believe in God at the time.

  • OneTrueKinsman

    I’m Canadian and I’m not very happy with the new approach. Not only does it work contrary to what previous censuses captured, it also has this religion part, which makes no sense whatsoever…

    I guess I’ll answer “I don’t believe in fantasy” when I get to that point.

  • jay

    All that is required is a quick scale question that asks about strength of affiliation with the selected religion (strong, moderate, weak). That would be pretty interesting, actually.

  • Steve

    In order to prop up the Catholic school system even for people who don’t believe in it.

  • Larry Meredith

    Young Canadian atheist here

    I told my mom many months ago that when the census form came in that I wanted to take a look at it. It came in yesterday, and I was one of those 2/3 that got the simple head count. I was a bit put off by it cause I really wanted to declare my atheism on there. Grr.

  • Larry Meredith

    Oh, another thing I found a bit strange. People older than me will probably just be used to this and not give it a second thought, but I didn’t quite like that you have to state your gender as either male or female. Would it really be so awful of them to add a 3rd option “other”?

  • Alex

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. Whats next mannequins in church pews? Who knows maybe it will be a new market;}

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom is Money

    Religion needs all the help it can get in Canada!

    What really sucks is people that have tons of infants and toddlers are going to list them all as the census-taker’s religion whether they know it or not. Unless the government has done a good job and not let this question be active for anyone under the age of consent.

    There should be an additional question as a fail-safe:

    22a) What is this person’s favorite hobby?

    Indicate a specific hobby even if this person is not currently performing said hobby.

    For example, sewing, model-making, Sudoku, paintball, r/c racing, gardening, quilting, etc.

    () No Hobbies

    That question would be harder to pin on a toddler or infant. I’m guessing “fingerpainting” would become Canada’s most popular hobby.

  • Richard Wade

    Apparently to the person who wrote this question, religion exists even if it is merely a heritage, not a practice.

    I don’t think this is a thoughtless error. It’s a glaringly deliberate attempt to skew the results toward characterizing Canada as being much more religious than it really is.

    If a social statistics student wrote this as part of an assignment, the professor would hand it right back.

  • Bryan

    In order to prop up the Catholic school system even for people who don’t believe in it.

    The census has nothing to do with that. Its hard-coded into our constitution; a legacy of our nation being founded by two European powers who were dominated by different christian secs. Its stupid, but nothing as simple as a census keeps it going.

    As for the OP, this is pretty much the norm for past census’s here as well. I’m not too sure the reason for it – its not like churches get anything for having “more” members or anything like that.

    What really pissed me off was that it had only one entry. So what the hell do you enter if you’re like me and my wife – an atheist (me) and a non-denominational christian (my wife). I simply entered both, in complete opposition to the instructions.

  • Ibis

    This is not a census anyway. It is a voluntary survey. It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. So no matter the wording of the question, the CPC doesn’t want factual data, just perhaps some numbers they can use to spin their agenda.

  • Peter Mahoney

    This is a “leading question” right from the start “What is this person’s religion?”

    It ASSUMES that the person has a religion, and only at the last moment gives an opt out from that train of thought. It will skew the data.

    Example…
    “Which zodiac sign guides your life?”
    “Indicate your zodiac sign even if you do not currently follow your horoscope”
    …..

    12 options (zodiac signs) later:
    [] no zodiac sign is declared.

    It’s blatantly BAD research design.

  • Cents

    Did the census yesterday and got the long version. Didn’t read in too much detail in that question. Just saw the “no religion” box and immediately checked it. Unfortunately my wife is still a soft Anglican (but at least her and her soft religious friends like to party – so its not all bad). Some fights are worth avoiding and this is one of them.
    They all know my Atheist views but put up with me because they like my wife who is part of their guitar lead singing group in church. Not very choral. :)

  • Natalie Sera

    Just FYI, if your mother is Jewish, you ARE a Jew, because the Jewish people are an ethnic group which happens to have its own religion. You can be an atheist and still be a Jew. See The Atheist Rabbi, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

  • Mike

    Government bureaucracy always has the same outlook. As in Nazis Germany, if you were ever indoctrinated or otherwise educated in a particular faith, the assumption is that you would perpetuate that faith.

  • Dave B

    Just FYI, if your mother is Jewish, you ARE a Jew, because the Jewish people are an ethnic group which happens to have its own religion. You can be an atheist and still be a Jew. See The Atheist Rabbi, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

    This is a semantic trick that people who identify as Jewish like to play. If the question is “What is your religion?”, what does your ethnic group have to do with the proper answer?

    If the question is “What is your ethnicity?”, the answer is pretty much whatever you say it is. Ethnic groups are defined by self-identification and group-identification. You’re only an ethnic Jew if both you and other ethnic Jews agree that you are.

  • e-man

    The problem with stats is they are too oft misused and misleading – they afford no voice or input – questions like; how well do these questions identify you, do you find merit in such surveys, do you believe in a higher power but not actively partake in organized religions, and there should always be an ‘other’ a none of the above’ category and a line for feedback… people want to be heard

  • Scott

    You can tell Stats Canada what you think of this stupid question here: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/reference/refcentre-centreref/index-eng.htm

    I wrote that it will artificially increase the number of people who report to be religious, and will be used by media and religious groups to artificially inflate the public’s impression of the number of religious people in Canada. They should know better.

  • Alexis

    Great Britain and Ireland each had a census last month. Since the governments allocate money for religious institutions and schooling based on the census, Secular groups there launched publicity campaigns calling for those who currently practice no religion to check the “No Religion” box.

  • Traziness

    Dammeeet! I was even looking forward to answering this question.
    FAIL you nincompoops, FAIL!!!

    Many Canadians are just not involved in religion and societal pressure to be religious is gererally much less here than in the US. Therefore they’re collecting a lot more ticks in the religion box by stating it the way they did. Buggers!

  • Holly

    The Canadian long census is generally poorly put together. My father was steaming mad last night over the amount of detail they wanted about household spending, salary, and they even had an option to just let them lift your data from your tax return.

    He didn’t get a chance to hit the religion question, yet, be interesting to see what reaction that gets (he’s a pretty agressive atheist).

  • cat

    I wanted to second Natalie Sera’s point about Jewish people. The historical isolation of Jews made them genetically and culturally distinct minorities. When my endocrinologist asked if I was Jewish, she was not concerned about my religious practices, she wanted to know if she should screen for certain rare genetic disorders much more common in eastern European Jews that would fit my symptoms. Organ and tissue donation banks will ask this question as well-trust me, they care about genetic matches, not if one keeps the Sabbath. Ethnic Jews outnumber people who practice Judaism as a religion by and large. So, you are wrong, one can be Jewish because of having a Jewish mother-but this makes one ethnically Jewish, not religiously Jewish.

  • Grimalkin

    All this is irrelevant. Canada’s long form census has been made mandatory and is therefore the same as just pulling statistics out of your butt.

    It’s a perfect symbol of the Harper government – a whole lot of money, a huge time-suck, and completely useless.

  • ACN

    Cat,

    I think you’re actually 2nd’ing DaveB’s point rather than Natalie, right?

  • fiddler

    @ACN DaveB claimed that it was a purely semantics driven distinction, Cat is pointing out that there are genetic markers in the ethnicity of “jew” that makes them a group.

    The genetic factors rule out DaveB’s statement that “You’re only an ethnic Jew if both you and other ethnic Jews agree that you are.”

  • mouse

    Maybe I’m being to generous here but this seems like something that has innocent intentions but was written by someone with terrible writing skills. My interpretation of that question is that they want you to mark Catholic if you consider yourself Catholic but never go to mass, etc. Do you see what I mean? Basically I think the question was intended to guide the religious people to mark their specific denomination even if they don’t actively go to church.

    The only problem with this interpretation: why would they need to spell that concept out? Has there been a glut of religious people marking themselves as “no religion” because they didn’t understand they could still claim their religion even though they didn’t attend church?

    OK now I’m back to not getting the point here.

  • Michael

    I’m Canadian and would have loved to get an accurate account of how religion is declining in Canada. I think our PM Harper, who is an evangelical Christian, doesn’t want to be part of recording its decline.

  • Charlotte

    Perhaps slightly off-topic, but I’m curious as to why the person who designed this seems to think that all of the non-Christian religions listed don’t have subgroups. I mean, if you’re a Christian, you can be Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, etc., but if you’re Muslim, you’re just a generic Muslim?

    Also, they could have encouraged people to write “non-practicing” so that they could distinguish between people who are actually religious and those who are referring to their cultural heritage.

  • ACN

    @Fiddler

    Ahhh…careful reading fail on my part, thanks.

  • kitsunerei88

    I filled this out yesterday! This question didn’t bother me all that much.

    I’m also going to re-iterate what Bryan said above: The census has nothing to do with that. Its hard-coded into our constitution; a legacy of our nation being founded by two European powers who were dominated by different christian secs. Its stupid, but nothing as simple as a census keeps it going. At the time that the distinction was hard-coded, Catholic schools basically meant French-speaking schools. Protestant schools meant English-speaking schools. Nowadays we have separate provisions written in for language schools but at the time, that was the distinction.

    Also, Richard above made me think of something with his comment: Apparently to the person who wrote this question, religion exists even if it is merely a heritage, not a practice. I don’t think that’s necessarily incorrect – in the large cities here, religion is largely just a heritage and not a practice. But I’m a Torontonian (but not a native one so no snide remarks from my fellow Canucks!), so that’s probably just the big-city perspective; that might be what they’re collecting the information for. I definitely think the question could be misinterpreted though.

  • Lily

    Oh, another thing I found a bit strange. People older than me will probably just be used to this and not give it a second thought, but I didn’t quite like that you have to state your gender as either male or female. Would it really be so awful of them to add a 3rd option “other”?

    They get around this by not asking for “gender”, but sex. Except among some intersex people, everyone has a legal sex designation. And you can be sure that Stephen Harper wants you to live up to it.

  • Tony

    As an ex-catholic I’m all too aware of the church’s habit of dividing people into “practicing” and “non-practicing” catholics. The philosophy is “once a catholic always a catholic” and even getting excommunicated doesn’t, in the eyes of the church, revert one back to being non-catholic.

    The wording of this question seems to me to be deliberately tricking ex-catholics into playing along with the church’s medieval dogma.

  • Beryl

    I know that this is a side issue, but it’s actually possible to be a religious Jew and an atheist. Many strains of Judaism care about practice rather than belief–follow the practices, and you’re being a good Jew, regardless of belief. I’ve met such people. I don’t get it, but they do exist. I think this is worth mentioning because it’s too easy to imagine other religions as having the Protestant attitude toward faith, just with a different set of dogmas.

  • maria

    A lot of peole have been persecuted for different reasons, one is being a jew, Im proud of where i come from and theres still ignorance about jewish people.

    Im descendant of sephardic jews (spanish jews), we were killed, persecuted and some were made slaves.

    If someone asks me my religion i say none and if they ask me if im jewish, i will say yes. I feel culturally jewish, just not in the religious sense.

  • Dave B

    @Beryl – It’s also possible to be a religious Christian and an atheist. The question here is, is it possible to not be a Jew, if your mother was a Jew when you were born?

    @maria – You have every right to self-identify as culturally Jewish, and I have no problem with it. Personally, I don’t identify as Jewish in any way, even though my mother was Jewish when I was born. Given this information, if someone asked you whether I was Jewish, would you say yes?

    @cat – When my mother converted to Judaism before my birth, how much did she raise my risk of genetic disorders?

  • maria

    @Dave B – from my point of view, someone is jewish if that person identifies with it

    i consider myself a jew in the sense that my family are jews from Spain and theres an ethnic background as well as cultural (language, food, music,not only religion), just like i would consider myself english or of english descent if my mother or father were born in England.

    Being a jew here in Spain for some religious people, CHRISTIAN, is still considered inferior…ignorance breeds ignorance

    for possible mistakes, sorry again!
    sometimes i dont want to write in english because theres a lot ive got to learn but i love this site and ive been reading it for a while..

  • Dave B

    @maria – I think what you wrote makes a lot of sense. Don’t worry too much about mistakes – you’re doing a lot better than many native English speakers. The fact that you’re brave enough to comment here in a foreign language has inspired me to try reading a few foreign-language blogs myself, so thanks!

  • CthuluFhtagn

    My input on the Jewish thing:

    If someone asks me “Are you Jewish?” I answer “I’m ethnically Jewish, but no longer affiliate with the religious aspects.”

    If I had to answer only yes or no, I would say no.

    If I am asked my religion, I say I don’t have one.

    It is a whole culture in addition to the religious elements. One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had lately was with a Jewish cousin of mine – he told me that he’d stopped eating pork. Not because he thought god wanted him to, and not because he was eating Kosher in other meals, but because he’d realized that friends he’d had for years didn’t know he was Jewish and that’s something he considers a huge part of his identity.

    Me? Not so much. Definitely not enough so to give up bacon! D:

  • nowoo

    I just filled out my Canadian census form online, but I wasn’t one of the people who received the longer form with this religion question on it. At the end of the census form there’s a space to include comments about the census. I wrote:

    I object to the wording of the question on the long census form, “Indicate a specific denomination or religion even if this person is not currently a practising member of that group.” It makes no sense to record a religion someone doesn’t practice, so this question as worded can only artificially and unfairly inflate the numbers of religious people by including the non-religious among them.

  • Denis Robert

    Harper is a fundie. So are most of his closest advisors. Simple.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I was hoping to get a long census to help displace the religious slant but unfortunately I only got a head count.

  • Anna Yeung

    Gah, Hemant, your timing is off by a week. CFI Ontario hosted a lecture last Friday about the censuses in the UK, Australia and Canada about the “tick no religion” campaigns.

  • Ramon Caballero

    I am a non-practicing Jedi, thank you very much…
    Well, no, not true, I really am a non-practicing Sith!

    I do want to practice, but I don’t know how to make my light saber(TM) :(

  • http://images.cheezburger.com/completestore/2011/5/5/c61a3206-d4a1-4f4b-ae29-1a897ebee138.jpg Shawn

    Got mine today. Short form, but I will at least let them know I’m not a creationist in the “comments” section (click my name).

  • Steven

    Well, one good thing about filling out the long and generally pointless Canadian census form is that I was able to check off the “no religion” box four times (once for each family member).
    I also saw something that would probably be missing from a national U.S. census (unless they cover individual states). Right below where I checked off “married – opposite sex partner” was an option for “married – same-sex partner”.
    My knowledge of U.S. politics is weak at best but it looks like each state has a lot more autonomy than each Canadian province. It just seems odd to me that marriage equality is something that has to be ratified in each individual state rather than at a national level.

  • Angel

    My household only got the short form census. I did notice, while I was writing out my complaint about the long form religion question, that the space I was using for the complaint actually said something along the lines of “questions or comments about items ONLY on this document” – emphasis all theirs.

    Begin rant.

    Those that have championed the lack of a proper census will surely bitch and moan without a shred of comprehension when government funding is allocated. It has made it easier for the Canadian government to distribute funds where *its* priorities lie because the standby is now “data unavailable”.

    End rant.


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