Summary of Who is counted? Ethno-racial and Indigenous identities in the Census of Canada, 1871-2021

Summary of Who is counted? Ethno-racial and Indigenous identities in the Census of Canada, 1871-2021

Summary of article submitted to IASSIST Quarterly (tentative publication date – December 2022)

Finding data on race, racialized populations, and anti-racism in Canada can be a complex process when conducting research. One source of data is the Census of Canada which has been collecting socio-demographic data since 1871. However, the collection of racial, ethnic, or Indigenous data has changed throughout the years and from Census to Census. In response to the need for more support in finding ethno-racial and Indigenous data, the Ontario Council of University Libraries’ Ontario Data Community (ODC) has created an online guide to provide guidance, in part, about the terminology used for Indigenous and racialized identities over time in the Census. In the article submitted to IASSIST Quarterly, the modifications to how ethno-racial origin questions have been asked, and the ongoing changes to sociocultural perceptions impacting the Census are reviewed.

The online guide that the ODC created examines the context of Indigenous and racialized data over time in the Census and other data sources in Canada. The goal of the guide was to create an online research tool that could be used by information professionals and researchers looking for data about Indigenous and racialized people or groups. More specifically, the Data on Racialized Population Guide:

  • Provides a curated list of datasets that include ethnicity and race variables which can be used to facilitate research on racialized people or groups in Canada;
  • Describes how has the terminology about Indigenous and racialized groups or identities has changed in the Census of Population since 1871;
  • Describes how to use Census terminology to help find data about racialized people or groups outside of the Census;
  • Describes how to find contemporary and historical data, including Census data, that contains data about racialized peoples or groups.

The article focuses on the Census of Canada and the modifications to how ethnoracial origin questions were asked. These questions reflect the ongoing perception of sociocultural attitudes, from rigid colonial thought to more recent ideas of diversity and inclusion. But even in the 2021 Census of Canada, a critical lens needs to be applied, as there are still potential opportunities to improve how societies across Canada are represented in the official data.

Overall, more research is evidently warranted on how the Census impacted the colonial classification and lack of visibility in the data of Indigenous and racialized populations within the Canadian context. The creators of the Data on Racialized Population Guide intend that the resources included in it help to foster research for praxis and social justice.

A note on terminology used in the article Due to the historical nature of the data sources referred to in the article and the guide, terminology may include language that is problematic and/or offensive to contemporary users. Specifically, vocabulary used to refer to racial, Indigenous, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups is specific to the time period when the data was collected and does not reflect the attitudes and viewpoints of contemporary society.