This story is over 5 years old.

Trans People Told to Leave Gender Blank on Canada’s Census

Statistics Canada says that during the “extensive” consultations for the 2016 census “no major issue was brought forth … for the question on sex.” The public will be consulted to “better formulate questions to serve all Canadians" in 2021.
January 8, 2016, 3:50pm
Photo by VICE Canada

Transgender Canadians who don't identify as male or female won't be counted in the upcoming census of the population.

Big data lovers rejoiced last November when the newly elected Liberal government announced it was bringing back the long-form census after it was killed by the previous government in 2010 and replaced with a short voluntary survey. The long-form census had been mandatory for 35 years and included detailed questions ranging from income to education levels. The new census for 2016 will be mailed in the coming months.


But Quinn Nelson, a transgender university student from Calgary who identifies neither as a man nor a woman, is concerned because the questionnaire only provides a male or female option to answer the question about gender.

The mandatory long-form — Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau)November 5, 2015

"As a non-binary person, often when I fill out forms there's only two options given to me and that's not enough for me," Nelson said in an interview with CBC. "The census is used by a lot of policy makers, sociologists, and government officials to make decisions. And they really need to know what their population is. That's the point of the census."

Nelson was worried that not answering the question would be against the law, and emailed the minister of innovation, science and economic development, Navdeep Bains, who's in charge of Statistics Canada, about the issue in November, but didn't get a reply.

— Heather Jarvis (@heatjarvis)January 7, 2016

The deputy chief statistician for Statistics Canada did reach out to Nelson and said it would be okay to leave the question blank, according to Nelson. "I was told to answer neither, but also to answer in the comments why I found the question inadequate," said Nelson.

Nelson added that future censuses should have a third option, "other," included in the answer to the gender question.

"The way that the census will count people and give that data that non-binary people exist is very valuable to us," Nelson added. "The reality is that the vast majority of people will fit into either the male or female. And 'other,' while not specific, still is good information."


Statistics Canada spokesperson Marie-Claude Deslandes confirmed to VICE News in an email that trans people who identify as neither male nor female can leave the gender section blank or indicate the gender with which they identify.

"Statistics Canada Information is collected according to two categories for sex: male and female. Transgender, transsexual, and intersex Canadians are invited to indicate the sex (male or female) with which they most associate themselves."

She said that during the "extensive" consultations for the 2016 census "no major issue was brought forth … for the question on sex." However, the public will be consulted ahead of the next census in 2021 in order to "better formulate questions to serve all Canadians."

Related: The Return of Big Data in Canada

Further, information for transgender people filling out the 2016 census will be posted online and provided over the phone by department employees.

Nelson suggested transgender people comprise around 1 percent of the Canadian population in the email to the minister in charge of Statistics Canada, though reliable data on the number of transgender Canadians is scant.

Last year, Laverne Cox, star of the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black, publicly called out the US census for not counting trans people.

In 2007, Nepal became the first country to include a "third gender" on its national census.

Watch the VICE Canada documentary, On Hold: Canadian Transgender Health Access:

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne