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The Canadian Census:
A Portrait of the Country's Religious and Ethnocultural Diversity

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The highlights of the 2021 Canadian census were released in October of 2022 with more detailed information released in the months that followed. For our Christian Life in London readers, we are expanding on the results of the census and the country's religious diversity.

You will see in the details below, that Christianity is still, by far the dominant religion in the country at 53.3% of the population. However, in the last 20 years, the percentage of those that identified as Christians has dropped by 23.8%!

One of the many interesting facts we learned when putting this piece together is: Of the 1.8 million people with an Indigenous identity in Canada, nearly half (47.0%) reported having no religious affiliation BUT more than one-quarter (26.9%) reported being Catholic.

As you will read, the census reconfirms Canada’s ethnocultural and religious diversity, a characteristic of the country valued by the vast majority of Canadians. According to the 2020 General Social Survey, 92.0% of the population aged 15 and older agreed that ethnic or cultural diversity is a Canadian value. Everyone plays a fundamental role: you, your parents, your grandparents and your ancestors all contribute to shape the diverse landscape of the country.

The origins and religions of the population have been measured by the Canadian census since 1871. This mosaic has been evolving since it was first captured. To reflect the changing and complex nature of diversity in the country, Statistics Canada has conducted extensive engagement and research to improve the collection and measurement of the ethnocultural and religious diversity of the population as well as the terminology used to describe it.

Statistics Canada has modernized the technology used to collect, process and disseminate census data. For example, the 2021 Census electronic questionnaire included links to pages with hundreds of examples of ethnic or cultural origins and religions. For the ethnic or cultural origins question in particular, the extensive list of examples helped respondents answer the question without prompting them to report the origins that had been provided directly on the questionnaire in previous censuses. As a result, the 2021 Census provides more detail on the ethnocultural and religious facets of society than ever before.

More than 450 ethnic and cultural origins, 200 places of birth, 100 religions and 450 languages have been included in this census.

Each person has a unique set of characteristics that sets them apart from others. This can be observed in the long list of ethnic or cultural origins reported in the 2021 Census, including groups related to the Indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Métis, Inuit); to the first Europeans to settle in the country (such as the French, English, Scottish and Irish); and to subsequent waves of immigration (such as Italians, Germans, Ukrainians, Chinese, Indians (India) and Filipinos).

Canadians' understanding of ethnocultural concepts evolves over time and is shaped by current events. The related terminology also changes, which is why Statistics Canada has adapted its terminology on these concepts for the 2021 Census (see the box "Measuring racialized groups").

The 2021 Census took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected everyone differently and has exacerbated the inequalities that existed before its onset. Issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion garnered increased attention. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, and anti-Asian discrimination stemming from the pandemic became the subject of much discussion. Given this context, the data published today on ethnocultural and religious diversity reflect how we see ourselves as Canadians.

The results can be used by public decision-makers, employers and service providers in health care, education and justice to better meet the needs of all groups in Canadian society and to foster an inclusive society and social cohesion.

More than 450 ethnic or cultural origins were reported in the 2021 Census.
  • The top origins reported by Canada's population, alone or with other origins, were:
    • "Canadian" (5.7 million people),
    • "English" (5.3 million),
    • "Irish" (4.4 million),
    • "Scottish" (4.4 million) and
    • "French" (4.0 million).

Christianity in Canada

The majority of the population is Christian, but their share is decreasing.

In 2021, over 19.3 million people reported a Christian religion, representing just over half of the Canadian population (53.3%).
  • This proportion is down from:
    • 67.3% in 2011 and
    • 77.1% in 2001.
Approximately 12.6 million people, or more than one-third of Canada's population, reported having no religious affiliation. The proportion of this population has more than doubled in 20 years, going from 16.5% in 2001 to 34.6% in 2021.

While small, the proportion of Canada's population who reported being Muslim, Hindu or Sikh has more than doubled in 20 years.
  • From 2001 to 2021, these shares rose from 2.0% to 4.9% for Muslims,
  • From 1.0% to 2.3% for Hindus and
  • From 0.9% to 2.1% for Sikhs.

1. 1Christians, representing 53.3% of the Canadian population
2. 2People having no religion at 34.6%
3. 3Islam (4.9%),
4. 4Hinduism (2.3%),
5. 4Sikhism (2.1%), B
6. 5Judaism (1.0%),
7. Indigenous spirituality (0.2%)
8. Jainism (0.1%).

1 In 2021, more than 19.3 million people reported a Christian religion, or just over half of the Canadian population (53.3%). However, this percentage is down from 67.3% in 2011 and 77.1% in 2001.

2 Approximately 12.6 million people, or more than one-third of Canada's population, reported having no religious affiliation or having a secular perspective (atheist, agnostic, humanist and other secular perspectives). The proportion of this population has more than doubled in 20 years, rising from 16.5% in 2001 to 23.9% in 2011 and to 34.6% in 2021.

3 Islam was the second most commonly reported religion in Canada in 2021, with nearly 1.8 million, or 1 in 20, people. In 20 years, the share of the Muslim population in Canada has more than doubled—up from 2.0% in 2001 to 4.9% in 2021.

4 In 2021, close to 830,000 people, or 2.3% of the total population, reported an affiliation to Hinduism. Like Muslims, the proportion of the population with Hinduism as its religion has more than doubled in the last 20 years, and is up from 1.0% in 2001.

5 Approximately 335,000 people reported being Jewish in 2021. This number has changed little over the last 20 years; in 2001, 330,000 reported a Jewish affiliation. Although Canada's total population grew, the proportion of the population with Jewish religious affiliation decreased slightly from 1.1% in 2001 to 0.9% in 2021.