In 1985, the Statistics Act was passed to help Statistics Canada gather important information on the country’s population.
This information is an important part of policy-making and helps the government make projections, disburse aid, and more. Given its importance, all Canadians are legally required to complete the census.
Failure to complete the census on time won’t land you in jail. However, you may receive follow-up calls and visits from census officers, followed by a fine and possible marks on your criminal record.
Below, I’ll explain a bit more about the census and what happens if you don’t fill out the census in Canada.
The first Canadian census was issued in 1871 by the federal government. Given Canada’s giant size, it was important to create a record of its inhabitants. Now, fast-forward a century later to 1971.
This was the year that the government created Statistics Canada to serve as the record-keeping branch of the government.
Since then, Statistics Canada has kept a record of census results, economic patterns, and other trends, all of which are public domain.
By 1985, Canada had a growing population of 25.4 million. However, Statistics Canada was still having trouble gathering accurate and conclusive data on the country’s population.
So, in 1985, the government decided to act and give Statistics Canada the sovereignty it needed to gather data.
Once passed, the Statistics Act made it mandatory for all Canadians to complete the census.
Prior to this, Statistics Canada received mixed data whenever they issued a census notice. Some people would respond with complete census papers, others would only return partially completed census papers, and some wouldn’t respond at all.
The Statistics Act changed everything. Now, it has become a criminal offence to avoid the census. As you can imagine, this helped bridge the gap in the census data and finally gave the government the statistics it needed to make important decisions.
To many, a mandatory census seems unfair. Many Canadians value their privacy and aren’t too happy when the government starts to pry and ask about their personal life.
While I can’t blame people for wanting their privacy respected, I also understand that census data is vital to run a large country successfully. Without accurate data on its residents, the government would have trouble:
- Allocating financial aid to various provinces and cities
- Collecting taxes
- Keeping track of its citizens (and new immigrants)
- Funding infrastructure development (roads, bridges, etc.)
If you think about it in terms of running your own business, it might make a bit more sense. Canada (and all countries, for that matter) operate a lot like large, bureaucratic companies. At its core, Canada is a business.
Just like any other business, data is vital for growth. For example, let’s just say that you own a small retail store.
Without keeping track of your sales, customers, inventory costs, and other data, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not your business was doing well or where improvements needed to be made.
Gathering census data on Canada’s current population of 38.25 million is a massive ordeal, which is why there’s an entire branch of the government dedicated to handling the process. However, even Statistics Canada wouldn’t be able to perform a full census every year.
Instead, Statistics Canada issues the Canadian census every five years.
This not only makes it simpler for Canadians to plan for but also allows legislators to see how the country is growing or changing over five-year periods. While a lot can change from one year to the next, clear trends and changes begin to emerge at five-year intervals.
The census is randomly issued each census period, and most Canadians should receive a census or census notice in the mail by the beginning of the calendar year that the census is being issued.
For example, the next census in Canada is in 2026. Canadians should expect to receive their census letter in January or February of 2026 or in late 2025.
Canada takes its census-taking seriously and does not have any problem imposing fines and punishments on those who don’t comply with the Statistics Act and answer the census.
That being said, you cannot be imprisoned for failure to complete the census.
In the past, though, it was a very real possibility to be jailed for not filling out the census. Normally, you wouldn’t get more than a month in jail. However, this was still enough to keep most Canadians from trying to avoid the census.
In 2016, director general of the Census, Geoff Bowlby, made a public statement that the, “jail part,” had been removed from the Statistics Act.
However, he was clear that Canadians could still face fines and strikes on their criminal records, two penalties which remain in the Statistics Act to this day.
Failure to complete the census in Canada is far from the worst crime you can commit. Often, many Canadians simply overlook their census letter and forget to respond. I can’t count the number of important letters I’ve lost over my own lifetime!
That being said, it’s still your responsibility (and the law) to complete the census. Failure to complete the census in Canada can result in one or more of the following actions:
- A visit from a census officer
- A written reminder to pay the ticket
- A fine
- Marks on your criminal record
If you ignore a census application for long enough, you’ll generally receive a follow-up letter with a notice asking you to kindly complete your application and turn it in as soon as possible. This letter is usually written in a friendly tone but may also include subtle reminders of some of the penalties that could be imposed should you “forget” any longer.
If you ignore the written reminder to complete the census, then you’ll likely receive an in-person visit from a local canvasser working for Statistics Canada. These individuals will come by your home with a copy of your census and help you complete the application.
This courtesy is extended as a friendly reminder for people to complete their census and can also be helpful for the elderly and others who may live on their own.
If you are not home or refuse to answer the door for the census canvasser, then you’ll likely receive a follow-up phone call to your primary phone number. Here, the canvasser may help you complete the census over the phone or answer other census questions you may have.
If you’ve ignored written notices, in-person canvassers, and phone calls from census workers, then the next step would be for the government to issue a fine. The amount of the fine varies but can cost you up to $500. If nothing else, just fill out the census so that you can save money!
In the past, those who refused to pay the fine and complete the census within the given time limit were sent to jail and left with a criminal record of their imprisonment. As I mentioned, though, jail is no longer a viable penalty for not completing the census in Canada.
However, if you fail to pay the issued fine and complete the census, you will be left with a non-arrest criminal record.
Most Canadians should have ample time to complete their census. Statistics Canada has designated May 15th as Census Day. This is the day that you should have your Census either mailed in or completed online by.
Canadians should have received their census notifications several months before this date.
The census has come a long way since it was first issued in 1871. It has two parts:
- Short-Form Census
- Long-Form Census
The short-form census only takes a few minutes to complete and just asks for basic data, such as your name, age, birthplace, and gender. The long-form census, on the other hand, is more involved and asks personal questions about your income and lifestyle. This may take ten to fifteen minutes to complete.
We all make mistakes, and it’s not uncommon for somebody to input the wrong information for a census question. If there are any clear discrepancies between your current census data and the census data that you previously submitted, then you’ll likely be contacted over the phone to verify the correct information.
If you’re found to be knowingly lying (which is very hard to determine), then you could face a $500 fine.
Now, here are a few quick answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the census in Canada.
Census Day is May 15th, which is the day that all Canadians must have their census information completed by.
If you recently moved or are living with others, then you may not have received a census form in the mail. If May is approaching and you have yet to receive your census, you should contact Statistics Canada and speak to the Census Help Line at 1-855-340-2021.
The maximum amount you could be fined for failing to complete the census or providing false information is $500.
Yes, Canadians are expected to answer all of the questions on their census to the best of their knowledge. Failure to answer all questions could result in follow-up calls or potential fines.
The census is issued every five years in Canada and provides the government with important data to make future policies. If you don’t fill out the census by the requested date, you’ll likely receive a written notice, followed by phone calls and an in-person visit from a census worker.
After all of these measures, if you still refuse to comply, then the government can fine you up to $500 and mark your criminal record, which can hurt your job prospects.
Just like the government needs data on its citizens, you should be keeping track of your own finances. Keep on reading to see my review of Mint – one of the best free budgeting apps in Canada.