Inaccurate census data about the size of Ottawa's Inuit community is leading to inadequate funding for the health and social services designed to help it, the agencies that provide those services say.
According to the latest numbers available from Statistics Canada, Ottawa has the largest Inuit population outside of the North, enumerated at 1,280 in 2016.
'We're bursting at the seams.' - Connie Siedule, Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team
But agencies that provide services to the community estimate the Inuit population in the capital is at least 3,700, and as large as 6,000.
"My first thought was, that's still under-sampled," said Connie Siedule, executive director of the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team, the only medical clinic dedicated specifically to Inuit clients. Siedule said the clinic currently has 6,000 patients registered.
Those clients tend to be people who reside here, because patients who fly to Ottawa for critical care tend to use the region's hospitals, not Akausivik.
"For years, we've seen more community members show up at the Christmas party than [are reflected in] the census," Siedule said.
LHIN pegs population at 3.7K
The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), the agency responsible for health care services in the region, pegs the region's Inuit population at 3,700 in its 2015 Indigenous services directory, an estimate based on information from Inuit community organizations.
However "the population estimates fluctuate as many Inuit move to and from northern communities on a
regular basis," the Champlain LHIN notes.
"The census data is woefully inaccurate," said Jason Leblanc of Tungasuvvingat Inuit, a resource centre that offers a variety of services including housing support, job counselling, family resources, and addiction and mental health services.
According to its latest annual report, some 4,000 people accessed services through Tungasuvvingat Inuit in 2016.
Funding tied to numbers
The numbers are important, Leblanc said, because that's how funding agencies decide where their money will go. Low population estimates mean less funding for the organizations that serve the community.
One issue is that statistics often rely on household counts, Leblanc said.
"Not all of our community members have one," Leblanc said, noting a relatively large portion of Ottawa's Inuit population is transient, and several families sometimes share a single home.
Language can present another barrier, Leblanc said, since it can be difficult for Inuit people to fill out census forms in Inuktitut.
In a statement, Statistics Canada told CBC News that the census questionnaire must be "completed online or on paper, in either English or French."
Leblanc said better demographic information may have prevented the funding problems and closure of the Mamisarvik Healing Centre in 2016.
The centre, which provided mental health and addiction services to Inuit people for more than a decade is awaiting a funding commitment by the Ontario government to reopen in early 2018, said Leblanc.
"It's a big battle," Leblanc said. "We are, as Inuit, the marginalized within a marginalized population of Indigenous people in Canada."
'We are, as Inuit, the marginalized within a marginalized population of Indigenous people in Canada.' - Jason Leblanc, Tungasuvvingat Inuit
The census data does track an accelerating movement of Inuit from the North, a migration that's nearly doubled in a decade, with 25 per cent of Canada's Inuit population now living outside their traditional region.
It's one of the reasons the community lobbied to open Akausivik some five years ago.
The clinic caters to the unique health needs of Inuit people, who suffer from uncommonly high rates of respiratory illness — including tuberculosis — psychological trauma, depression and suicide.
"We're bursting at the seams," Siedule said. "Our current team is literally running, we're all running, every single one of us."
The growth of Ottawa's Inuit population is also evident from the sharp increase in bookings by Larga Baffin, which provides temporary housing for people travelling from Nunavut to Ottawa for medical services. The organization recorded 47,000 bookings in 2016, a 15 per cent increase over the previous year.
While many visitors return to the North after treatment, many others don't, deciding instead to remain in Ottawa.