Still time to fill out 2016 census, StatsCan says

May 10 is census day, but Statistics Canada says Canadians who don't complete the mandatory questionnaire by day's end won't be penalized.

Procrastinators to get friendly reminder, phone call before they get a fine

Letters from Statistics Canada containing access codes for the 2016 census ask recipients to "please complete it by May 10." (Alistair Steele/CBC)

May 10 is census day, but no one will come to arrest you if your questionnaire hasn't been submitted by midnight, Statistics Canada says. 

Statistics Canada has mailed out access codes to Canadians to complete the 2016 census online, with the friendly request to "please complete it by May 10."

But it turns out the date listed on the letter isn't exactly a deadline.

"We've never presented it as the deadline," said Marc Hamel, director general of the census program at Statistics Canada.
May 10 isn't the hard deadline to complete the mandatory 2016 census, says census program director Marc Hamel. (CBC)

"It's a reference day. We want to have a count of the population and the conditions of Canadians as of a reference day, and that is today.

"If for some reason you're not able to complete the census today we're asking Canadians to complete it as soon as they can in the following days."

The return of the mandatory questionnaire has generated excitement — and a few headaches — for Canadians.

People took to social media to complain about a slow or overloaded census website. Several were met with a message to "try back later."

But spikes in online traffic are uneven and difficult to predict, Hamel said.

"We're asking them to be patient and to come back as soon as they can. Usually the system resolves itself within a few minutes or within an hour and they can still do it within that same day," Hamel said.

Those that don't complete the census by May 10 will receive a reminder in the mail next week.

On June 1, the government starts calling people.

The potential penalty for not completing the census is a $500 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. 

Helpline also backed up 

Greely resident Pat Shapiro spent hours on the phone trying to reach a Statistics Canada agent by calling the official helpline.

Greely resident Pat Shapiro says she spent hours on the phone trying to reach a Statistics Canada agent after the census password she created wouldn't work. (CBC)

She was 80 per cent complete her long-form census online when she realized she didn't have all the information she needed. Shapiro created a password to come back later, but when she tried to return, the system locked her out.  

"I phoned and I phoned and I could never get through," Shapiro said. "I was thinking that one phone number for all of Canada seemed like not enough access."

She finally reached an agent early this morning and was issued a new access code to complete the questionnaire.

More than 5.7 million households have successfully completed the 2016 census, Statistics Canada said.