New gender questions in 2021 census 'a good start,' transgender, non-binary advocates say

As Canadians fill out their 2021 census they may notice a couple of new questions focusing on gender. Statistics Canada has added two separate questions, one asking about 'sex at birth' and one for gender. The change allows for individuals to be included who don't identify as male or female.

Statistics Canada has added sex at birth and gender identity questions to 2021 census

The cover of a 2021 Census questionnaire request, sent by Statistics Canada, is seen in a photo illustration in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Chris Helgren (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

As Canadians fill out their 2021 census they may notice a couple of new questions focusing on gender.

In the last census there were only two options listed under a person's gender: male or female.

That meant that those who identify as non-binary or transgender were not able to answer, and therefore not represented.

To better reflect all Canadians, Statistics Canada has added two new questions to the 2021 census: asking a person's sex at birth and their gender now.

Gender reflects how a person describes themselves at the time of the survey.

"I hope that anyone who is transgender sees this as an opportunity to let the world know how many have a difference between their biological sex and the gender that they identify with," says Geoff Bowlby, director general with Statistics Canada.

"Adding a gender identity question obviously allows those who don't see themselves, or don't identity with their biological sex or sex at birth, an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the numbers" 

Statistics Canada did consult with transgender individuals and LGBT2 communities prior to adding the new questions.

Still some work to do

Laur O'Gorman of Sudbury identifies as non-binary, and never felt able to fill out previous census surveys with the  proper information.

 However O'Gorman calls the changes for 2021 a "really good step".

"It's not perfect but I thought it's a good start at measuring things outside of the gender binary," they said.

When they filled out the recent survey there was an empty space for 'other' when answering the gender question.

O'Gorman would like to see options like non-binary, transgender man or transgender woman listed. 

"Just to kind of start normalizing some of this language showing that people exist," they said.

"Seeing the words come up, I think will help normalize the idea that gender isn't just a binary [concept]. It isn't just men and women."

"There's a lot more going on to gender, than people might realize."

Missing data to help

As a researcher, O'Gorman says they understand the value of gender-based data in issues like health or poverty.

"But there is no information on trans people." 

"So if you look at the Canadian data, it actually suggests that trans people don't exist or that there really aren't that many people, if any, in Canada who are transgender," O'Gorman said.

O'Gorman is also hoping that once the data begins to be published it will provide incentives to agencies helps change their strategies to include transgender or non-binary populations.  

"I'm just really hoping that some of the other organizations in the city that really rely on data to inform their strategy will be able to use it."

Seth Compton is the executive director of OUTLoud North Bay, which provides safe space for queer and trans youth in North Bay. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

For Seth Compton of North Bay, who identifies as a transgender man, the question about 'sex at birth' angered him.

"I almost didn't fill out the survey, as soon as that one question populated," he said.

"What does that even have to do with anything?"

Compton feels that a question about sex assigned at birth could be triggering for some or bring up unwanted emotions, and has nothing to do with helpful statistics.

"Who I was when I was born has nothing to do with how my community operates now," he said. 

Compton feels it could be a deterrent for individuals to complete the census.

"You're not going to get the proper data because as soon as people have to answer that question, they're going to steer away from it."

As for changes for the next time the country has a census, Compton would like to see 'transgender' as an option under gender.

"I would have clicked that and then moved forward with how I identify as male," he said.

Data representing all Canadians

Statistics Canada says it wants all Canadians to feel represented in the data.

"I hope that anyone who is transgender sees this as an opportunity to let the world know how many people have a difference between their biological sex and their gender that they identify with," Bowlby said.

"Let's suppose your sex at birth is different from the gender that you identify with, we'll be able to tell that and explain to Canadians just the extent to which this happens in Canada."

Bowlby expects all the data and trends from census data will be released in early 2022. 

"We really hope all Canadians respond to the census."

"The higher the response to the census, the more detailed data, the more we can produce information on small communities all across the country."


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who covers news in Sudbury and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to