Coverage Technical Report, Census of Population, 2016
4. Census data collection

Data collection in the 2016 Census ensured that each of the 15.4 million dwellings in Canada was enumerated, and that for each occupied dwelling, the corresponding household completed a census questionnaire.

In 2016, Canadian households had the option of responding online, completing a paper questionnaire (mail-back) or contacting the Census Help Line. Households that did not use any of these three response modes received a follow-up by telephone or in person. The three collection methods used for the Canadian census were mail-out, list/leave and canvasser enumeration. To make census collection as efficient as possible, Canada is divided into small geographic units known as collection units (CUs). In the 2016 Census, there were approximately 46,000 CUs in Canada. For mail-out CUs, the postal system was used to deliver the census material. Mail-out CUs are typically in urban areas. While mail-out CUs now include about 82% of Canadian dwellings, they cover only a tiny fraction of the country’s land area. List/leave CUs are typically in rural areas. In those areas, enumerators prepare a list of dwellings and deliver the census material. About 17% of Canadian dwellings are in list/leave CUs, which cover a large portion of the country’s land area. Enumeration by canvasser interview occurs on Indian reserves or in CUs in remote or difficult-to-access locations. To limit the number of trips that enumerators have to make to those places for follow-ups—trips that are often expensive and logistically complicated—they do more than prepare dwelling lists; they also complete a questionnaire with each household on the spot. Interview CUs cover just over half of Canada’s land area, but only about 1% of its dwellings.

Since the 2011 Census, a new method has been used for census collection. Known as the wave methodology, it involves contacting non-respondent households at key times to remind them to participate in the census and persuade them to complete the questionnaire. In each wave, households are provided with the information they need to respond. This methodology varies with the collection method used to distribute the census materials for a given region.

Because every Canadian household is required by law to answer the census questions, the wave methodology was designed to encourage people to respond early online, yet offers an alternative for households that do not wish to complete their questionnaire online. The wave methodology has many advantages: it increases the number of online responses, a mode that facilitates the flow of questions and real-time response edits; and it reduces non-response, the need for costly follow-up, and the number of questionnaires to register and data to capture. In the end, it increases the quality of the census.

For more information on census data collection, see Chapter 1 of the Sampling and Weighting Technical Report, Census of Population, 2016, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-306-X.

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