So what can be done to fix this situation?
Check the “No Religion” checkbox if you are not actually religious!
In the short term, the most important thing we can do is encourage people to complete this year’s long form census and check the “No Religion” box if they aren’t actually practicing a religion. I would discourage people from writing atheist or agnostic or humanist in the blank space. Approximately 100,000 people did this in 2001. In some of the StatsCan tables, these people have been integrated into a group along with those who checked the box called “No Religious Affiliation”. However, in some of StatsCan’s literature, only data from the “No Religion” checkbox is included. This is why sometimes you’ll see “No Religion” reported as 16.2% and sometimes at 16.5% for 2001.
The question must be reworded!
In the longer term, the question on the census questionnaire needs to totally reworded to remove the bias against irreligion. This can be done simply by eliminating the line that encourages non-practicing Canadians to pick a religion. As well, the definition of “No Religion” should be clarified or expanded to distinguish between deists and agnostic/atheists. It wouldn’t hurt to add a question about the rate of religious participation either.
The only way to fix this is through StatsCan or parliament. Four years prior to each census, StatsCan commissions a census content consultation, where the public is invited to make suggestions to improve the census. The submissions are then reviewed and decided upon internally. This is the time when change is most likely to occur. Unfortunately, we won’t have this opportunity again until 2017.
Why this is important
This data is used for a wide variety of purposes including government legislation and our community has been underrepresented in society for far too long. The more credible numbers we have at our disposal that accurately report the size of our large and quickly growing community, the faster this will cease to be the case.
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