34.6% of Canadians with no religious affiliation, according to the census

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Religious affiliation among Canadians has declined at an unprecedented rate, with more than a third of Canadians reporting no religious affiliation in the last census, Statistics Canada revealed Wednesday.

And although 2021 data shows that the proportion of non-religious residents has more than doubled over the past 20 years—to 34.6%, up from 16.5% in 2001—the share of the population that identifies as Christian has shrunk.

They represented 53.3% of the population in 2021, compared to 67.3% in 2011 and 77.1% in 2001.

« It’s fair to say that the two things we’re seeing — the growth in the non-religious population, as well as the decline in the number of people identifying as of Christian denomination — are related, » the senior analyst at the division said. Diversity and Sociocultural Statistics at Statistics Canada, Jarod Dobson.

The trend in Canada follows that seen in the United States, the agency noted.

« There are studies that have been done that show that over time the importance of religion in people’s lives has diminished, » Dobson said.

The category of people with no religious affiliation includes those who identify as atheists and agnostics, as well as humanists and those with other secular perspectives.

Life has changed a lot since the height of Christianity in Canada in the 19th century, says Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, associate professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo.

“The church was often the center of social, political, community life, in addition to a religious center,” Ms. Wilkins-Laflamme said.

“We are now in a society where that is still a possibility, but there are many other possibilities for people who are looking for community,” she adds.

Even as the share of non-religious people increases and Christianity declines, some religions are experiencing growth, primarily due to immigration.

Islam is the second most commonly reported religion in Canada in 2021, with nearly 5% of the population identifying as Muslim. A proportion that has more than doubled since 2001, when the share was only 2%.

Meanwhile, 2.3% of the population now identifies as Hindu, up from 1% in 2001.

Those who are affiliated with a particular religion are not necessarily practicing members of that religion, Statistics Canada said.

According to her, last year’s survey presents the most comprehensive picture of Canadians’ religious affiliations to date.

The federal agency explains that the questionnaire linked a list of 200 sample denominations that respondents had to look at before listing their religion, which encouraged them to be more specific in their answer.

For example, 1,645 people reported being Druidic in the 2021 census, while 4,475 reported being Neopagan. In previous investigations, they would have been identified only as pagans.

The Pagan umbrella, which also includes 12,625 Wiccans, now encompasses 45,325.

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