Census shows about a third of Canadians are not religious

A growing number of Canadians are not affiliated with any religion, new data from the 2021 census reveals.

The latest data shows that the proportion of non-religious Canadians has more than doubled over the past 20 years, to 34.6% from 16.5% in 2001.

Meanwhile, although Christianity remains the majority religion in Canada, only 53% of the population reported being affiliated with a Christian religion, down 14% from 2011 and 24% from 2001.

Statistics Canada said in its report, released Wednesday, that « the drop in religious affiliation is consistent with previous findings that fewer people reported the importance of religious or spiritual beliefs in their lives, » dropping from 71% in 2003 to 54% in 2019.

In Christian institutions in particular, Ainsley Hawthorn, a Yale-educated cultural historian, scholar and author based in St. John’s, cites residential school abuse and the Mount Cashel sex abuse scandal as examples of events that caused a loss of trust and faith.

“We’re talking about institutions that claim to be the source of moral values ​​for society,” Hawthorn said. “When they act in a clearly immoral and criminal way, it is very difficult for people to turn to them for moral advice.”

The report also reveals that 0.9% of Canadians identify with Judaism, down slightly from 1.1% in 2001. Nearly half of the 1.8 million Aboriginal people in Canada say they have no connection religious, and less than 1% of the country’s population reported identifying with a traditional indigenous spirituality.

The share of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh populations has more than doubled over the past 20 years. Yet these religious groups remain small: 4.9% Muslims, 2.3% Hindus and 2.1% Sikhs.

Hawthorn said these changes are largely related to immigrants from South Asia and North Africa, who already practice Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.

She does not foresee that these religious groups will experience a decline in the years to come as Christianity has.

« It can become a way of connecting with your culture, your traditions and your heritage — especially for people of color who experience racism, » Hawthorn said. She exemplifies how the Jewish population in Canada has remained largely the same over the past two decades.

“If you ask a lot of these people if they practice Judaism, they might not be a regular synagogue goer — they might not even believe in the Torah,” Hawthorn said. “But they still consider themselves Jewish because it is a marker of identity and a personal source of pride as someone from a minority group in Canada who has experienced and continues to experience discrimination.”

The Statistics Canada report also looked at the country’s ethnocultural makeup, highlighting information from a 2021 census question that asked respondents if they identified as belonging to one or more of the following racialized groups: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Japanese or Korean.

The three largest groups reported were South Asians, Chinese and blacks, each exceeding one million and making up a total of 16% of the country’s population, up from 13% in 2016.

Data released Wednesday also shows that the distribution of these racialized groups varies by region. While South Asian, Chinese, and Black populations are largest in Ontario, Black and Arab populations are largest in Quebec, Chinese and South Asian populations in British Columbia, and South Asian and Filipino populations in the prairies.

While the 2021 Census reflects a slight change in the way ethnic or cultural origins are collected – providing a list of over 500 examples to choose from rather than the previous 28 – no change has been made to the question. “population group”.

Critics have previously disputed the limited nature of the « population group » options, citing undercounts of minorities and mixed-race people as concerns.

“The purpose of this question is to produce estimates for the Employment Equity Act; that’s why we have these large groups,” said Tina Chui, director of diversity and sociocultural statistics at Statistics Canada. The law requires the collection of information on the aforementioned “visible minority” groups for use in reporting employment equity data.

With files by Raisa Patel


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