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What do the new census figures reveal about transgender and non-binary Canadians? Historian El Chenier of Simon Fraser University, the founder of Boldly Nonbinary, explains on The Decibel.

One in 300 Canadians aged 15 and older identifies as transgender or non-binary, according to the country’s first-ever census to collect statistics on these populations, which begins to fill in significant data gaps and offers a more accurate portrait of the gender diversity of Canada’s population.

Canada is now the first country to provide national census data on transgender and non-binary people.

The data, made public on Wednesday, was part of the second release from the 2021 census, the results of which will be published throughout the year. The census data also showed that the country’s population continues to get older, with more than one in five working-age Canadians nearing retirement and seniors seeing the second-largest increase in their population in 75 years. Meanwhile, data on housing showed an increase in the number of people who are living in multifamily homes.

On the topic of sex and gender, Canadians were asked a two-step question in last year’s census. The first question pertained to sex assigned at birth. A second question about gender offered a new, third category beyond male or female, allowing respondents to specify their gender using a write-in option, “so that they could indicate what terms were most relevant to them,” said Laurent Martel, director of the Centre for Demography at Statistics Canada.

One in 300 people in Canada aged 15 and older

is transgender or non-binary, 2021

14,814,230

cisgender*

men

(48.83%)

15,421,085

cisgender

women

(50.83%)

100,815

transgender/

non-binary

people (0.33%)

27,905

transgender

men (27.68%)

31,555

transgender

women (31.30%)

41,355

non-binary

people (41.02%)

*Cisgender denotes identifying with one’s birth sex

the globe and mail, Source: statscan

One in 300 people in Canada aged 15 and older

is transgender or non-binary, 2021

14,814,230

cisgender*

men

(48.83%)

15,421,085

cisgender

women

(50.83%)

100,815

transgender/

non-binary

people (0.33%)

27,905

transgender

men (27.68%)

31,555

transgender

women (31.30%)

41,355

non-binary

people (41.02%)

*Cisgender denotes identifying with one’s birth sex

the globe and mail, Source: statscan

One in 300 people in Canada aged 15 and older is transgender or non-binary, 2021

14,814,230

cisgender*

men

(48.83%)

15,421,085

cisgender

women

(50.83%)

100,815

transgender/

non-binary

people (0.33%)

27,905

transgender

men (27.68%)

31,555

transgender

women (31.30%)

41,355

non-binary

people (41.02%)

*Cisgender denotes identifying with one’s birth sex

the globe and mail, Source: statscan

Some 100,815 people identified as transgender or non-binary on the census, including 27.7 per cent who identified as transgender men, 31.3 per cent who identified as transgender women, and 41 per cent who wrote in non-binary or another term. Of the people who used the new write-in option, more than 70 per cent identified as non-binary, while 7.3 per cent described their gender as fluid, 5.1 per cent as agender, 4.1 per cent as queer, 2.9 per cent as gender neutral and 2.2 per cent as two-spirit.

“It is likely that this terminology will continue to evolve in coming years as the society continues to change,” said Mr. Martel. “Some Canadians might also become more at ease in coming years in declaring a different gender than man or woman, as social acceptability evolves as well.”

A significant generation gap emerged, with more than 62 per cent of those identifying as non-binary or trans falling under the age of 35. One in 100 young adults ages 20 to 24 described themselves this way. The proportions of non-binary and transgender people were three to seven times higher for Generation Z and millennials than they were for Generation X, baby boomers and older generations.

“These numbers suggest that growing up knowing more about transgender and non-binary lives enables people to learn who they are at younger ages. This can be a significant protective factor,” said Lee Airton, assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies in education at Queen’s University. Prof. Airton, who uses the pronouns they and them, is also founder of gegi.ca, a new self-advocacy tool for Ontario students from kindergarten to Grade 12 on protection of gender identity and expression.

Advocates argued that the new census data are crucial to informing policymakers’ priorities and critical for a population that experiences heightened levels of discrimination, financial stress and poor mental health.

“We know from decades of critical research that 2SLGBTQI people in Canada experience higher rates of mental illness and suicide, housing insecurity and homelessness, job insecurity and lack of access to gender-affirming health care,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ-advocacy organization Egale.

“It is important to have strong census data to make informed recommendations for improvement of the services and programs available to Canadians, as 2SLGBTQI people in Canada still experience inequity across all systems, from health care to education to employment,” Ms. Kennedy said.

An argument that is frequently used to delegitimize transgender people is that “there’s a lot of ‘hullaballoo’ for not a lot of people,” Prof. Airton said. Having data on transgender people will show what inequities they are likely to experience, such as disparities between their income and their level of education. “Those kinds of disparities will greatly shore up a need to enact and follow through on a lot of promising policy development,” they said.

The new sex and gender questions are not without their critics. Ms. Kennedy criticized the absence of an “intersex” option under the “sex at birth” question, and also the lack of any questions pertaining to sexuality and sexual orientation.

Other critics take issue with the entire “sex at birth” question, arguing it is unnecessary and pushing some transgender people down an unwelcome path.

There are many transgender people who “don’t really live in an out or open way as transgender,” Prof. Airton said. “For many transgender men and transgender women, their sex at birth has nothing to do with their lived experience of the world because they are moving through life, their jobs, their faith communities, on public transit and all over the place, simply being read as a garden-variety man or woman.”

Safety can be another issue with these questions, Prof. Airton said, because people must fill out the mandatory census alongside other people in their household, “who may quite simply not know that you are transgender. This may put you at risk.” For safety reasons, Prof. Airton believes transgender people must be able to opt out of the sex question.

Given the census is completed as a household and not individually, “we will have drastic undercounts of transgender people,” Prof. Airton added. Mr. Martel acknowledged that often one person in a dwelling is enumerating all the people living there. “Some people might not know the gender identity of other people in this dwelling,” he said.

In the latest census, Prof. Airton said Statistics Canada struck a balance between posing simple questions relevant to gender diversity without confusing, distracting or polarizing some in the general population by asking more detailed questions about sex and gender.

“Even in 2022,” Prof. Airton said, “we are not yet at a place societally where that would not produce unwelcome responses from the population.”

Record-setting number of working-age Canadians are nearing retirement

More than one in five working-age Canadians are nearing retirement, according to the latest release of census data – a record level in the country that Statistics Canada says is one factor behind current labour shortages.

The number of seniors in Canada is also rising rapidly, up about 18 per cent in 2021 compared with 2016, a trend that will have major implications for the already-stretched health care system. It marks the second-largest increase in that age group in 75 years, following a 20-per-cent jump in 2016 compared with 2011.

And the number of people 85 and older has doubled since 2001, with Statscan projecting this figure could triple by 2046.

Population by age in Canada, 2011 vs. 2021

In thousands

Age group

Females 2021

Males 2021

2011 census

85+

65-84

36-64

15-35

14 and

under

300

250

200

150

100

50

0

50

100

150

200

250

300

THOUSAND

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATSCAN

Population by age in Canada, 2011 vs. 2021

In thousands

Age group

Females 2021

Males 2021

2011 census

85+

65-84

36-64

15-35

14 and

under

300

250

200

150

100

50

0

50

100

150

200

250

300

THOUSAND

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATSCAN

Population by age in Canada, 2011 vs. 2021

In thousands

Age group

Females 2021

Males 2021

2011 census

85+

65-84

36-64

15-35

14 and under

300

250

200

150

100

50

0

50

100

150

200

250

300

THOUSAND

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATSCAN

Medical professionals and health-policy experts have been warning for years about the aging of the baby-boomer generation and the implications this would have on the health care system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tipped the country’s taxed health care system further into crisis, with hospitals struggling to treat patients and deal with backlogs after two years of upheaval. And many health care workers are experiencing burnout and leaving the profession.

The country’s 13 provincial and territorial premiers have banded together to ask the federal government for larger transfers to help cover the growing cost of health care delivery, saying an increase is necessary to help navigate through the pandemic and its aftermath.

According to the federal budget tabled earlier this month, the Canada Health Transfer to provinces and territories will be $45.2-billion in 2022-23, which the government says is an increase. This falls far short of what provinces and territories have been requesting. Canada’s premiers have been lobbying for the federal government to increase its contribution to health care costs to 35 per cent, from 22 per cent.

Exteriors of the peopleCare Oakcrossing long term care home in London, Ont. on Mar 24.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

When the budget was tabled, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested spending more won’t solve the country’s health care problems. Canada already spends more on health care than many comparable countries, with outcomes that are often worse.

The discussion over the sustainability of Canada’s health care system has become increasingly intense during the pandemic, as thousands of patients have had surgeries cancelled and procedures delayed while many hospitals across the country struggled to find resources to treat a massive surge in patients.

Many medical professionals and health-policy experts agree Canada can’t spend its way out of the health care crisis.

What is needed, according to experts like Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, is a restructuring of how health professionals work and how the system functions. The current system is fragmented, with patients having to navigate from provider to provider.

The aging population is a particular concern because some seniors will develop chronic illnesses that require more resources. While other countries, such as Denmark, have invested heavily in home care and other out-of-hospital health services to help individuals with complex needs remain at home, that model is not available to most people in Canada. Instead, many people with chronic illness slowly deteriorate at home until they eventually require hospitalization - an outcome that could have been prevented if the system was more focused on preventive health, experts say.

Dr. Smart said possible solutions include enabling health professionals to deliver services in more flexible ways, and investing more in non-hospital care, which is less costly and usually preferred by patients.

“Why is home care and long-term care not an integrated part of our health care system?” Dr. Smart said, adding that a widespread lack of access to high-quality home and long-term care forces many to seek hospital care. “All we are doing is driving massive health care costs.”

An investment in community-based health care could also be used to help reduce unnecessary emergency-room visits, she said, by ensuring more people have same-day access to health professionals.

Canada becoming more dense with shift to multiunit housing

Canada is getting more dense, according to the census, with residences in taller buildings proliferating at a faster pace than other types of homes, although the single-family house remains the dominant form of dwelling countrywide.

Data from the 2021 census include information on the relative youth of urban downtowners and the shrinking number of children in the country’s biggest cities.

In 2016, Vancouver was alone among the three biggest urban areas to have more seniors – those aged 65 and older – than children under the age of 15. The latest census shows that Montreal and Toronto have now hit this threshold as well. Nine of the 12 electoral ridings in Ontario with the lowest proportion of children are in Toronto.

Laurent Martel, director of demography at Statistics Canada, noted that areas with fewer children could face effects that include struggling to keep schools open.

“With low fertility and the concentration of young families in some specific neighbourhoods, I think that’s one of the key challenges of this country right now,” he said at a briefing.

These trends are happening against a backdrop of broader demographic change that the agency projects will see millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 – outnumber baby boomers by 2029.

Those millennials are currently overrepresented in the centres of Canadian cities, the census shows. While one-quarter of urban residents are millennials, this group makes up 35.1 per cent of downtown populations.

Statistics Canada said in its release of census data that younger adults are attracted to city centres by the unique lifestyle and urban amenities of these areas.

Their behaviour may also reflect a lack of choice about where to live, given soaring real estate values and the fact that some residents resist home construction in their neighbourhoods. As a result, much of the growth in Canadian cities is localized in a few areas, usually downtown, with high-rises absorbing the demand.

In British Columbia, according to Statistics Canada, the number of dwellings in high-rise buildings – defined by the agency as those with five or more storeys – grew by 24.8 per cent from 2016 through 2021. That was nearly six times the 4.3-per-cent increase in detached homes.

And in Toronto, such buildings now include 30.7 per cent of all dwelling units in the city, the highest percentage in the country.

Statistics Canada suggested that the shift toward multiunit apartment buildings is likely to continue. The agency noted that more than half of building permits from 2016 through 2021 were for such buildings, compared with less than 40 per cent before 2011.

Underpinning this trend are Canadian cities that have acknowledged sprawl is expensive and unsustainable, and have adopted official policies pursuing densification.

A construction worker builds a new house in Vaughan, Ont., on June 29, 2015.Mark Blinch/Reuters

These policies have had mixed success. In Mississauga, west of Toronto, taller buildings were allowed in tandem with houses continuing to be built on greenfield sites, which have now run out. And in some cases, city policies around density have clashed with provincial pressure to expand urban boundaries, in the name of allowing more house construction.

That tension came to a head late last year in Hamilton, where councillors resisted a provincial directive to expand the city. The official plan now calls for 80 per cent of future growth to be accommodated through the intensification of already built-up areas.

In British Columbia, Kelowna’s population was revealed in an earlier release of census data to have grown faster since 2016 than any other urban centre. The community in 2019 approved a long-term plan that aims to accommodate 45,000 more residents without approving any new suburban neighbourhoods.

In Wednesday’s release, Statistics Canada said that, while the number of single-family homes in Kelowna grew nearly 10 per cent, the number of dwellings in tall buildings exploded by 52.8 per cent.

However, these trends will take time to reverse the still-dominant residential form in Canada: the traditional single detached house.

In spite of that multiunit dwelling growth in Kelowna, they still form a very small part of the community’s housing stock – less than 3 per cent, according to the census.

Nationally, 52.6 per cent of dwellings are single detached houses, down from 57.2 per cent in 1981.

This declining share of single detached homes is most pronounced in British Columbia, where they represent 42.4 per cent of dwellings. That is the lowest among provinces and the 20-percentage-point drop in this proportion since 1981 is the largest in the country.

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