Open Letter to Chief Statistician of Canada: Gender of a person

March 12, 2021

Anil Arora

Chief Statistician of Canada

Feedback regarding Stats Canada standard and usage of gender of person 

Canadian Gender Report is a non-partisan, non-sectarian group concerned about the exponential increase in youth being referred for medical gender transition, the lack of evidence-based practice in our healthcare system for these invasive medical interventions, the promotion of gender identity teaching in our education system and the lack of parental rights to act in the best interests of our children.

Dear Mr Arora, 

Thank you for soliciting public feedback for the variable “gender of person” and associated metadata. We have some concerns with your data classification system and with the adoption of self-identified “gender” as a replacement for biological sex in most of Statistics Canada’s data collection efforts. 

The traditional binary view of gender as male or female has always been understood in data applications as categorical data. It naturally had an either/or meaning that was easily organized into distinct data variables. 

The new variable of gender which you’ve indicated was introduced as a result of changes to the Human Rights Code (Bill C-16) and for which Stats Can is requesting public feedback turns this construct on its head. From your definition:

“Gender refers to the gender that a person internally feels (‘gender identity’ along the gender spectrum) and/or the gender a person publicly expresses (‘gender expression’) in their daily life, including at work, while shopping or accessing other services, in their housing environment or in the broader community. A person’s current gender may differ from the sex a person was assigned at birth (male or female) and may differ from what is indicated on their current legal documents. A person’s gender may change over time.”

Stats Can

Gender is thus defined as a subjective experience and “feeling”. There can no longer be discrete categories that everyone agrees with based on an objective test. The new concept introduced here, which is fundamental for your data classification decisions, is “along the gender spectrum”. This becomes a challenge for data classification and analysis because gender, per this definition, is a continuous data type.

Statistics Canada’s decision to replace sex for gender in data collection and analyses will result in data quality and information loss. This letter outlines why this is the case, and identifies policy implications for your consideration. 

Challenges for data quality and metadata categorization when using a social constructivist definition of gender

Most of the foundational texts advocating for a new acceptance of gender, including Martine Rothblatt’s Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender, profess the need for a new model of gender, outside those of biological sex, because the biologically correct terms, male and female, are seen as concepts constructed by social attitudes that originated in patriarchal cultures and have been institutionalized in modern law.  Primary importance is placed on the gender role that an individual feels they most identify with in the Western cultural context. 

Gender, as defined by the social constructivist concepts of gender identity and gender expression which are completely independent of biological sex, is a subjective experience and therefore no two individuals may be in agreement of what a particular gender identity or gender role means but may, regardless, use the same term as an identity label for their own purposes. The idea that “a person’s gender may change over time” introduces even more challenges from a data categorization and analysis point of view. 

Statistics Canada has already conducted over 400 surveys that replaced the demographic question about biological sex with gender. The gender metadata categories, however, appropriate the language of biological sex and include only one additional “Gender diverse” option. If the intent of the new gender data object is to enable self-identification of gender, and it is clearly being used as a substitute for biological sex, then the critical question Statistics Canada and the Government of Canada need to answer for the Canadian public is what does it mean to self-identify one’s gender and how will this information be used? 

Source: Stats Can  

Metadata is high quality when it is fit for its intended purpose by data users. We appreciate the new interest in analyzing and understanding policy impacts on gender minorities, but it appears that a process of policy capture has taken place, through which the legitimate interests of women in gathering high-quality data by sex class have been completely ignored. 

Can self-reported gender be used as a substitute for biological sex?

The concept of “gender” is commonly understood in Canadian society to mean biological sex. Statistics Canada is responsible for “tested and trusted statistical standards”; however, the agency has swapped the meaning of “gender” from the objective meaning of biological sex, to a subjective form of self-identification. For a data variable to have meaning and value for analytics purposes, it must have properties that can be identified beyond a purely subjective label. Further, the Government of Canada has mandated a policy to only collect data on sex as an “exception case” where health or demographic data is required. What was the basis for this decision? 

It appears Statistics Canada made an assumption when you started to collect data based on gender rather than biological sex that the number of people who are a gender that is different from their biological sex will be so small that it will not impact data quality and therefore you can collect data based on the new definition of “gender” as a substitute for biological sex. You’ve assumed that the labels people use for gender or sex can be interchanged without any impact or loss of information. Either this has been your determination or the Government of Canada has mandated that biological sex is irrelevant for policy planning and decision making without any data to inform this decision. 

The only publically available and transparent test that might have led you to this conclusion is the 2016 Census testing of the new gender questions which estimated the population of transgender men, women and non-binary individuals to be between 0.16% and 0.36% (at 95% CI) of the total population. However, if biological sex can be relegated to an “exception case”, and therefore replaced by self-identified gender for policy analysis and decision making, then your assumption that gender is a statistically valid replacement for sex must hold true for different populations and data queries. 

Consider, however, that the numbers of Canadian and US college students who identify as a gender that is different from their birth sex is growing rapidly and this is a relatively new trend. 

Transgender population – North America University and Colleges

Source: American College Health Association – some annual reports have data for Canadian universities

Note: Nonbinary students are included in the above chart percentages whereas this data is not directly apparent in the report per methodology note “A note about the use of sex and gender in this report” 

Data prior to 2012 is generally consistent with your Census test, but the sharp increase in trans-identification in the US and Canadian University population proves that your general population estimate is not transferrable to the university student population. 

Should this trend continue among young people to identify differently from their birth sex, what is the meaning one can ascribe to “male gender” and “female gender” for data categorization purposes? What properties or characteristics make “male” distinct from “female” for the purposes of data measurement if anyone can declare these labels for their own gender? As this new belief system and cultural trend continues, many people are opting out of identifying with one of the two binary gender options themselves as “male” or “female” altogether, particularly if these categories become generally understood to reflect traditional gender roles. “Genderqueer” and other similar gender labels are experiencing the most growth among the university population. 

The choice of gender, as a long term data object on which to base policy decisions, appears to be completely meaningless (aside from tracking identity groups). Is this the real purpose of the Government of Canada’s decision to substitute gender for sex?

By collecting and categorizing data exclusively based on gender rather than biological sex, the data model you’re creating will evolve over time to only have meaning in terms of identity groups. A system-level change such as this which enables people to self-report into an identity group (gender or any other) means that one’s membership in a group will determine one’s characteristics and therefore entitlements for public policy and under the law, rather than one’s characteristics determining one’s group membership. 

This is a poorly understood consequence of the decision you’ve chosen. The Canadian public is currently unaware of the implications of this new directive and its potential impact. In the UK, a High Court judicial review is underway to rule on the appropriate distinction between sex and gender, as these concepts have the potential to be conflated and mis-represented. In an interim ruling this week, the judge mandated that the guidance on the sex question be revised so that census respondents do not confuse the concept with self-identified gender. 

The gender data object as an enabler of identity group policymaking

The United Nations document summarizing the discussion and findings of the Conference of European Statisticians In-depth review of measuring gender identity referenced as part of the justification for the new gender standard indicates: 

‘Statistics Canada has stated, “In some surveys, the two-step approach may be used as a transition measure before transitioning to only the gender question, to mitigate the risk of introducing an approach that may impact historical trends” (Lachance, Mechanda, & Born, 2017). 

On what basis has Stats Canada determined that a goal of ‘transitioning to only the gender question’ (thereby replacing biological sex) is an acceptable strategy? Has the Government of Canada even determined an appropriate definition of gender that Canadians accept as reflective of the reasons why they describe themselves as male, female or something else? 

The UN document (section D. Advantages of an open response category for gender) states, “Many non-binary individuals would prefer a better descriptor for themselves than “other gender.” Has Stats Canada considered that many Canadians, regardless of trans status, may prefer a better descriptor for themselves than “male” or “female” when those categories have been stripped of their relationship to one’s biological sex? 

The UN document outlines various cultural scenarios where 3rd genders are accepted cultural norms. Two Spirit is one example from our own indigenous communities.

While it is an important goal to acknowledge variations in the way people choose to express their gender, it is a radical departure to start to formulate policies, invoke new legislation and reallocate government resources as if the subjective experience and expression of gender can be a replacement for biological sex, and the objective truth that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. 

Consider the Canadian prison population. Natal females who are incarcerated in Canada generally commit much less violent crimes than natal males. Yet the Government of Canada is treating “female gender” as an identity group and housing dangerous male offenders (including several violent sexual offenders) in prisons that were created as sex-segregated facilities. 

Biological males account for approximately 2% of the current population of inmates in Canadian women’s prisons (federal). Information on the sex of prisoners housed in men’s and women’s prisons in Canada is not made available in public sources, but female inmates are providing information to trusted confidants, including reports of ongoing sexual harassment. Source

How do you explain why the number of biological males currently incarcerated in the federal women’s correctional system is orders of magnitude larger than your census analysis of the transgender and non-binary populations in Canada suggests it should be? The expected number of convicted biological male felons in Canada claiming to be women is not consistent with your Census test. Further, the government made a decision that “female gender” can be used as a replacement for “female sex” in crime reporting. How was this determination made without affecting historical data or fundamentally changing the way policy decisions can be assessed on an ongoing basis?  

Stats Canada claims that it wants data to reflect gender minorities, but of critical importance is whether it will also be possible to assess the impacts of policy decisions on biological females (and males). Stats Canada is responsible for accurate data collection on Canadians, and we enjoy sex-based protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If it is no longer possible to differentiate between the biological sexes in the data sets that Stats Canada oversees for the judicial system, and others, this is a clear policy direction from the Canadian government to obfuscate sex-based differences and their associated impacts on policy. 

By dissociating biological reality from identity group based policy decisions, you blindly ascribe the characteristics of the group to the members. How does this inform policy decisions that require balancing the needs of all constituents when it is well understood that biological males exhibit significantly more aggressive and violent behaviour compared with biological females, even and perhaps particularly among the population of convicted felons? 

Please consider the types of public policy decisions the Canadian government will need to make about the mixed-sex prison population in future. In Rothblatt’s Apartheid of Sex, the solution proposed for the inevitable problem of women becoming pregnant in a mixed-sex prison is forced contraception. 

Martine Rothblatt is a brilliant innovator, billionaire, one of the most highly compensated pharmaceutical executives in the world. Rothblatt, a biological male, is currently the Chair of United Therapeutics Corporation, a biotech company that specializes in the development of organs. Rothblatt’s predictions about the adoption of gender neutral terminology to describe males and females have already come true as have predictions of compelled identity language – now reflected in the new practice directions for our own BC court system which apply to everyone, not only with respect to trans-identified people. 

In a future where we are no longer able to speak of the biological differences between males and females, or identify people by their biological sex, forced contraception of the prison population would become a tenable solution and indeed, even “inclusive” policy recommendation – even if it is objectively true that pregnancies are occurring due to forced sexual encounters, rather than consensual relationships.

What is a Gender-based Analysis? 

The current Liberal government introduced the concept of “Gender-based analysis” (GBA) for all new major policy decisions and legislation. This concept is most often discussed as an equality mandate for men and women, but if the connection between the “female gender” is severed from “female sex” this reduces the quality of data that is available on women as a sex class.

Your attempt to use “male” and “female” as the metadata categories for an entirely new and poorly understood concept of gender ignores the cultural reality in Canada and most of the West that there are competing systems of belief with respect to the concept of gender.  The evolution of language in a culture typically follows after concepts are understood and adopted naturally, not before.

The ideology behind the concept of gender identity effectively separates identity from biological reality and places the value on identity, thereby redefining what it means to be human and how we are protected under law. The usage of the term “cisgender” is therefore problematic because it presumes everyone has a gender identity that could be dissociated from their biological reality. This cannot be objectively verified and is therefore an imposition of a belief system.

Further, this belief system implies that “girl” and “boy” or “female” and “male” are personality types or stereotypes. Imposing a gender identity on Canadians by virtue of their answers to a “gender” question without giving them the option of identifying their biological sex as their gender is a political act and not neutral. This is something StatsCanada must address as stewards of Canadian’s personal information and how it is used for policy decision making. 

Statistics Canada added the gender variable as a result of changes to the Canadian Human Rights Code, but the effect of the Government mandate to replace sex with gender is to eliminate the ability to assess policy and legislation based on the protected characteristic of sex. We’d like to remind you that the changes to the Human Rights Code did not eliminate sex as a protected characteristic.

This attempt to redefine gender as a social construct is an issue that will have significant impacts on women and girls due to the asymmetry that is experienced by natal females in our society, whether this is as victims of violent crime, wage inequality, access to education and career opportunities, ongoing caregiving responsibilities for children or elderly parents, and the sex-based protections that society once offered women and girls such as single-sex washrooms, changerooms, prisons, and sporting events due to the biological differences in physical strength and aggressive behaviour that necessitates this. 

A gender based analysis was never released to the public for Bill C-16. Why not? Bill C-16 has clearly changed how gender information is being collected and analyzed by the government. What is the Government of Canada trying to hide from the Canadian public? 

The current trend of gender self-identification is resulting in dangerous male offenders gaining access to women’s prisons by virtue of their self-declared membership in the “female gender” identity group. On the other hand, I’ve heard from many young women who’ve adopted a “gender identity” rather than identify as their natal sex in order to escape the negative stereotypes and degrading cultural status (in the porn industry and over-sexualized mass marketing, including the new celebrity fascination with drag and queer culture) given to women in our society. The evolving cultural and social landscape of gender is fascinating, but the trajectory and consequences are far from clear.

Legislation to amend the Criminal Code to ban practices of conversion therapy is currently before the government. Canadian gender clinics that treat children under 16 years of age are reporting that over 80% of their referrals are natal females seeking to transition to “boys” or “non-binary” or other gender identities. This is a dramatic shift in population from previous cohorts of primarily natal males who exhibited early-onset childhood gender dysphoria.

Who Are The People Served By Canadian Trans Youth Clinics

Characteristics of Canadian Trans and Non-Binary Youth Under Age 16 in Clinical Care

Source: Trans Youth Can

Countries around the world are asking questions to understand why the gender ratio between natal females and natal males seeking medical gender transition has reversed in the past decade. Sweden, the UK, and others have recently called for independent reviews and investigations into the alarming trend of adolescent females requesting medical gender transition services.

Just like Bill C-16, the GBA for Bill C6 has not been released. Information on the Justice Department website indicates only that “1 in 5 sexual minority men” have been subjected to conversion therapy. MP Tamara Jansen has asked questions of Parliament yesterday to understand how the Gender-based Analysis was undertaken for this Bill.

Bill C-6 clearly impacts natal females seeking gender transition in unprecedented numbers. Does the Government of Canada consider it important to understand the impacts of policy and legislation on the female sex class or not?

The ability to collect robust, high quality sex-disaggregated data is important whether this is for health and medical research purposes or to inform other policy decisions. Unfortunately, data and analyses on the female sex class has always been relegated to an “exception case” even in the field of medicine because it is experimentally simpler to test drugs on men. In the field of medicine, this has had deadly consequences. Statistics Canada has a duty to Canadians to ensure that data collection and analyses for public policy purposes does not also lead us to know less about the impacts of policy decisions on females vs others.

Gender based analyses must, as a matter of course, identify gender impacts based on sex-disaggregated data.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Statistics Canada must be very careful not to conflate sex and gender in your data collection activities, metadata or resulting analyses. We would like to see Statistics Canada re-introduce sex (sex at birth, not “assigned” at birth) in all data collection efforts to ensure completeness and accuracy of the data. Please also remove conflicting terminology in order to make a clear distinction between sex and gender. Statistics Canada and the Government of Canada must be clear in the usage of the word “gender” in all communications and publications that this no longer refers to biological sex. It has become very difficult to understand whether reports available from the Government of Canada reflect data based on the new variable of gender or were created based on the variable of sex. This must be addressed.

Please change the categorization model you’ve come up with for “gender” to reflect the ambiguity of this new data object that is evolving and effectively unconstrained. The current choices of male/female illustrate that you are trying to map the categorization model of biological sex into the new model of gender self-id without acknowledging that the meaning of these categories has changed. This is deceptive to Canadians and will lead to a lack of trust once Canadians realize that these data variables have no relationship to the biological sex categories of male and female.

A reasonable approach to capture the full range of labels that people self-assign to describe their gender is to use an open-ended question. This more unstructured data would help you track the evolution of language over time and how people are being influenced by educational programming in our public schools that promote gender identity queer theory as an alternative form of self-identification to students as early as kindergarten.

Your role as the public body in Canada that safeguards our data is to ensure that the highest quality of data can be captured and retained for public policy decision making and the historical record. Statistics Canada must ensure historical data on biological sex is not lost and that public policy decisions can be evaluated and tested objectively with biological sex as an important and potentially predictive variable.  

Canadians give our data freely to the government because we trust that you are performing a public duty and will use our data for purposes that will improve public policy and drive positive changes. The new gender variable was introduced as a result of changes to the Canadian Human Rights Code, but the Code even after Bill C-16 recognizes sex and gender identity as distinct concepts. We request that you record sex as distinct from gender identity in all data collection efforts and analyses and ensure you are not favouring one over the other.

We look forward to the results of this much-needed review.

Note to readers: The public consultation is open until Friday, March 12. More information can be found at:

We will also collect comments and input we receive on this letter and submit everything on Friday.

2 thoughts on “Open Letter to Chief Statistician of Canada: Gender of a person

  1. Chief Statistician Anil Arora wrote back on May 4, 2021. His response is below. What this response is lacking is any statistical or evidence-based justification for the shift to capture information on gender as a replacement data variable for biological sex. In the absence of data for biological sex, self-determined gender is the only information available for policy evaluation and decision making. The only justification provided is the need to avoid asking the sex of Canadians who have been arrested for a crime. This policy in itself favours biological males who commit a dispropotionate number of crimes, particularly violent ones, and often where a female is their victim. So, without any evidence of improved decision making or equitable treatment of Canadians under the law, Canadians are supposed to trust that these changes are justified because of “modernizing”.

    Dear Ms. Buffone,

    Thank you for your feedback regarding Statistics Canada’s gender standard and usage of gender, and more generally on the concept of gender.

    Following legislative changes in Canada and among many provinces and territories, there have been growing needs for statistical information on the LGBTQ2+ communities in Canada. In response to these needs, Statistics Canada has introduced a number of initiatives to measure this population and to ensure that the program of national statistics is inclusive of all Canadians, while maintaining high standards for quality and historical comparability of the data.

    Statistics Canada released standards on gender and sex at birth in 2018 following consultations with experts in the field, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with transgender and cisgender individuals. It also conducted a census test in 2019 among close to 135,000 Canadian households. Following this test, Statistics Canada made recommendations to Cabinet on the final content of the 2021 Census. A technical report based on results from the 2019 Census test (link), involving one question on sex at birth and one on gender with an open text field as a third response, was published along with the 2021 Census questionnaires (link).

    Both questions on sex at birth and gender will be included on the 2021 Census. This two-step approach allows the sex variable to be maintained along with some continuity in the time series, and the identification and measurement of the transgender and non-binary population. In addition, this approach addresses the data gap on gender diversity in Canada and fulfills the need to have a gender-inclusive question.

    Statistics Canada’s testing and consultation found that although male and female are biological sex categories, they are also suitable gender terms, provided the context is clear. They are familiar to the public and used across Canada on driver’s licenses and birth certificates. Continuing to use the markers M (male/masculine) and F (female/feminine) also helps with consistency in both official languages.

    Statistics Canada is planning to update its gender standard to allow flexibility for dissemination purposes. It will allow the use of ‘women’ or ‘girls’ instead of ‘females’ and ‘men’ or ‘boys’ instead of ‘males’.

    The development of the new sex at birth and gender variables helps clarify the concepts and improve the quality of the data. In fact, there is no way to know how respondents who are transgender or non-binary answered the previous asked question on sex (whether they answered male or female). In some cases, it is possible they provided the gender they most closely identify with instead of their sex at birth.

    The sex at birth and gender variables are consistent with the Government of Canada’s policy direction to modernize the sex and gender information practices. Data on sex at birth and gender will be used to modernize service delivery, to improve equity for all Canadians, and to foster gender-based analysis used to asses how diverse groups of women, men and non-binary people may experience policies, programs and initiatives.

    Statistics Canada has made a change to its approach to reporting crime statistics data. Data collected from police services now record the gender of the victim and the accused. These revisions were recommended by Statistics Canada to the Police Information and Statistics (POLIS) Committee in September 2018 and were subsequently endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) Board of Directors in November 2018. They enable police to reflect individuals as they are living and expressing themselves. It alleviates the need for police to inquire about sex at birth.

    Statistics Canada is working with other statistical agencies, such as StatsNZ in New Zealand and the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on developing international guidance related to standards on sex and gender.

    Statistics Canada recently undertook a public consultation to get feedback on the proposed updates to the gender standard and the new sexual orientation and LGBTQ2+ status standards. Although this public consultation is technically closed, you can still participate by following this link.

    Statistics Canada is committed to being transparent with Canadians about its concepts and definitions being measured in its statistical vehicles. Results of the public consultation mentioned above will be made public in coming months through the “Consulting Canadians” platform.

    Finally, Statistics Canada does not create policies or programs nor does it take a position in any debate. Statistics Canada is there to fill data needs, and as a consequence adapts its collection vehicles, as it has always been the case. Doing so, Statistics Canada also values the need for historical comparability, and making sure its statistics are unbiased, trustworthy, and of the highest quality possible. Statistics Canada firmly believes that by introducing a question on gender and adjusting the question on sex in the census of population, it will succeed in meeting all these goals.

    Yours sincerely,

    Anil Arora
    Chief Statistician of Canada

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