A politically divisive debate continues to rage over U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census. That same question has been part of Canada’s census form for over a century without a ripple.
Trump has been waging a fierce fight to add the controversial query to the 2020 census, and said Friday he’s now considering an executive order to get it done after a Supreme Court ruling blocked his efforts.
Canada’s own long form census asks: “Of what country is this person a citizen?” Respondents have a choice of three possible answers: ‘Canada, by birth,’ ‘Canada, by naturalization’ or ‘Other country – specify.’
A spokeswoman for Statistics Canada, which manages the census, said the citizenship data is vital to various programs.
“The citizenship question has a long history on the Canadian census, being introduced for the first time on the 1901,” said Emily Theelen in an email.
“This information is used to estimate the number of potential voters and to plan citizenship classes and programs. It also provides information about the population with multiple citizenships and the number of immigrants in Canada who hold Canadian citizenship.”
Theelen said Statistics Canada’s data quality assessment indicators have not flagged any issues specifically related to the citizenship question. The Library of Parliament could not find any significant debate, controversy or court case related to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Canadian census form.
In the U.S., the Republican administration’s push has triggered a partisan firestorm because of the enormous political stakes.
The once-a-decade population count determines the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives among the states, and the disbursement of about $675 billion in federal funding.
Disadvantage for Democrats
The Census Bureau’s own experts have said the question would discourage immigrants from participating in the census, which would result in a less-accurate census. That, say critics, would redistribute money and political power away from Democrat-led urban districts — where immigrants tend to cluster — and toward whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.
Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the political and electoral landscape in Canada is drastically different from the one in the U.S. and would not allow for that kind of “gerrymandering” — the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favour one party over others.
“In Canada, we have an impartial electoral commission that redistributes the electoral boundaries according to the law based on objective criteria,” he said. “It’s not an issue here at all, because we don’t have that kind of gerrymandering that they have in the U.S.”
No sign of abuse in Canada
Waldman said it’s possible a census result showing a high percentage of undocumented people in a specific region of the U.S. could lead to stepped-up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) patrols there.
Up to now, there has been no evidence that census information has been abused in that way in Canada.
The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it will continue to look for legal grounds to include the question on the census, but it did not say what options it’s considering.
The U.S. government already has begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without the citizenship question, but Trump suggested Friday that officials might be able to add the citizenship query to the questionnaire after it’s been printed.
n the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”
The Trump administration has said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box.
Canada conducts a census every four years. The next census is due in 2020.