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Submission Letter to Statistics Canada on the Definition of Gender of a Person Public Consultation

Please use any part of this letter for your own use.

March 12, 2021


To whom it may concern:


Please accept the following submission in response to proposed updates to the standard on gender of a person. This letter is submitted on behalf of the undersigned.


As this submission also speaks to the Government of Canada’s government-wide directive to default to the collection of information on gender rather than sex [1]  we copy the Prime Minister’s office on this correspondence.  


We recognize the challenges facing Statistics Canada regarding the task of collecting data on the expanding number of individual identities related to gender and we believe that is important to do so. For example, in the upcoming census, questions related to the number and demographic characteristics of those who self-identify as trans or non-binary or something else are important in understanding the scope of this social and cultural change.


We appreciate the larger context of the Government of Canada’s direction to prioritize collecting gender rather than sex data (in most instances). However, this presents a further political complication illustrated well by Statistics Canada’s text in the preamble to this consultation.


We agree with Statistics Canada’s explanatory text that

"Gender is a complex subject with various cultural and international conceptions. Furthermore, this concept is strongly affected by ongoing social change and, as a result, is constantly evolving.”


We also agree that

“Some people may not identify…. with the concept of gender as a whole.”


While gender identity is protected in human rights law it is not a requirement that all Canadians perceive themselves to have a gender identity – this is particularly true given the concept is constantly evolving. In the same way, the right to be protected from discrimination based on religion does not require everyone to hold a religious belief. Demanding Canadians define themselves using the vocabulary of a particular belief system would be a violation of an individual’s right to hold their own beliefs.


Sex, as in the sex of a person, defined by government is also a protected characteristic along with other immutable characteristics. Equality rights set out in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are clear:


“Section 15 of the Charter makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be treated with the same respect, dignity and consideration. This means that governments must not discriminate on any of these grounds in its laws or programs.”[2]


As Statistics Canada has noted, sex and gender are different concepts. Using government’s definitions of sex and gender, if a person identifies as simultaneously male and female, for example, then the concepts of sex and gender are surely not at all related.


But it appears that Statistics Canada’s approach to calculating the number of trans/non-binary/other identifying individuals in the upcoming census is to contrast answers to gender to that of sex. Since the definition of gender is constantly evolving, it is unclear what the answer to sex is really being contrasted against.


Simultaneously, gender identity-related terminology like "cisgender", “sex at birth” and "sex assigned at birth" have crept into questions about sex at Statistics Canada and throughout government. Using gender-identity related language in questions where sex is the central inquiry poses the real problem of obfuscating sex in data and subsequently in public policy. At best data will be inaccurate at worst it is a violation of women’s sex-based rights set out in the Charter.


Additionally, we know many Canadians are not aware that the government defines "sex" and "gender" differently and so in answering questions related to "gender” will assume it is a synonym for "sex".  Other Canadians likely hold conflicting definitions or simply do not find gender identity to be a relatable concept.




  • Statistics Canada should ensure it is inclusive of all Canadians and use neutral, broadly understood terminology that is consistent with the way most people understand themselves – male or female.


  • For the purposes of gathering data about social and cultural trends, greater clarity is needed in the definition of gender to make it clear that questions about gender are gathering responses about personal beliefs and not to be conflated with a person’s sex.


  • Noting it is a characteristic protected from discrimination, sex should not be subordinate to or conflated with gender identity in data collection.  


  • With respect to the upcoming census, Statistics Canada should consider treating gender identity as a cultural or metaphysical belief and asked as a direct question independent from questions about sex.   


We appreciate that it may seem we have gone beyond the scope of this consultation but our concerns encompass and go beyond this year’s or next year’s definition of gender. We assert that as long as sex and the definition(s) of gender are understood by government as inter-related, the gathering of data, and provision of services in keeping with Charter protections will be fraught with complications.  


Thank you for your consideration.



Women's Human Rights Campaign (WHRC)

Women’s Space Vancouver

About Us:

Women's Human Rights Campaign (WHRC) is a group of volunteer women from across the globe dedicated to protecting women's sex-based rights. Our volunteers include academics, writers, organizers, activists, and health practitioners, and aim to represent the total breadth of the human female experience. The Canadian Chapter of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign launched on October 24, 2020.

Women’s Space Vancouver is a collective of Vancouver-based feminists formed to protect women’s sex-based rights


  1. GBA + Applying the concepts of sex and gender

  2. Government of Canada, Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

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