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Religion in Canada, eh?

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Non-Christian religious data
from the Canadian 2001 census

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Statistics Canada reported the following data on individual faith groups in their 1991 and 2001 census. Membership include adults and children, and is self-reported. There are major problems with this method of counting:

bullet Some individuals identify themselves with a particular religion, even though they have never been to a religious service in years.
bullet Some are reluctant to reveal their religious affiliation to a census taker or pollster who might be a neighbor. Some religious groups are widely hated by some Canadians. Examples include Wicca, other Neopagan faiths, Satanism, Atheism, Agnosticism and Humanism.
bullet According to Statistics Canada anyone who says they are of a certain faith is counted as being from that faith. But many people use other definitions. Many conservative Protestants, for example, do not regard Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Spiritualists, etc. as Christian.

Some major non-Christian shifts over the decade:

bullet Canada is becoming increasingly secular, as more people no longer associate with any organized religion.
bullet Wiccans and other Neopagans had the highest percentage growth rate, at over 280%.
bullet Native Canadian Spirituality is recovering from centuries of oppression, with a growth rate of about 175%.
bullet The growth of many non-Christian religions is influenced by immigration.
bullet "NOTAs" (None Of The Above) -- persons with no religious affiliation -- had the greatest numerical growth; they increased by 1,463,080 individuals.

In addition:

bullet Christianity remains the largest religious group.
bullet Christianity in Canada is growing slowly in total membership, by about 1.5% over the decade.
bullet Within Christianity, the conservative Protestant groups have the greatest growth.
bullet However, Christians are declining as a percentage of the population.

We have highlighted in bold those groups which are growing faster than the total population.

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Total numbers and growth between 1991 and 2001:

In Canada:

Total 1991 total 2001 total

Percentage Growth

Total Canadian population 26,994,040 29,639,035

+ 09.8%

Christian 22,503,360 (83.3%) 22,851,825 (77.1%) + 01.5
Non-Christian 1,093,680 (4.1%) 1,887,115 (6.4%) +72.5
No religious affiliation 3,397,000 (12.6%) 4,900,095 (16.5%) +44.2

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Persons affiliated with non-Christian religions:

Group Membership, 1991 Membership, 2001 Percentage Growth
Large religious groups (over 100K):
  Muslim 253,265 579,645 +128.9%
  Jewish 318,185 329,990 + 03.7
  Buddhist 1 163,415 300,345 + 83.8
  Hindu 157,010 297,200 + 89.3
  Sikh 147,440 278,415 + 88.8
Eastern Religions:
  Baha'i 14,730 18,020 + 22.3
  Jains 1,410 2,455 + 74.1
  Shinto 445 545 + 22.5
  Taoist 1,725 3,440 + 99.4
  Zoroastrian 3,185 4,955 + 55.6
  Eastern religions, n.i.e. 2 4,825 8,125 + 68.4
Small religious groups (under 100k)
Aboriginal spirituality 10,840 29,825 +175.1
Pagan 5,530 21,080 +281.2
Unity - New Thought - Pantheist 4,610 4,000 - 13.2
New Age 3 1,200 1,530 + 27.5
Scientology 1,215 1,525 + 25.5
Gnostic 765 1,160 + 51.6
Rastafarian 460 1,135 +146.7
Satanist 340 850 +150.0
Unitarian 4 16,535 17,480  + 05.7
Other non-Christian religions, n.i.e. 3,090 2,870 - 07.1

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Persons who are not affiliated with a religious group (4,900,095 in total):

Group Membership, 1991 Membership, 2001 Percentage Growth
Agnostic 21,970 17,815 - 18.9%
Atheist 5 13,515 18,605 + 37.7
Humanist 1,245 2,105 + 69.1
No religious affiliation 3,333,245 4,796,325 + 43.9
Other, n.i.e. 27,025 65,245 + 141.4

It seems curious that Atheists and Humanists show such a rapid percentage increase, yet Agnostics show a decline. Perhaps we are seeing an increase in polarization.

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  1. Statistics Canada recognizes Jainism, Shinto, Taoism, etc. as "Eastern Religions." But other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc., which are found throughout the same areas of the world, are not listed as "Eastern." We are at a loss to understand this.
  2. "n.i.e." means "not included elsewhere."
  3. Statistics Canada quoted less than two thousand Canadians who consider New Age to be their religion. There are probably hundreds of thousands who graft New Age beliefs and practices onto another religion who are not counted here.
  4. For no obvious reason, Statistics Canada classified the Unitarian faith as Christian. A survey of almost 10,000 Unitarian Universalists in the U.S. found that over 46% were Humanists, and fewer than 10% identified themselves as Christian.
  5. Most dictionaries define an Atheist as a person as a person who actively rejects the existence of a God or Goddess or pantheon of deities. Some Atheists define Atheism as a lack of belief in any supreme deity or deities.

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bullet "Religion (95A), Age Groups (7A) and Sex (3) for Population, for Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas 1 and Census Agglomerations, 1991 and 2001 Censuses - 20% Sample Data," Statistics Canada, at: This list also gives membership breakdowns by age groups. This appears to be no longer a valid URL. A chart remains online at the Stats Can web site at:

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Copyright information

Census data from "Statistics used with the permission of Statistics Canada. Users are forbidden to copy the data and redisseminate them, in an original or modified form, for commercial purposes, without the expressed permission of Statistics Canada. Information on the availability of the wide range of data from Statistics Canada can be obtained from Statistics Canada's Regional Offices, its World Wide Web site at, and its toll-free access number 1-800-263-1136."

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Site navigation:

HomeReligious information > Basic info > Religion in Canada > here

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Copyright 2004 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-JUL-07
Last update: 2010-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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