Search the Statistics Canada website and you may wonder what decade the federal agency is working in.
“Common-law status refers to whether or not a person aged 15 and over is living with a person of the opposite sex as a partner in a common-law union,” reads a page titled Definitions Of Concepts And Variables: Marital Status, found via a search on the term “marital status.” “A common-law union is deemed to be in effect when a man and a woman (who are not legally married to each other) are living together as husband and wife.”
Same-sex partners have been included in the federal definition of common-law partnerships since 2000. Same-sex marriage, which became the law of the land in 2005, gets no mention. According to the web document, it was last modified in July 2006.
“These variables are currently being revised,” states a disclaimer at the top of the page. “The new versions will reflect revised definitions of married and common-law couples that state that couples can be of opposite or same sex.”
Toronto man David Bavington says the disclaimer only appeared after he made a complaint to the federal agency.
“It started out that I was just trying to research hydro rates,” says Bavington. “So I went to Stats Canada and, as a personal curiosity, I usually type in the word ‘gay’ whenever there is a search engine available on a site. Right away, I found a definition of marital status with the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in it.
“I was confused over the definition. The information that was presented on the Stats Canada website does not reflect the full and true definition of marriage in Canada…. I tried to find some information for lesbian and gay marriage. But I couldn’t find anything.”
According to André Langdon, the communications advisor with Statistics Canada, the official definition of marital status has been changed to reflect the inclusion of same-sex marriage. The problem, he says, is that the revised definition hasn’t been posted on all sections of the website yet, and people may be coming across the old definition.
“The new definition of marriage in Canada is in the 2006 census dictionary, which can be found on our website,” says Langdon. “The definition actually changed and was in use since gay marriage became legal in 2005…. We’re in the process of replacing all the old and incorrect definitions on our website and it will be done shortly, as soon as possible.”
But Bavington isn’t impressed. “It’s been nearly a year since they updated that page. They should have made any necessary changes by now.”
Upon a closer examination of the Statistics Canada website, Bavington says he found heterocentric wording in other sections of the site, as well as a description of transsexuality as a sexual orientation, all of which he says is misleading to Canadians.
“In one of their surveys they did… they asked questions using the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. Yet, when they released the results, they did so with the term ‘spouse.’ It is misleading because there is an inconsistent use of these terms.”
Tamara Kronis, director of advocacy for national lobby group Egale Canada, says she’s spoken with Statistics Canada staff in the past with regard to the use of wording that isn’t inclusive of queers.
“I can understand why people would be upset with the wording on this,” says Kronis. “We did tell StatsCan that we think improper wording reduces StatsCan’s credibility and creates problems… but they have promised to work more closely with us in the future.”
The 2006 census was particularly confusing for same-sex spouses. While “Opposite-sex common-law partner” and “Same-sex common-law partner” each got their own tick-box, married people had only a single gender-neutral “Husband or wife” option. The form went on to state that, “If none of the choices apply, use the ‘Other’ box.” “Same-sex married spouse” was given as an example of “Other.”
At the time of the census Langdon told Xtra that it would be easier for StatsCan if married homos ignored the “Other” instructions and ticked “husband or wife” instead. Since the census also asked the sex of the husband or wife, officials would then be able to cross-tabulate to determine the number of same-sex spouses.
Despite the confusion in categories, Langdon says there will be same-sex spousal information resulting from the 2006 census available in the fall.
“If our analysis can understand what the intention of the answer is it will get tabulated,” says Langdon, “so at this moment I don’t foresee any problems with the data coming out.”