Diversity & Inclusion
More Canadians than ever have no religious affiliation, census shows
By Nicole Thompson
Canadians are losing their religion at an unprecedented rate, with more than a third of the country reporting no religious affiliation in the latest census, Statistics Canada revealed Wednesday.
And while the latest tranche of data from the 2021 census shows the proportion of non-religious Canadians has more than doubled in the past 20 years — to 34.6 per cent, up from 16.5 per cent in 2001 — the share of the country who identify as Christian has shrunk.
They made up 53.3 per cent of the population in 2021, down from 67.3 per cent in 2011 and 77.1 per cent in 2001.
“Many people who reported a religious affiliation in the past now report no religious affiliation,” said Tina Chui, director of diversity and socio-cultural statistics for Statistics Canada.
For Tania Akon of Toronto, leaving behind the Muslim faith she was raised in meant losing both her guiding philosophy and her community.
“If you leave your community in a place like Toronto, you’re just a worker,” she said. “You try to find that meaning and connection and humanity (at work) but that’s not a guarantee.”
Humanism rising as religion
In search of that connection, Akon turned to humanism, a philosophy-cum-community centred around human dignity. Some 11,390 people described themselves as humanists in the latest census.
Akon attended her first meeting of the secular community Toronto Oasis in 2017 and has since become one of its volunteer organizers.
Until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they met weekly at an interfaith centre, hosting speakers and musicians.
“Every Sunday morning, so it’s like a church, except there’s no dogma, no doctrine,” Akon said.
They migrated to virtual meetings when the pandemic began, and haven’t switched back since.
Even so, she said, the sense of community persists.
“We’re meeting a need,” she said. “It’s being organized by people like me who have the need themselves and have tried to create something to meet a need we have.”
Christianity declining, but immigration driving growth in other religions
Even as the share of non-religious people is increasing and Christianity is on the decline, some other religions are growing, driven largely by immigration.
Islam is the second most commonly reported religion in Canada in 2021, with nearly five per cent of the population identifying as Muslim. That’s more than doubled since 2001, when the share was only two per cent.
Meanwhile, 2.3 per cent of the population now identifies as Hindu, compared to one per cent in 2001.
Statistics Canada said this year’s release presents the most comprehensive portrait of Canadians’ religious affiliations to date, as the census linked to a list of 200 example denominations for people to look at before writing in their religion, which encouraged people to be more specific.
For example, 1,645 people reported being Druidic on the 2021 census, while 4,475 said they were Neopagan. In surveys past, they would only have been identified as Pagan.
The Pagan umbrella, which also includes 12,625 Wiccans, this year represents 45,325 people.
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