Surveys not serving the needs of our community

Many reluctant to answer sexuality questions

Do you consider yourself to be heterosexual, homosexual, that is lesbian or gay, or bisexual? This is the sexual orientation question Statistics Canada is asking in a national telephone survey of 130,000 Canadians.

The agency has chosen the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) to gather this information. The central objective of CCHS is to gather health-related data for the development of public policy, and to increase understanding of the relationship between health status and health care utilization.

The agency says it wants to know numbers because of human rights laws, more precisely because no data exists on discrimination based on sexual orientation, and claims that the health survey is the least intrusive way of gathering information on sexual orientation. They also state that the information they gather will help community health centres better understand their clientele.

Am I missing something here or is it painfully obvious that our government is going about this in a round-about way? And how can a question on sexual orientation, disguised under the false pretense of a “Community Health Survey,” serve any purpose in the movement for gay rights?

The audacity of asking a question as touchy as sexual orientation is likely to catch many off guard, and disclosure is likely not to come easily – surely not for those who are either not out or uncertain of their orientation.

If this question is anything like the one on the last Census, which for the first time asked how many common-law Canadians were of the same gender, the response rate is not going to be large enough to be a true and statistical representation of the gay and lesbian community. According to figures released from the 2001 census, only .5 percent of all couples, or 34,000 people, responded that they were in same-gender common-law relationships.

That the government is recognizing gays and lesbians as a distinct segment of the Canadian population and taking an interest in issues concerning our communities is heartening. I’m encouraged by their acknowledgment that we have different needs than our heterosexual counterparts as well.

My concern lies with the power handed down to bureaucrats who are developing policies based on results that are, for most intents and purposes, not going to serve the real needs of our community.

John Fisher of Egale Canada, agrees that Statistics Canada numbers will be conservative because many Canadians will not tell the government they are gay. Results of surveys conducted in the United States asking sexual orientation questions also produced numbers far more conservative than expected.

Invasion of privacy. Not at ease declaring your sexual orientation over the telephone in a national survey. Not responding accurately for fear the information will be used by anti-gay crusaders. Not trusting the results will lead to a better understanding and development of programs for the community. These are all viable reasons why this survey is not likely to help us move our agenda forward. And the results will most certainly not contribute to our rights to equality.


Statistics Canada conducts a mass nation-wide telephone survey on community health issues every two years, the last one back in 2001-2002. The study began in January and will continue until the end of the year.

Is your number unlisted? And how would you respond if you were one of the 130,000 Canadians questioned? Capital Xtra would like to know.

* Brian Gallant is publisher and editor-in-chief of Capital Xtra.

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Power, Activism, Ottawa, Human Rights

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