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Vital Statistics – Birth Database


This is an administrative survey that collects demographic information annually from all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries on all live births in Canada. Some data are also collected on live births to Canadian residents in selected American states.

The data are used to calculate basic indicators (such as counts and rates) on births of residents of Canada. Information from this database is also used in the calculation of statistics, such as age-specific fertility rates.

For Canada as a whole, it was impossible to compile a satisfactory series of vital statistics prior to 1921. Eight provinces initially joined the cooperative Canadian vital statistics system, leading to the publication of the first annual report for Canada in 1921; that report included Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Quebec began to participate in 1926 and Newfoundland in 1949 (after joining Confederation) and their data were included in the tabulations from those years onward. Basic data from the Yukon and Northwest Territories were published as appendices to the national tables from 1924 to 1955; their data were first included in the regular tabulations in 1956. Nunavut came into being officially as a Territory of Canada on April 1, 1999. The name Northwest Territories applies to a Territory with different geographic boundaries before and after April 1, 1999.

Prior to 1944 all vital events were classified by place of occurrence. Since 1944, births, stillbirths, and deaths have been classified by area of reported residence, with births and stillbirths according to the residence of the mother.

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The conceptual universe of the Birth database is births to Canadian resident women anywhere in the world. The target population of the Birth database is births to Canadian resident women in Canada and to Canadian resident women in American states. The actual (survey) population of the Birth database is births to Canadian resident women and non-resident women in Canada, and births to Canadian resident women in some American states.


This survey is a census with a cross-sectional design.

Data sources

Responding to this survey is mandatory. Data are extracted from administrative files.

Provincial and territorial Vital Statistics Acts (or equivalent legislation) render compulsory the registration of all live births, stillbirths, deaths and marriages within their jurisdictions. These Acts follow, as closely as possible, a Model Vital Statistics Act that was developed to promote uniformity of legislation and reporting practices among the provinces and territories.

The Canadian Vital Statistics system operates under an agreement between the Government of Canada and governments of the provinces and territories. The Vital Statistics Council for Canada, an advisory committee set up by an Order-in-Council, oversees policy and operational matters. All provincial and territorial jurisdictions and Statistics Canada are represented on the Vital Statistics Council. Under the agreement, all registrars collect a specified set of data elements, although any of them may decide to collect additional information.

The main form for the registration of a live birth is completed by the parents, who are responsible for filing it with the local registrar. Most provinces also require physicians (or other birth attendants) to report all births.

The central Vital Statistics Registry in each province and territory provides data from birth registrations to Statistics Canada. The following statistical data items are reported for each birth by all provinces and territories for inclusion in the Canadian Vital Statistics system:

  1. Date and place of birth
  2. Child's sex, birth weight and gestational age
  3. Parents' age, marital status and birthplace
  4. Mother's place of residence
  5. Type of birth (single or multiple)
  6. Parity

All provinces and territories supply microfilm copies or optical images of registration forms to Statistics Canada. In addition, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and the Western provinces supply machine-readable abstracts of registrations, which contain the required standard information. For the territories, the required standard information on microfilm is converted to machine-readable format at Statistics Canada. Subsequent changes to registrations due to errors or omissions are transmitted to Statistics Canada as the information becomes available. However, changes received after a cut-off date are not reflected in published tabulations.

Error detection

Provinces and territories that supply machine-readable data conduct edits (presence of the data, validation of code ranges, and data consistency) before transmitting their data, based on standard edit specifications prepared by Statistics Canada. Health Statistics Division has actively promoted the use of a standard data dictionary and standard correlation edits for provincial/territorial data entry. More extensive edit routines are applied to the data by Statistics Canada to ascertain the completeness and quality of the data. For 2005, about 7% of the records were assessed for follow-up action either by referring to the microfilmed registrations or optical images or by consulting with the registries. After the preparation of a preliminary data file, verification tables are prepared for data review by the registries and Statistics Canada (for example, distributions, large changes, percentage and number of unknowns, outliers, changes in the relative composition).

The last comprehensive study of the quality of data capture and data coding was done in 1981, when error rates for most variables were found to be quite low. Since then, studies have been completed on an irregular basis for specific provinces. The most recent study was done in 2002 on the 2000 Prince Edward Island birth data following their development of a new data capture system. A systematic random sample of records was drawn, and the Prince Edward Island capture was compared with the microfilmed documents. Inconsistencies were documented, and a report was sent to the Prince Edward Island Vital Statistics Registrar. Overall, the error rate was zero for most of the important statistical variables (sex of child, age of mother, total number of children, multiple birth indicators). Issues being discussed include: the handling of amendments, consistency of reporting birth weight in metric units, consideration of recapture and 100% verification of certain variables, and earlier detection of errors.

With Prince Edward Island adopting their own data capture, the only birth data regularly captured at Statistics Canada are the data from the three territories, and any late records. Operations and Integration Division maintains data capture quality controls such as 100% verification for new clerks, and sample batch re-capture for experienced clerks to maintain an error rate of less than 3%.


Imputation is done on missing sex of child for tabulations in publications only. Sex is assigned based on the last digit of the registration number. This usually affects no more than 5 records annually (except for 1996 when there were 125 records with imputed sex of child and in 1998 when there were 77).

Quality evaluation

Upon completion of the annual national birth data base (produced as described in the section Error Detection above), Statistics Canada carries out a series of quality checks that include:

  1. producing a set of verification tables which consist of basic tabulations for the majority of variables in the data base by province or territory of occurrence;
  2. sending the verification tables to each provincial/territorial registrar of vital statistics for their review and approval that Statistics Canada and the registry obtain the same results;
  3. checking for internal consistencies, for example, running frequencies and looking for outliers on certain data elements; and
  4. comparing the most recent data year with past data years to detect any unusual or unexpected changes.

Comparisons of tabulated data are made with vital statistics data published by the provinces and territories, where available. After Statistics Canada creates the publication data file, the availability of birth statistics is announced in The Daily.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any data which would divulge information obtained under the Statistics Act that relates to any identifiable person, business or organization without the prior knowledge or the consent in writing of that person, business or organization. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.

Data accuracy


Since the registration of births is a legal requirement in each Canadian province and territory, reporting is virtually complete. Under-coverage is thought to be minimal, but is being monitored. Under-coverage may occur because of late registration, which, if not completed soon after birth, is needed for school registration. Statistics Canada does receive late registrations (typically 1,000 to 1,500 cases, five years after the year of the event), and consideration is currently being given to including late registrations and late amendments on the data file for subsequent publication. Incomplete registration is also a source of under-coverage. For example, some provinces require that a notarized statement be completed when a mother declines to name the father on the application for birth registration. Until the statement is notarized, the application is not registered.

Out-of-country births are incompletely reported. There is no reporting of births to Canadian resident women occurring in countries other than the United States; although there is a reciprocal agreement with the U.S., some states may not report births to Canadian resident women occurring in their state.

Non-registration is minimal, except in Ontario where provincial health officials have noted a rise in the number of physician notices of birth that do not have a matching registration from the parents. This may represent up to 3,000 births in 2005, or 2% of all Ontario births, but is probably less because of duplicate or late registrations being included in this total. This is apparent especially in districts of Ontario that charge a service fee for birth registration (for example, the service fee ranges from $10 to $40 per birth in 91 of 500 municipalities). In Ontario, in 2005, 42% of infants who died within days of their birth did not have a registration. These quality concerns have been discussed several times with the Ontario Office of the Registrar General (ORG) and Ontario has announced policy changes since then.

Over-coverage is minimal. Births to non-resident women in Canada are registered but are excluded from most tabulations. Duplicate birth registrations are identified as part of the regular processing operations on each provincial and territorial subset, as well as additional inter-provincial checks, and comparisons between the birth and stillbirth databases for multiple births. Possible duplicate registrations are checked against microfilmed registrations or optical images, or by consulting with the provinces and territories.

Response rates

Item response

In 2005, the response rates were 98% to 100% for most variables on the Birth database, except for mother’s marital status, father’s age, and father’s birthplace where the response rates were 90% to 95%. One notable exception is that data on the dates of birth of the mother and the father are not supplied to Statistics Canada by the Province of Ontario; however, the age of each parent is provided by that province.

Other accuracy issues

Ontario birth weights and gestation data

In the development of the Canadian Perinatal Surveillance System, problems with Ontario Birth data had been noted related to the truncation of birth weights. Working with the Ontario Office of the Registrar General, the issues of truncation of birth weight, and the consistent editing of weight and gestation data (from the physician’s notice of birth as opposed to the parent’s registration) have been resolved. The data continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis.

Low birth weight/low gestation data

Analysts in Health Statistics Division continue to monitor developments in the field of assisted reproductive technology and medical technology as they relate to the reporting of extremely low birth weight and/or low gestation babies. There is some inconsistency in the practice of registering these babies, even though there is a legal requirement to do so. Statistically, this problem has resulted in alternative indicators for infant mortality being calculated, where the denominator is composed of live births weighing 500 g or more.