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Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)
Commuters get off the subway at Toronto's Union Station in 2008. (J.P. Moczulski/J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)

Canada's census challenges aren't unique Add to ...

Canada isn't the only country grappling with how to collect its population data. Other countries have experimented with methods that range from scanning irises to tracking their people's every move through registration numbers.

United States The United States experimented with a voluntary response system to its census earlier in the decade, but scrapped the idea. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted an experiment with its compulsory American Community Survey to see what would happen if people had a choice about whether to fill it out. The data were so degraded that it had to abandon the idea. Among the concerns was the under-representation of minority populations, people with the least education, and the poor because they were the least likely to fill in a voluntary survey.

Britain In early July, the British government announced that it was doing away with its long-form census to save money. For the 2021 census, Britain plans to assemble its population statistics using private data sources such as credit-card companies and mail records. The 2011 census will be Britain's last, Francis Maude, the minister for the British cabinet office, announced this week. But it wasn't a rushed decision - Britain's Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been working toward an alternative for years in a project called "Beyond 2011."

Scandinavia Scandinavian countries don't have a census, but every movement their people make is registered. When Scandinavians pay taxes or go to the doctor, it is recorded using their social-insurance number. In Denmark, all residents must be in the Central Population Register, which was introduced in 1968, and all businesses have to be on the Central Business Register, which was introduced in 1975. The government gets additional data through phone interviews.

India For its 2011 census, India's National Population Register will use biometric data collection for the entire adult population. This includes face, fingerprint and iris identification. The government established the Unique Identification Authority of India to collect the data and assign numbers to everyone. They expect to start collection in January. When completed, it will be the largest biometric database ever compiled. India has more than one billion people.

Liberia collected census information in 2010 for the first time in 30 years. Census takers visited houses throughout the country to collect the data, and billboards reminded villagers to stay home for three days so they could be included. The government commissioned a music star to record a song that played on radios and encouraged people to "stand up and get counted." It was translated into 16 languages and played daily. Liberia was one of 13 countries that had not conducted a census since 1990 or earlier. Most of these countries are in Africa.

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