Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you make the most of staying home.
Visit the hub

A paramedic talks to a hospital staff member outside Mount Sinai Hospital, in Toronto, on March 29, 2020.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

A Statistics Canada report expected to give the first glimpse into mortality rates during the COVID-19 pandemic is too limited and lacking in data to be useful, according to experts in epidemiology and statistics.

The death figures exclude April, when the pace of COVID-19 deaths accelerated. Nor do they include statistics for Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Though past analyses of excess mortality by other countries have looked for fatalities that go beyond what could be expected given trends from past years and the deaths already attributed to the novel coronavirus, Statscan only published the difference in the raw number of deaths between 2019 and 2020.

The report also warns its numbers are incomplete because of reporting delays, doesn’t provide any details on causes of death and lacks figures for New Brunswick, Nunavut and Yukon, which Statscan says has not submitted death tallies since 2017.

Story continues below advertisement

“We need more information on the deaths,” said Laura Rosella, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “This requires a total revamping of our data collection procedures and that’s not going to happen overnight.”

Deaths are counted by provincial authorities, and later aggregated and released by Statscan. Before this report, which came after several health experts publicly called on the federal government to release the data, the most up-to-date figures made public by the agency were from 2018, and published late last year.

COVID-19 daily death rates in U.S. and Canada begin to converge

Latest coronavirus news: Alberta to relaunch economy tomorrow; Second resident of Toronto homeless shelter dies of COVID-19

Canada lagging behind other countries in releasing real-time mortality data

Wayne Smith, Statscan’s chief statistician from 2010 to 2016, said the agency should be “moving very aggressively” to close this data gap. “This is a long-standing problem that nobody cared about until today,” he said.

Mr. Smith also warned he had very little confidence in the report, given its limitations.

“At the end of the day, the caveats overwhelm any conclusion,” he said. “They’re basically saying, ‘Here’s what we’ve got, and here’s why you shouldn’t believe any of it.’ ”

With more funding from Ottawa and a commitment from provinces, Mr. Smith thinks governments could have timely, accurate death statistics before long. “It’s an eminently accomplishable task,” he said.

In a statement, Statscan said provincial registrars are responsible for Canada’s death statistics, but added the agency planned to release provisional cause-of-death information starting in June.

Story continues below advertisement

The United States, Britain and Italy have all published mortality data showing a spike in the number of deaths in recent months, suggesting official COVID-19 counts are underestimating the true number of fatalities. But excess deaths occurring this year could also be due to other factors, such as people avoiding going to the hospital over fears of virus transmission.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said Wednesday that data collection could be improved and that officials are working with Statscan to help ensure timely, accurate reporting.

“I’m sort of encouraged by the efforts being made by provinces that have come to at least try and put these statistics on the table,” Dr. Tam said. “Do we still have a ways to go? Yes.”

Dr. Tam said she is waiting for April data to better understand whether the pandemic is causing changes in death rates. At the end of March, 101 people had died in Canada as a result of the coronavirus, according to provincial statistics collected by The Globe and Mail. By the end of April, the death tally had risen to 3,184. (To date, Canada has recorded 5,304 deaths owing to COVID-19.)

During the first 13 weeks of the year, 87,186 people died in Canada, the Statscan report said. Three provinces registered more deaths than for the same period in 2019: Alberta (374 more deaths), the Northwest Territories (5) and Prince Edward Island (2).

Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health who studies mortality data from around the world, highlighted discrepancies between the number of deaths reported by Quebec and those in Statscan’s release.

Story continues below advertisement

Earlier this week, a National Post story using data from Quebec found there were 214 more deaths in March this year compared with the average from 2017 to 2019. But Statscan’s report said Quebec experienced hundreds of fewer deaths in March than it did compared with the same time period last year.

“Clearly, both can’t be right,” Dr. Jha said.

In a statement about the mismatch, a Statscan spokesperson said its report included “provisional death counts” that may not match data from provincial health authorities.

Dr. Jha said more robust data are urgently needed if Canada wants to have a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic, which is expected to last the next few years.

“You need to know the age, the sex, the cause of death and in the Canadian context, location,” Dr. Jha said. “That’s going to be essential to help us plan the next wave, if it comes.”

Dr. Rosella said the situation exposes long-standing problems with mortality data collection in Canada. For years, opioid overdose deaths weren’t tracked in many parts of Canada and it wasn’t until the situation was a full-blown public health crisis that the federal government started regularly collecting and publishing the national death figures.

Story continues below advertisement

Public health authorities say Canadians should not go in to work sick — ever, but especially now as the country tries to control the spread of COVID-19. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says workers who only get paid if they're on the job need financial assistance, then, and the policy should be permanent. The Canadian Press

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies