Census counts more than 450,000 military veterans

OTTAWA – There were 97,625 Canadians serving in the military last year and another 461,240 former members, according to new census data.

The figures released Wednesday by Statistics Canada show currently serving personnel were younger on average than the employed population overall, and almost one in five were women.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march in Calgary on July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march in Calgary on July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

While more than four in 10 veterans were seniors aged 65 and older, almost one-third were in the core working age group of 25 to 54, the agency found.

The statistical agency says there was a lack of comprehensive data on veterans to ensure proper allocation of money by the federal government for former members, their families and other program recipients.

Non-profit organizations that assist veterans also require information about the demographic makeup of former Armed Forces members and where they live to better meet their needs.

Until now, the available data sources included historical census records from 1951, 1961 and 1971, as well as a variety of incomplete administrative data.

Statistics Canada has worked in recent years with federal agencies and others to paint a fuller picture of veterans, looking at their overall health and well-being.

However, the scope has frequently been limited to contemporary veterans who were released from military service after 1998.

The statistical agency hopes the new figures will provide much-needed information about veterans who served in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the Korean War and the Second World War.

The resulting list of veterans is to be retained by Statistics Canada and used solely for analytical and statistical purposes, through which no individual veterans could be identified.

Groups that work with veterans are welcoming the data, saying it should help better serve former members.

The Royal Canadian Legion says it will be important to connect the numbers to where veterans live, so that those who assist them can focus on areas where there is a larger concentration and help ensure services are accessible in those regions.

The census data will be “a very rich source of information,” said Nick Booth, chief executive officer of the True Patriot Love Foundation, which funds an array of programs that help veterans with everything from physical well-being to acquiring business skills.

The needs of veterans vary depending upon where they live, Booth said. “So understanding where veterans are and how they are progressing through their journey of transition into civilian life will make it much more efficient in terms of allocating our funding,” as well as money from other agencies, he added.

Given that many military bases are in rural areas, departing members might find themselves in remote locations, Booth said.

“And often that means that there aren’t services immediately available. And so it’s very important that we understand where there are service gaps and help fill those.”

The census data could help provide valuable insights about the mental-health needs of former members, including those at risk of suicide, said Tim Laidler, president of the Veterans Transition Network.

The organization helps veterans make the move to civilian life, noting that those who have trouble doing so are vulnerable. It leaves many feeling isolated from the world and saps the strength they need to deal with depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse, the transition network says.

Laidler, who served with the army in Afghanistan, recalls the days when many believed suicide was not a big issue among Canadian military members.

“But a large part of the problem was they were only looking at people who are still currently serving who committed suicide, and nobody was tracking the veterans,” he said.

“So when you actually looked at the veterans and those serving in the military, you realized that there was a much higher percentage of people committing suicide and it was, in fact, a big problem.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2022.

— With a file from Lee Berthiaume

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