Number of Quebec Jews down, census data indicates

The growth of the chassidim may have offset the decline in the Quebec Jewish population. The Tash community of Boisbriand is pictured here.

The Jewish population of Quebec has declined in the past decade, but not as precipitously as some have feared, according to data released by Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, the number of people identifying as Jewish by religion is up.

The first results of the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) released May 8 show 85,105 Jews by religion in Quebec. In the mandatory 2001 long-form census, the comparable figure was 89,915.

In Ontario, the numbers are up. In the Toronto-area alone, Jews number some 167,765, up from 164,510 in 2001, though in Ottawa, the number has declined slightly from 11,325 to 10,980.

According to the NHS, the total Jewish population in Ontario by religion is 195,535. However, only 173,780 Ontarians responded to the NHS as ethnically Jewish.

This discrepancy is difficult to understand, but Charles Shahar, research co-ordinator at Federation CJA, told The CJN some Jews don’t identify religiously.

“The ethnicity variable is tricky to understand. Some people do not identify themselves as Jewish by religion, but may have had a Jewish ancestry, such as a Jewish grandmother,” he wrote in an email.

“Don’t forget respondents are allowed multiple ethnicities, but only one religion. Another explanation is that some people identify themselves culturally as Jews, but not religiously.”

Aside from Toronto, the only other major metropolitan area with more Jews today than a decade ago is Vancouver, whose Jewish-by-religion population increased to 18,730 in 2011 from 17,275 in 2001.

In Canada as a whole, the number of Jews by religion is 329,500, which means the community has fallen below one per cent of the total population of 35 million.

The Stephen Harper government replaced the more detailed long-form census, which went to one in five households in Canada and had to be filled out by law, with the NHS two years ago, on the grounds of avoiding invasion of privacy.

The NHS was distributed to only 4.5 million households, of which 3.3 million responded.

For its purposes, the Montreal federation uses a blending of the religious and ethnic data to arrive at what it believes is the most inclusive way of counting Jews in Canada.

Shahar earlier projected that there are 88,500 Jews in Québec, the overwhelming majority in the Montreal area. The federation will now ask Statistics Canada to crunch the religious and ethnic figures, he said. Using the former as a base, all those who identify ethnically at least in part as Jews but profess a religion other than Judaism are eliminated from the count.

He expects that figure, which should be available by mid-June, could add as much as 3,500 to the 85,105, bringing it very close to his projection.

Blended figures for Ontario and the rest of Canada are also expected in June.

When the 2001 census data was tallied in the same way, Shahar arrived at a Quebec Jewish population of 94,670, or approximately 6,000 more than his projected total for this year.

Statistics Canada has not yet made available a breakdown by city, but Shahar estimates that the number of Jews in Quebec outside Montreal has continued to diminish. In 2001, there were about 1,500 living outside Montreal.

“I think the figures are fairly encouraging,” Shahar said. “Montreal is still a solid community with a significant number of members.”

He adds that the drop is not only, or even most significantly, due to Jews leaving Quebec. The community is aged, and mortality is a major factor, he said.

Between 1991 and 2001, there was an even greater drop off in the community’s ranks, which he also believes was largely explained by mortality.

Meanwhile, the birth rate among Quebec Jews is quite low, except in the chassidic communities, whose high fertility has offset what might have been a greater decline.

Shahar has also observed a rising birth rate among Sephardim, “possibly due to an increased religiosity.”

Whatever the true figure, one thing is certain, the Jewish population in Québec is declining in relation to Muslims, who now number 243,430.

Nationally, Muslims now number some 1,054,000 people, while 7,850,605 Canadians listed “no religious affiliation.” The largest religious denomination is Roman Catholic, at 12,728,885.

With files from Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf