Choose an option to see content specific to your location and language

Top Charts 22-12: Were all excess deaths during the pandemic in Canada due to COVID?


Were all excess deaths during the pandemic due to COVID?


It certainly doesn’t seem so from the data. In 2020, 92% of deaths in excess of the 2015-2019 average were recorded as COVID related, however this drops to 76% in 2021. National data is incomplete through the summer of 2022, but data from some of the provinces suggest this situation could have continued through 2022.

Until the summer of 2021, excess deaths in Canada appear to have tracked COVID deaths quite closely (top chart), suggesting that Canadian health authorities did a good job of tracking COVID mortality even early in the pandemic. The relationship begins to breakdown in the summer of 2021 with a consistently higher level of excess deaths than would be expected based purely on COVID deaths being observed into early 2022.

Looking at provinces with more recent data suggests that experience from late spring 2022 onwards is likely to mirror the latter half of 2021. The chart for British Columbia (bottom) is perhaps the clearest example of both the elevated levels of mortality in the latter part of 2021 and a return to elevated excess deaths through the summer of 2022. Elevated excess deaths during the summer months of 2022 are also evident in Alberta and Quebec.

While it’s important to recognize that a portion of the excess deaths observed in British Columbia are due to increased drug related deaths observed during the pandemic1 this cause represents only a fraction of the observed excess deaths. The large spike in deaths observed in the summer of 2021, visible in both charts, is a result of record breaking heat in the BC interior during the last week of June, 2021.

Sources: Statistics Canada (Table 13-10-0792-01) and Government of Canada (COVID-19 daily epidemiology update).​

Key takeaways

The key questions are:

  • What are the underlying causes of the excess mortality observed in the latter parts of 2021 and 2022. Are they indirect effects of the pandemic, mis-coded COVID deaths or due to something else completely? And will they persist into 2023 and beyond?
  • Our analysis shows that pension plans were somewhat insulated from the excess mortality seen earlier in the pandemic, will this continue to be the case going forward?
  • What will this mean for DB pension plans trying to understand the ‘new normal’ for mortality rates in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?

What do you think?

Share this article: