By the numbers: the growing acknowledgment of polyamory

The face of Canadian families is changing. In a series of reports and in an upcoming documentary “Thoroughly Modern Families”, Citytv is looking at non-nuclear families. Households that may not look like the “norm” but are fighting to be seen and heard.

Part of the struggle polyamorous people face every day is being recognized by society.

On the latest census put together by the federal government, there was no option to put multiple partners down, so it’s hard to pin down just how prevalent polyamory is in Canada.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and Family began a survey back in June of 2016 with the help of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association to get a sense of polyamory in the community.

Here are the results of this survey in which just under 550 people responded to:

  • Over three-fifths, 68 per cent, of those surveyed said they were currently in a polyamorous relationship
  • Two fifths, 39.9 per cent, said while they were not currently in a polyamorous relationship, they had been in one in the last five years;
  • Just over half, 50.4 per cent, of the respondents relationships involved three adults;
  • Only one-fifth of those surveyed said the members in a relationship lived in a single household
  • Of these, three-fifths, 61.2 per cent, of the relationships involved at least one married couple

Those who participated in the study “place a high value on equality and honesty, and the rights of individuals to leave a relationship when and how they wish,” different from polygamy that has been more recently highlighted in popular culture with shows like “Big Love” and “Sister Wives.”

Most of those who were surveyed were younger, better educated, and were with heterosexual, bisexual or pansexual.

John Paul Boyd, a family law lawyer involved in the study said he acknowledged the population they surveyed was mostly online as it was advertised by word of mouth and social media. “We have to be concerned about sample error and about the idea that the means we chose to recruit respondents was not going to capture the broader spectrum of Canadians.”

A more recent study from the U.S. suggested that one in 612 Americans identified as polyamorous and one in 500 openly identified as polyamorous.

Other research suggested that as many as one in five U.S. residents has at one point lived in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship at some point in their lives, also commonly referred to as an open relationship.

Boyd said If the same base rates apply across the border, that’s a significant number of Canadians.

Anecdotally, he said after presenting to several hundred lawyers at a Law Society of Upper Canada education event, about four hundred people put their hands up if they knew anybody who was or had been in a polyamorous relationship. “So whatever is going on, it is seems to be spreading both in terms of number and in terms of the popular awareness.”

Many are pushing for the federal government to recognize polyamorous relationships and distinguish them from polygamy which is illegal in Canada.

Couples in polyamorous relationships are turning to lawyers to draft legal agreements to protect all involved. This topic is explored in an upcoming Citytv documentary which follows people who are part of non-traditional families and lifestyles.

That includes following what’s known as a triad, three people in a committed polyamorous relationship. While polyamory is a prevalent theme in the documentary, it also explores other family templates that fall outside of the nuclear template.

“Veracity: Thoroughly Modern Families” airs Sunday January 30th at 9 p.m. only on Citytv.

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