OTTAWA - Almost half the people in the Vancouver region are visible minorities, according to new census data which shows the face of Canada continues to change from the country's European origins.

Statistics Canada released the latest information from the 2006 census Wednesday and it shows that across Canada, 16.2 per cent of the population identified themselves as a visible minority _ that's more than five million Canadians.

The national figures show the continued ethnic diversity of the Canadian population over the last 25 years. In 1981, there were just over one million Canadians who were visible minorities, representing less than five per cent of the population.

Locally, the visible minority population exceeds the national average.

In what's known as the census metropolitan area of Vancouver, 41.7 per cent of the population identified themselves as a visible minority. A total of 27.4 per cent of the visible minority population was born in Canada.

The largest visible minority population was Chinese (381,535), followed by South Asian (207,165) and Filipino (78,890).

The census also sheds light on the work and education of visible minorities.

In the Vancouver area, visible minorities had a lower employment rate than non-visible minorities _ 59.1 per cent compared to 65.7 per cent.

A total of 43.7 per cent of visible minorities attained at least a high school education and 36.4 per cent had a university certificate or degree. For non-visible minorities, the figures were 57.1 per cent and 27.3 per cent.

The census takes its definition of a visible minority from the federal Employment Equity Act, which is "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." Respondents could choose from a list that included Chinese, South Asian (such as people from India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka), black, Filipino, Latin American, Southeast Asian (such as Cambodian, Indonesian or Vietnamese), Arab, West Asian (such as Iranians and Afghans), Korean and Japanese.

Statistics Canada includes the question about visible minorities on the census form because it's required for programs that fall under the Employment Equity Act.

The federal government believes the census is the most appropriate vehicle for providing benchmark information on the four designated groups that fall under the act _ women, Aboriginal persons, the disabled and visible minorities. The data is used by employers as a benchmark to compare their workforce with the population in their area.

Besides information on visible minorities, the census also asked people about their ethnic origin.

The response from the Vancouver region again shows how people's concept of their ethnicity is changing _ 13.3 per cent identified their ethnic background to be at least partly Canadian. That compares to 35.9 whose origins were British and 6.5 who listed French _ Canada's two founding cultures.

The census has collected data on the ethnic origins of the population since 1871, reflecting the long-standing, continuing and widespread demand for information about ethnocultural characteristics of the Canadian population.

The Department of Canadian Heritage uses information on ethnic origin to administer programs under the Multiculturalism Act.

Statistics Canada says the question on ethnicity provides some of the most widely requested data from the census. Governments, community groups, ethnic and cultural organizations, school boards, hospitals and researchers all use ethnicity data to assess how people of different backgrounds have integrated into life in Canada.

The census is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada and is based on information filled out by Canadians on May 16, 2006. The data released Wednesday on visible minorities and ethnicity follows information released over the last year on overall population growth, families, age and sex breakdowns of the population, immigration, a look at the country's aboriginal communities, work and education. One more batch of census data will be released in May _ detailed information about the earnings and income of Canadians.