Summary: Census Shows Increasing Diversity of Canadian Society

January 24, 2003

The January 21, 2003 release of data from the 2001 Census shows Canada to be an increasingly diverse country, particularly in its urban areas.

Aboriginal Population

Canada's Aboriginal population is now 4.4% of the whole, up from 3.8% in 1996 – this is the second highest percentage of Aboriginal citizens in the world, behind New Zealand. Almost half, or 49%, of this population now live in urban areas, up from 47% in 1996.

Foreign-born Canadians

The proportion of foreign-born Canadians is at its highest in 70 years – though it still does not match the record high levels which prevailed during the first quarter of the last century. Canada's intake of immigrants has represented less than 1% of its total population through the nineties, while it hovered around 5% between 1911 and 1913. Nonetheless, at 18%, Canada's proportion of foreign-born citizens is the second highest in the world, topped only by Australia's 22%. In Toronto, which has received almost half of Canada's newest immigrants, about 44% of the population was born outside Canada.

Visible Minorities

The vast majority of recent immigrants are visible minorities, and as such contribute to the changing makeup of Canadian society. Almost 60% of immigrants in the last ten years have come from Asia, and nearly 20% from the Caribbean, Central and South American, and Africa. Canada's visible minority population reached four million in 2001, a three-fold increase over 1981.

In some urban areas, the impact is striking: Vancouver and Toronto both have 37% visible minority populations, with the largest group being Asian. Montreal is at the national average, with 13.4% visible minorities, There, because of an emphasis on French-speaking immigrants, the ethnic makeup is also different, with Blacks and West Asian groups leading. Close to 94% of immigrants settle in urban areas, compared to 64% of the total population.

Social Policy Implications

One third of the Aboriginal population is under the age of fifteen, and a relatively high percentage of these children are living in either single-parent families or adoptive households. There is a need to address social and economic challenges arising from these realities. The CCSD's recent Progress of Canada's Children report ( shows that these difficult early life circumstances do indeed have consequences for Aboriginal children,.

Aboriginal issues must be recognized as urban as much as rural, now that 49% of this population reports a city address. This increasing move to the cities may account for the continuing loss of native languages: only 25% are now able to carry on a conversation in their native tongue, down from 29% in 1996.

With the number of foreign-born Canadians increasing, there is a need to ensure that immigrants are successfully integrated into Canadian society, and able to share their wealth of knowledge and experience. The proportion of recent immigrants with university degrees is actually much higher than in the Canadian population as a whole (21% compared to 12%), yet new immigrants increasingly struggle at low-paid jobs. The CCSD's 2002 study, “Does A Rising Tide Lift All Boats?” by Senior Researcher Ekuwa Smith reported that the relative earnings of recent immigrants fell sharply between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s, even among immigrants who had a university education.

Smith argues that, with new immigrants increasingly being members of visible minorities, racism may play a role in this economic marginalization. “Unequal Access,” a report completed by the CCSD for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 2000, and a more recent report from the Canadian Labour Congress, both concluded that racism is a continuing problem in the workplace. Strategies to counter racism need to be considered.

Another key factor in the struggle of new immigrants is the non-recognition or undervaluing of foreign skills and credentials, which leave immigrants working in low-wage jobs, unable to use their hard-earned skills. This problem seems anachronistic at a time of global integration, and increasing attention is rightly being paid to it at various levels of government. There is a clear need for timely and appropriate recognition of foreign credentials, and for apprenticeship or mentoring programs to help newcomers find their way into their chosen professions.

Other initiatives to consider are interventions in the schooling and social service systems targeted to the particular needs of immigrants.


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