Canada is the world’s second largest country with most of its population residing along its southern border with the USA.
When European settlement began in the 1600s, the entirety of the territory that was to become Canada had already been settled by millions of indigenous people and divided into hundreds of nations, each with a distinct language, culture, social structure and political tradition. European settlement was pioneered by the French, who established Quebec City in 1608 and Montreal in 1642, and declared New France a colony in 1663. Britain acquired these territories from the French in a succession of military victories between 1759 and 1763. Canada achieved independence from Britain in 1867 and is now a federal dominion of ten provinces and three territories.
Initial relations between Europeans and the First Nations ranged from cordial trade exchanges and military alliances, to mutual indifference, to outright hostility and armed conflict. Many of the First Nations were decimated through deliberate campaigns of extermination; a small number have been able, with difficulty, to maintain their traditional ways of life.
Minority and indigenous groups include French Canadians 6.7 million (20.9%), Eastern European Canadians 5 million (15.6%), Asian Canadians 2.3 million (7.2%), First Nations 1.3 million (3.3%), Black African and Caribbean Canadians 662,210 (2.2%). Among other ethnic origins, English (20%), French (16%), Scottish (14%) and Irish (13%) were most often reported (Data: 2001 Census).
Almost 4 million Canadians identified themselves as a visible minority in the 2001 Census, accounting for 13.4 per cent of the total population. This was an increase from levels in 1991 (9.4%) and 1981 (4.7%). In Canada, visible minorities are defined as ‘persons, other than Aboriginals who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour’. People of Chinese origin are Canada’s largest visible minority group, with a population of more than 1 million. In 2001, they made up 3.5 per cent of the country’s population, followed by South Asians (3%) and African and Caribbean Canadians (2.2%). The next largest groups are Filipinos, Arabs and West Asians, Latin Americans, other South-East Asians, Koreans and Japanese. At the provincial level, British Columbia has the highest proportion of visible minorities, representing 21.6 per cent of its population, followed by Ontario at 19.1 per cent. In Toronto and Vancouver, just under 40 per cent of the urban population is a visible minority.
The proportion of the foreign-born population is at its highest in 70 years. Currently, immigration accounts for 53 per cent of the population growth in Canada. This is expected to be 100 per cent by 2026. According to the 2001 Census, Canada has 34 ethnic groups with at least 100,000 members each.
Main languages: Canada’s two official languages, English and French, are the mother tongues of 59.7 per cent and 23.2 per cent of the population. French is mostly spoken in Quebec, but there are substantial francophone populations in parts of New Brunswick, Ontario and southern Manitoba. Of those who speak French as a first language, 81 per cent live in Quebec, where French is the official language. New Brunswick is the only bilingual province in the country. English is the official language in all other provinces. On 7 July 1969, under the Official Languages Act, French was made commensurate to English throughout the federal government. This started a process that led to Canada redefining itself as an officially ‘bilingual’ country. English and French have equal status in federal courts, parliament, and in all federal institutions. The public has the right, where there is sufficient demand, to receive federal government services in either English or French.
There are 53 Aboriginal languages of Canada’s First Nations and Inuit peoples. Several Aboriginal languages have official status in the Northwest Territories. In Nunavut, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are official languages alongside English and French.
Non-official languages are important in Canada, with 5,202,245 people listing one as a first language. Important non-official first languages include Chinese (853,745 first-language speakers), Italian (469,485), German (438,080) and Punjabi (271,220).
Main religions: in the 2001 Census, 77.1 per cent of Canadians identified as being Christians; of this, Catholics make up the largest group (43.6% of Canadians or 12,936,905 people). The largest Protestant denomination is the United Church of Canada. About 17 per cent of Canadians declared no religious affiliation, and the remaining 6.3 per cent were affiliated with religions other than Christianity, of which the largest is Islam – the fastest-growing faith in Canada. Muslims constitute 579,640 people (2%), followed by Jews 329,995 (1.1%), Buddhists 300,345 (1%), Hindus 297,200 (1%) and Sikhs 278,410 (0.9%).
Canada is often described as ‘a country of immigrants’, perhaps implying that it is by definition both a diverse and tolerant country. However, members of certain ethnic groups and most First Nations people face widespread discrimination and endure poorer-than-average living standards in Canada. In 2000, for example, Canadian-born visible minority men earned about 13 per cent less than similarly aged and educated Canadian-born white men. As a general rule, the relative position of minorities is determined by factors such as the darkness of skin colour, popular pressures, political expedience and economic conditions. Language is also a dividing line, especially between the English-speaking majority and French Canadian minority. Many English-speakers in the French-majority province of Quebec consider themselves disempowered.
Inter-ethnic tensions divide non-Aboriginal ethnic groups, particularly English and French Canadians. Many francophone are critical of the provisions of the Canadian federation. In 1994, a provincial government was elected in Quebec dedicated to achieving independence for the province. It held a referendum the next year, which the pro-independence movement lost very narrowly. The federal government has since passed the Clarity Act (1999) to regulate future bids for secession. Despite a strong desire among ordinary Canadians to accommodate Québécois demands and aspirations within a united Canada, communal divisions remain, although less marked than in previous periods.
A solid legal framework exists in Canada to promote the principles of diversity and the rights of all individuals, protecting them from discrimination. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy (see the Canadian Multiculturalism Act). In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognized the importance of preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians. In 1985, the equality article of the Charter, Section 15, came into effect, specifying that every individual was equal before and under the law and had the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. Minority groups may appeal to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Part I of the Constitution Act of 1982) and to similar provincial charters to defend themselves from discrimination.
Overall, the legal position and rights of First Nations people are determined by the Indian Act, the Constitution, and such treaties as were concluded between them and the colonial powers (with Canada as successor). Certain Aboriginal rights, like the right to hunt, trap and fish, were enshrined in the Constitution, as were all existing treaties signed between the federal government and First Nations. Practically, however, the enshrinement of these rights has often meant gains on paper only. Several important court cases have aided in the implementation of these rights.
An individual who claims his or her rights were violated can appeal to both federal and provincial government human rights commissions, which rule on complaints depending on jurisdiction. The commissions have helped many complainants seeking redress, but they are understaffed and lack resources. Minority activists complain that while the commission process may solve individual cases of abuse, little has been done to dismantle systemic patterns of discrimination or promote full and effective equality.
The Employment Equity Act of 1996 is attempting to address workplace discrimination. The Act applies to private and public sector employers under federal jurisdiction that employ 100 or more employees. Unlike the US model, the Canadian process is not based on quotas and requires the removal of barriers to the employment and advancement of designated group members without imposing numerical targets on employers. Canadian employers are required to conduct a workforce analysis and are expected to close gaps in representation based on labour market availability in their recruitment area, as determined by census data.
Religious minorities in Canada include 579, 600 Muslims. Muslims report they have experienced increases in hate crimes since 9/11. Leaders in the Muslim community have repeatedly expressed concerns that post-9/11 security measures are being applied in a manner that discriminates against particular ethnic and religious groups, notably Arabs and Muslims. A particularly clear and distressing example of the discriminatory approach to security issues is the case of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s ‘Operation Thread’, which resulted in the summer 2003 arrest of 23 Pakistani and Indian men. The individuals arrested were formally and publicly identified by Citizenship and Immigration Canada as suspected terrorists, violating their right to be presumed innocent. However, it soon became clear that the suspicions were based on weak evidence, some of which consisted of little more than stereotypes. The allegations were soon dropped. However, because Citizenship and Immigration Canada failed to issue a public disclaimer or apology clearing those who had been arrested, media stories continued to carry headlines referring to ‘suspected terrorists’.
Largely concentrated in Montreal and Toronto, Canada’s 351,000 Jews have strong community institutions and are active in promoting minority rights at a political level. In the past, they have faced discriminatory policies and still face some intolerance. Jewish organizations have documented incidents of anti-Semitism, including vandalism of synagogues and hate propaganda from extremist organizations. Fortunately, such incidents have been quickly denounced by public officials.
First Nations and African Canadians continue to find themselves at the bottom of Canada’s social ladder. A cultural, social and political revival has occurred among many minority groups and First Nations in Canada that has strengthened their communities, cultures, institutions and languages. Especially involved are minority and First Nations youth. The commitments made by the federal and provincial governments to address First Nations rights since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs published its recommendations in 1996 represent an important break from past assimilationist strategies. Similarly, the government has embarked on a number of reconciliation efforts, aimed towards First Nations, Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians and Acadians (francophone people of New Brunswick and parts of Nova Scotia) in recognition of historic injustices towards their communities.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
African and Caribbean Canadians
Congress of Black Women of Canada
Tel: + 1 306 787 4554
Eastern European Canadians
Assembly of First Nations
Tel: + 1 613 241 6789, 1 866 869 6789
Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations
Tel: + 1 780 944 0334
Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society
Tel: + 1 604 925 4464
Métis National Council
Tel: + 1 613 232 3216, 1 800 928 6330
Métis National Council of Women
Tel: + 1 613 567 9049
National Centre for First Nations Governance
Tel: + 1 604 922 2052, 1 866 922 2052
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Tel: + 1 519 445 0990
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Tel: + 1 604 684 0231
Union of Ontario Indians
Tel: + 1 705 497 9127
Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne (AFFC)
Tel: + 1 613 241 3500
Fédération culturelle canadienne-française
Tel: + 1 613 241 8770, 1 800 267 2005
Fédération des Communautés Francophones et Acadiens du Canada
Tel: + 1 613 241 7600
Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ)
Tel: + 1 514 876 0166
Société Nationale de l’Acadie
Tel: + 1 506 853 0404
Société St Jean Baptiste du Québec
Tel: + 1 514 843 8851
Amnesty International (English)
Tel: + 1 613 744 7667
Amnesty International (French)
Tel: + 1 514 766 9766
Canadian Council for Refugees
Tel: + 1 514 277 7223
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Tel: + 1 613 382 2847
Canadian Ethnocultural Council
Tel: + 1 613 230 3867
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Tel: + 1 613 995 1151, 1 888 214 1090
Canadian Islamic Congress
Tel: + 1 519 746 1242
Canadian Jewish Congress
Tel: + 1 613 233 8703
Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association
Tel: + 1 416 289 9666
Canadian Race Relations Foundation
Tel: + 1 416 952 3500, + 1 888 240 4936
Centre de recherche-action sur les relations raciales
Tel: + 1 514 939 3342
Council on American-Islamic Relations CANADA (CAIR-CAN)
Tel: + 1 613 254 9704
National Anti-Racism Council of Canada
Tel: + 1 416 979 3909
National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada
Tel: + 1 613 232 0689
Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada
Tel: + 1 613 563 2642
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Tel: + 1 613 238 8181, +1 866 262 8181
Labrador Inuit Association Head Office
Tel: + 1 709 922 2941
Tel: + 1 819 964 2925, 1 877 625 4825
Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association
Tel: +1 613 238 977, 1 800 667 0749
St John’s Native Friendship Centre Association
Tel: + 1 709 726 5902
Sources and further reading
African and Caribbean Canadians
African Canadian Online: www.yorku.ca/aconline/index.html
Black, A., Fiery Spirits and Voices: Canadian Writers of African Descent, Toronto, HarperCollins, 2000.
Bristow, P., ‘We’re Rooted Here and They Can’t Pull Us Up’: Essays in African Canadian Women’s History, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1994.
Clarke, G.E., Odysseys Home, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2002.
Hill, L., Trials and Triumphs: The Story of African Canadians, Toronto, Umbrella Press, 1993.
Mensah, J., Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Fernwood, 2002.
Nelson, C.A. and Nelson, C.A. (eds), Racism, eh? A Critical Interdisciplinary Anthology of Race and Racism in Canada, Concord, Ontario, Captus Press, 2004.
Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs: www.gov.ns.ca/ansa
Prince, A., Being Black: Essays, Toronto, Insomniac Press, 2001.
Tettey, W.J. and Puplampu, K.P. (eds), The African Diaspora in Canada: Negotiating Identity and Belonging, Calgary, University of Calgary Press, 2005.
Asian Canadian Website: http://www.asian.ca/
Hellwig, T. and Thobani, S. (eds.), Asian Women: Interconnections, Toronto, Women’s Press, 2006.
Li, P.S., The Chinese in Canada, 2nd edn, Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Miki, R., Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice, Raincoast Books, 2005.
Moran, M., Calling Power to Account: Law, Reparations, and the Chinese Canadian Head Tax, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Omatsu, M., Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese Canadian Experience, Toronto, Between the Lines, 1992.
Suzuki, D. and Oiwa, K., The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery, Toronto, Stoddart, 1996.
Tian, G., Chinese-Canadians, Canadian-Chinese: Coping and Adapting in North America, Lewiston, NY, Edwin Mellen Press, 1999.
Ty, E. and Goellnicht, D.C. (eds), Asian North American Identities: Beyond the Hyphen, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2004.
Wong Hall, P. and Hwang, V.M. (eds), Anti-Asian Violence in North America: Asian American and Asian Canadian Reflections on Hate, Healing, and Resistance, Walnut Creek, CA, AltaMira, 2001.
Yee, P., Struggle and Hope: The Story of Chinese Canadians, Toronto, Umbrella Press, 1996.
Eastern European Canadians
Keywan, Z. and Coles, M., Greater Than Kings: Ukrainian Pioneer Settlement in Canada, Montreal, Harvest House, 1977.
Luciuk, L., In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920, Kingston, Kashtan Press, 2001.
Aboriginal Canada Portal: www.aboriginalcanada.gc.ca
Aboriginal Rights Coalition, Blind Spots: An Examination of the Federal Government’s Response to the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Ottawa, Aboriginal Rights Coalition, 2001.
Alfred, T., Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press, 2005.
An Introduction to Aboriginal Law in Canada: www.bloorstreet.com/200block/brintro
Battiste, M. (ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2000.
Bill’s Aboriginal Links – Canada: www.bloorstreet.com/300block/aborcan
Cairns, A.C., Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2000.
Calder, M.J. and Dickason, O.P., A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, Don Mills, Ontario, Oxford University Press Canada, 2006.
Denis, C., We Are Not You: First Nations and Canadian Modernity, Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press, 1997.
Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Government of Canada: www.ainc-inac.gc.ca
Dickason, O.P., Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, Don Mills, Ontario, Oxford University Press Canada, 2001.
First Nations Directory: www.aboriginalcanada.com/firstnation
First Nations Women, Governance and the Indian Act: A Collection of Policy Research Reports, Ottawa, Research Directorate, Status of Women Canada, 2001.
Goodleaf, D., Entering the War Zone: A Mohawk Perspective on Resisting Invasions, Penticton, BC, Theytus Books, 1995.
Groves, R., Re-fashioning the Dialogue: Urban Aboriginal Governance in Canada, Ottawa, National Association of Friendship Centers, 1999.
Havemann, P. (ed.), Indigenous people’s rights in Australia, Canada and new Zealand, Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Hylton, J.H. (ed.), Aboriginal Self-government in Canada: Current Trends and Issues, 2nd edn, Saskatoon, Purich, 1999.
Ivison, D., Patten, P. and Sanders, W. (eds), Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Joffe, P., Sovereign Injustice: Forcible Inclusion of the James Bay Crees and Cree Territory into a Sovereign Quebec, Montreal, Grand Council of the Crees, 1995.
King, T., Cardinal, T. and Highway, T., Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada’s Past, Anchor Canada, 2005.
Macklem, P., Indigenous Difference and the Constitution of Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2001.
McNeil, K., Emerging Justice: Essays on Indigenous Rights in Canada and Australia, Saskatoon, Native Law Centre, University of Saskatchewan, 2001.
Miller, J.R., Lethal Legacy: Current Native Controversies in Canada, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 2004.
Morin, M., L’usurpation de la souveraineté autochtone: le cas des peuples de la Nouvelle-France et des colonies anglaises de l’Amèrique du Nord, Montreal, Boreal, 1997.
Morrison, A.P. with Cotler, I. (eds), Justice for Natives: Searching for Common Ground, Montreal, InterAmicus, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.
Morrison, R.B., Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience, 3rd edn, Don Mills, Ontario, Oxford University Press Canada, 2004.
Neu, D. and Therrien, R., Accounting for Genocide: Canada’s Bureaucratic Assault on Aboriginal People, Black Point, Nova Scotia, Fernwood, 2003.
Newhouse, D., Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture, vol. 1, Toronto, University Of Toronto Press, 2005.
Richards, J., Neighbours Matter: Poor Neighborhoods and Urban Aboriginal Policy, Toronto, C.D. Howe Institute, 2001.
Richardson, B. (ed.), Drum Beat: Anger and Renewal in Indian Country, Toronto, Assembly of First Nations, 1989.
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 5 vols., Ottawa, Minister of Supply and Services, 1996.
Samson, C., A Way of Life that Does Not Exist: Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu, London, Verso, 2003.
Wilson, J., Canada’s Indians, London, MRG, 1992.
York, G., The Dispossessed: Life and Death in Native Canada, London, Vintage, 1990.
Behiels, M., Canada’s Francophone Minority Communities: Constitutional Renewal and the Winning of School Governance, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003.
Cardinal, L. and Hudon, M.-E., The Governance of Canada’s Official Language Minorities: A Preliminary Study, Ottawa, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 2001.
Carment, D., Stack, J.F. and Harvey, F. (eds), The International Politics of Quebec Secession: State Making and State Breaking in North America, Westport, CT, Praeger, 2001.
Government of Quebec: www.gouv.qc.ca/portail/quebec
Grescoe, T., Sacre Blues: An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec, Toronto, Macfarlane Walter and Ross, 2001.
Hébert, R., Manitoba’s French-language Crisis: A Cautionary Tale, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
Larose, K., La Langue de papier: Spéculations linguistiques au Québec, Montreal, University of Montreal Press, 2004.
Larrivee, P. (ed.), Linguistic Conflict and Language Laws: Understanding the Quebec Question, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Laxer, J., Acadians: in Search of a Homeland, Doubleday Canada, 2006.
Paratte, H.-D., Acadians, 2nd edn, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nimbus, 1998.
Schneiderman, D. (ed.), The Quebec Decision: Perspectives on the Supreme Court Ruling on Secession, Toronto, Lorimer, 1999.
Bannerji, H., The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism andG, Toronto, Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2000.
Breton, R., Ethnic Relations in Canada: Institutional Dynamics, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.
Cairns, A.C. et al. (eds), Citizenship, Diversity, and Pluralism: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999.
Cardozo, A. and Musto, L. (eds), The Battle over Multiculturalism: Does It Help or Hinder Canadian Unity? Ottawa, PSI Publishers, 1997.
Department of Canadian Heritage, A Canada for All: Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism – An Overview, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2005.
Department of Canadian Heritage: http://www.pch.gc.ca/
Kalbach, M.A. and Kalbach, W.E. (eds), Perspectives on Ethnicity in Canada: A Reader, Toronto, Harcourt Canada, 2000.
Kazemipur, A. and Halli, S., ‘The colour of poverty: a study of the poverty of ethnic and immigrant groups in Canada’, International Migration, vol. 38, no. 1, 2000, 89-108.
Li, P.S. (ed.), Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada, 2nd edn, Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Mackey, E., The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada, New York, Routledge, 1999.
Statistics Canada, Ethnic Diversity Survey: Portrait of a Multicultural Society, Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2003.
Archibald, L. and Crnkovich, M., If Gender Mattered: A Case Study of Inuit Women, Land Claims and the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Project, Ottawa, Research Directorate, Status of Women Canada, 1999.
Creery, I., The Inuit (Eskimo) of Canada, London, MRG, 1993; also in MRG (ed.), Polar Peoples: Self Determination and Development, London, MRG, 1994.
Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Government of Canada: www.ainc-inac.gc.ca
Dickerson, M.O., Whose North? Political Change, Political Development, and Self-government in the Northwest Territories, Vancouver, UBC Press, 1992.
Government of Canada, Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Development in the Canadian Arctic, a Canadian contribution to the land use dialogue at the 8th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, April-May 2000, Ottawa, Government of Canada, 2000.
Government of Nunavut: www.gov.nu.ca/index.html
Irimoto, T. and Yamada, T. (eds), Circumpolar Ethnicity and Identity, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology, 2004.
McDonald, M., Arragutainaq, L. and Novalinga, Z., Voices from the Bay, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee and Environmental Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq, 1997.
Moss, W., ‘Inuit perspectives on treaty rights and governance’, in Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Aboriginal Self-government: Legal and Constitutional Issues, Ottawa, Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1995.
Nunatsiaq News: http://www.nunatsiaq.com/
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. Elders Conference on Climate Change Final Report, Iqaluit, Nunavut, 2004.
Nuttall, M., Protecting the Arctic: Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Survival, Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998.
Scott, C.H. (ed.), Aboriginal Autonomy and Development in Northern Quebec and Labrador, Vancouver, UBC Press, 2001.
Smith, E.A. and McCarter, J. (eds), Contested Arctic: Indigenous Peoples, Industrial States, and the Circumpolar Environment, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1997.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in
- African and Caribbean Canadians
- Asian Canadians
- Eastern European Canadians
- First Nations
- French Canadians