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[Ottawa – February 26, 2013] The topic of immigration is extremely controversial in Europe and America but typically has been a more muted concern in Canada.

In our previous release, we showed that over the past 15 years, that just as immigration and pluralism had burgeoned to make Canada more ethnically diverse than at any point in its history, attachment to ethnic group had dropped sharply and attachment to country had remained robust and much higher. In other words, as we became more diverse, ethnic identities diminished and national identity remained very strong.

There were broad based fears and cultural insecurities evident in public opinion and intellectual thought in the eighties and nineties. Many thought immigration and multiculturalism would weaken national identity and strengthen compartmentalization and ghettoization of ethnic enclaves. These fears have proven to be ill-founded. Whatever the concerns about the somewhat apocryphal view of the multicultural policies of that era, there is no evidence that they had a deleterious impact on national identity. More importantly, the sociological concept of multiculturalism, that celebrated diversity rather than avoiding or homogenizing it, has produced one of the unique Canadian advantages. The so-called clash of civilizations which is causing huge strife in Europe and American is conspicuously missing in Canadian society.

This is not to suggest that we still need the official portions of multiculturalism that focused on traditional dress, folkways, and festivals; clearly we have moved on to multiculturalism 2.0 where it operates as more of an engrained value in the Canadian mosaic. The idea that the sociological notion of multiculturalism has become an offensive anachronism and a source of tension with other values such as equality is a canard. Clearly, Canadians see both diversity and equality as the salient achievements of the past twenty years and the same constituencies support both values. The idea that the progressive values of equality and multiculturalism are in a state of contradiction is based on a misunderstanding of the anthropological concept of cultural relativism and the parallel notion of the psychic unity of humanity. Cultural relativism argues that individual cultures must be understood immanently within the logic of that culture and not reduced to European ethnocentric concepts of morality. It did not mean that all cultures were morally equivalent nor did it mean that equality of individuals and respect for diversity stood in a state of mutual contradiction.

Whatever relative success multiculturalism may have achieved in creating a more open and tolerant Canadian society, fears of foreign cultures are by no means extinct in this country. Fully 40% of Canadians think there are too many immigrants coming to Canada.

An important methodological note is in order. While we need to do more extensive tests, we believe that the anonymity of the IVR method, compared to previous tracking using live interviewer, may inflate the apparent opposition to immigration by 10 points by virtue of the reduction of social desirability bias. Apparently, respondents are less abashed sharing notions that they do not like immigration and, more particularly, immigration from outside the more familiar regions of the United States and Europe, with the impersonal robot.

In short, we do not believe that opposition to immigration is actually up when we discount the mode effect of eliminating a live interviewer. Which measure is more valid is open to debate but, we would tend to the view that the impersonal interview is more accurate of true feelings.

To be fair, there are many genuine reasons to be opposed to immigration which can have nothing to do with intolerance (e.g. economic fears of impacts). However, when we ask people to forget about the number of immigrants and just focus on the question of whether or not too many of them are visible minorities, it is hard to defend the answer of “too many” as anything other than some form of apprehension around unfamiliar cultures or, even worse, an expression of racial prejudice. So it is disconcerting to note that nearly two-fifths of Canadians harbour these attitudes when it relates to who should come to Canada. It is notable that in our testing of attitudes to these same questions in the United States, we find the opposition levels are about twice as high (despite less than half as much immigration relative to size). The evidence from Europe also shows higher intolerance. Before too much backslapping about tolerant and diverse Canada we might note there is clearly still room for improvement here.

With some trepidation, we now consider the question of how these attitudes vary within Canadian society. Recognizing that people can get downright ornery when told that the group that they belong to is less open to new cultures, we will plunge on.

First of all, while attitudes to immigration levels mirror those towards visible minorities, they are not identical. Opposition to immigration in general is higher among seniors, the economically vulnerable, and women (this is a consistent finding over the years). It is also significantly higher among Bloc Québécois and Conservative supporters, as well those who live in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The link to those who think there are too many immigrants coming from outside the more familiar western cultures of the United States and Europe is less ambiguous and, in some cases, these linkages are considerably stronger. In particular, the link to party support is very significant. Nearly half of Conservative supporters think that too many immigrants are members of visible minorities, compared to roughly one-third of supporters of other parties. Regionally, these attitudes are also more prevalent among residents of Saskatchewan, Alberta (which is surprising considering the recent election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary), and, to a lesser extent, Ontario. Women, the economically vulnerable, and those born here in Canada are also more likely to harbour these sentiments.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (February 26, 2013)


  • Janice

    I am canadian and white and a woman. I have had to leave my province many times to find work. I live in BC, Alberta. I was in Ontario when I was 25 and then I returned when I was 43. I am against immigration and so are all my canadian born close friends. We live in the ottawa area and its becoming unsafe here in the streets. Some immigrants are very aggressive and rude and the problem is also with some of the men, they have chaventistic attitudes. The funny thing is I am not prejudiced by nature I had friends from all over 20 years ago but what Im finding in the NEW canada is each race is sticking with their own now. So the friends I once had in other non-canadian cultures are sticking to their own. I see them the odd time but they have fallen back into their ethnic ghetto. One left white culture that he was in for years and went into oriental culture (he is from the middle east). I also find canada is becoming very divided. One girl asked are whites christian here and I didnt know what to say. She thought canada was christian and I told her it is, but she didnt find people showed it much. I told her if u go outside the big cities most people are christian and church-going, especially in the smaller towns. I also find some immigrants want to be in their culture and our culture back and forth but when they want to cry racism or unjustice they run back to their people and alot of times there is no injustice. I dont agree with multiculturalism in policy the way it is in canada. I liked the way it WAS when minorities and whites got along. The minorities kept certain parts of their culture (food music) and otherwise they were canadian and they dressed like us as soon as they came here. I dont like how it is now. I also feel people should be speaking english- its hardly spoken in the streets now its a sad state that canada is in now. Also alot of gangs have formed when before we did not have a problem with gangs. I think canada should bring in more europeans.

  • Aryan

    The above mindset reflects why many minorities find it difficult to deal with whites here. The post reflects the typical individual/subjective white experience as all encompassing. That white blame on powerless minorities for perceived threat to Canadian society and nationhood is clearly manifest throughout the internet; minorities can only look for truth via these university studies which consistently show that the reality is in fact the opposite. But perhaps these ‘fears’ for white Canadians generation after generation are already realized internally which would explain their inter-generational discomfort with non whites. Let’s continue to give whites the benefit of the doubt though even if decade after decade whites spew the same diatribe albeit with different motivational contexts.

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