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Ethnic Groups, Immigrants

Canadian population, federal cabinet, employment counseling, municipal governments, settlement services

Immigrants account for about 16 percent of the population, and immigration has been a key force in Canada’s growth since the beginning of the colonial era. For most of postcolonial history, people of European descent were favored. This practice was replaced in the 1960s by new rules classifying immigrants into three groups: refugees fleeing political persecution, family members of Canadian citizens, and independent immigrants. The last group is admitted under a point system, where they are allocated points for level of education, experience in the labor market, facility in one or both official languages, and so on. Those with enough points are allowed to become permanent residents and, three years later, Canadian citizens. Just under half (49 percent) of immigrants arriving in 1994 were in the independent category, while 42 percent were joining family members and 9 percent were fleeing political persecution.

The people entering Canada reflect the distribution of the world’s population. During the 1980s, for example, 47 percent of the 1.3 million immigrants came from Asian countries, 26 percent from Europe, 12 percent from South America or the Caribbean, 9 percent from North and Central America, and 6 percent from Africa. The top ten source countries (in order) in 1995 were Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, the United States, and Pakistan. Migration from Hong Kong has been especially prominent during the 1990s, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of all immigrants to Canada in most years. This movement was related to the widespread concern in Hong Kong over the return of the colony to China in 1997.

Ottawa is required to consult the provinces each year on immigration policy. Ottawa is also required to set an annual target figure for immigration, although it has been common in recent years to plan in five-year stages. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, targets were set at 250,000, or nearly 1 percent of the Canadian population, per year. Following the recession of the early 1990s, however, these were lowered to 210,000 per year. Still, this is an addition of 0.7 percent to the population per year, compared with 0.3 percent in the United States.

Arriving immigrants require settlement services. These are provided by provincial and municipal governments and a variety of nongovernmental organizations. Much of the funding for these programs comes from the federal government. Services include temporary accommodation, language classes, and employment counseling. In 1996 Ottawa imposed a landing fee of C(Canadian)$975 on each adult immigrant to help pay the cost of the immigration program. The merits of this new head tax have been much debated.

The overwhelming majority of newcomers settle in cities, which has altered the ethnic compositions of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Each of these cities has a different immigrant profile: Persons arriving from French-speaking countries are most likely to settle in Montreal, those from Latin America in Toronto, and those from the Pacific Rim in either Toronto or Vancouver. Certain resources in these cities have become strained, particularly the school system. It is common, for example, for entire elementary classrooms in some parts of Vancouver to consist of recent immigrants from Asian countries. Beyond the cost of providing instructional programs in English as a second language, these cities are faced with the challenge of integrating diverse cultures. A number of problems have arisen, such as immigrants’ complaints of discrimination. Although some Canadians have pressured the government to cut back the annual immigration target, immigration is generally well supported.

In response to requests by various cultural groups, the Canadian government established a multicultural policy in 1971 that recognizes the changing composition of the Canadian population. This policy was intended to acknowledge the contribution of all groups that make up Canada and to signal that there is no official culture into which everyone is expected to assimilate. In 1972 a new position was added to the federal cabinet: the minister of state for multiculturalism. The federal Human Rights Act, passed in 1977, made discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, or ethnic origin illegal. In 1982 these rights were included in the new constitution, and in 1986 a program was established to ensure that minorities have equal access to federal employment.

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