The latest Canadian portrait – comment – The latest Canadian portrait
April 03, 2008
Haroon Siddiqui

The national census is the mirror in which we look at ourselves. What do we see? A confident polyglot nation.

The census also enables a national conversation about topics we used to avoid: race, ethnicity, gender, multiculturalism, multilingualism and multiple identities.

Gathering facts, Statistics Canada lets us see the public policy implications of our changing demography.

Yesterday’s release of the 2006 census data was on visible minorities. That and the earlier data on immigrants are particularly relevant to Ontario and, more specifically, Toronto and its suburbs.

Immigration is the main source of population growth. The increase among the foreign-born is four times that of the Canadian-born (13.6 per cent vs. 3.3 per cent).

A fifth of Canadians are immigrants – about the same proportion as between 1911-31, the previous boom years in immigration.

Our proportion of the foreign-born is higher than that of the U.S. (12.5 per cent) and second only to Australia’s (22 per cent).

Since Ontario attracts more than half of all immigrants, more than one in four Ontarians are immigrants.

In Toronto CMA (census metropolitan area, defined by StatsCan as from Ajax and Pickering to Milton and Georgina but excluding Oshawa and Oakville), the proportion of the foreign-born is 45.7 per cent. In the City of Toronto, it is almost 50 per cent (vs. 36.5 per cent in Miami and 34.7 per cent in L.A.)

Our suburbs are equally or even more immigrant-rich: Markham, 56.5 per cent; Mississauga, 51.6 per cent; Richmond Hill, 51.5 per cent; Brampton, 47.8 per cent; and Vaughan, 44.9 per cent.

Canada’s visible minority population (“non-aboriginal and non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour”) surpassed 5 million, or 16 per cent of the population.

In Ontario, they are 22.8 per cent of the population. And in Toronto CMA, 42.9 per cent. In the City of Toronto, 46.9 per cent. In Markham, 65.4 per cent (the highest proportion of vis-mins in any city in Canada). In Brampton, 57 per cent. In Mississauga, 49 per cent.

Vis-mins are younger (median age of 33 vs. 39 for all Canadians).

They form a higher proportion of the working age group (46.5 per cent vs. 44 per cent) but a lower proportion of seniors (7.3 per cent vs. 13 per cent).

They are subsidizing the rest.

South Asians surpassed the Chinese as the top vis-min group (1.26 million vs. 1.21 million).

In Ontario, their numbers are 794,000 and 577,000 respectively. And in Toronto CMA, 684,000 and 486,000.

But in B.C., the Chinese are the bigger group, 407,000 vs. 262,000.

In Quebec, the vis-min composition is different. Blacks (mostly from Haiti) are the No. 1 group at 188,000, followed by Arabs (mostly from the French-speaking Maghreb) at 109,000 (the largest concentration of Arabs in Canada).

Canadians report more than 200 ethnic origins.

At 10 million, “Canadian” is by far the biggest “ethnic” identification. The longer a people live in Canada, the more they are likely to assert themselves as Canadian, conflating ethnicity with nationality.

A fifth of Canadians are allophones, i.e. have a mother tongue other than English or French. They listed more than 200 languages as their mother tongue.

Yet a remarkable 98 per cent of Canadians can speak English or French, and 94 per cent do at home.

Of the foreign-born who were eligible to become citizens, 85.1 per cent did. This is the highest uptake on citizenship in any country.

Vive le Canada.

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