Reports recently issued on the 2011 Canadian census reveal that the country is more culturally diverse than ever before. Perhaps the most important factor in the spread of diversity has been Canada’s immigration system, which welcomes thousands of newcomers each year to the country’s shores.
Diversity in Canada takes many forms. Throughout the country, one can find a great array of ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity. This diversity is supported through a national policy of multiculturalism, which promotes the celebration of different cultures living side by side in a democratic society.
Canada’s population currently stands at approximately 34,000,000. According to census results, the country’s overall population increased 5.9% in the past five years, maintaining Canada’s place as the fastest-growing G8 country. Immigration, as opposed to natural increase from births, contributed to about two-thirds of this growth. This sets Canada apart from other G8 countries, like the United States, whose growth largely comes from within.
Over 200 ethnicities are currently represented across Canada. Visible minorities are projected to increase from 16.2% of the population in 2006 to approximately 30% by 2031. As Canada’s population grows, so will communities that trace their roots to countries outside of Europe.
Increases in population growth and ethnic diversity predictably vary from region to region. Urban centers are still likely to be the most ethnically diverse, as a majority of new arrivals to Canada settle in one of the country’s major cities. However, growth has also reached more rural areas of the country. In the last five years, the Yukon Territory saw the largest population increase in Canada, with growth of 11.7%. Immigrants are increasingly choosing to settle in more rural provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan to take advantage of abundant job opportunities in a variety of sectors.
Over 200 languages are spoken in Canadian households. In total, 20.6% of Canadians (or 6.8 million people) reported a mother tongue other than English or French. If current growth trends hold, native speakers of a non-Canadian language will soon eclipse native French speakers. French is one of Canada’s official languages, with approximately 7 million native speakers residing mostly in the Province of Quebec.
The majority of multilingual Canadians speak English or French at home in addition to their native tongue. This is demonstrative of the strong pull the two languages exert as ‘languages of convergence’, functioning as the main venues of communication in work and social exchange throughout the country.
Of all foreign languages, Tagalog saw the greatest increase in Canadian speakers. The Philippine language saw usage jump 64% in the last five years alone, a testament to the high numbers of immigrants Canada welcomes from the Philippines each year.
Given Canada’s expansive geography and historic diversity, it is little surprise that language trends vary greatly from city to city. In Montreal and Ottawa, for instance, Spanish and Arabic were the most common foreign languages spoken at home. Vancouver, on the other hand, reports Punjabi as its most commonly spoken foreign language, followed closely by Chinese.
Multiculturalism – A National Policy
Canada’s national policy of multiculturalism has helped the country adjust well to its historic levels of diversity. The policy is enshrined in both the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Multiculturalism promotes equal respect and acceptance of all races, religions, and cultures. Canada has been a global leader in developing and practicing this concept, which many countries around the world seek to emulate today.
Multiculturalism is often contrasted with American notions of assimilation. Newcomers to Canada are encouraged to keep the culture of their home country while learning Canadian norms, instead of attempting to leave their culture behind. Because of this national celebration of diversity, cultural pride can be found throughout the country in a variety of forms. Most major cities are home to various ethnic ‘enclaves’, for instance, where Canadians can get a glimpse of various world cultures living in a shared community.
The policy of multiculturalism, coupled with Canada’s sustained high levels of immigration, has resulted in a changing Canadian landscape. Every year, thousands of new arrivals come to Canada. They bring with them their own skills, knowledge, language, religion, and cultural norms. These all serve to strengthen Canada’s international character and make it recognizable as a truly tolerant and global society.