Conducted in February, the annual Focus Canada survey by the Environics Institute and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation interviewed 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18.
Despite the hardening of views against immigrants in the United States and Europe, the study found that most Canadians continue to view immigration in a mainly positive light.
“Canadians as a whole continue to be more positive than negative about the current levels of immigrants coming to this country, and with the legitimacy of refugees who have been arriving,” the study says, noting that “worldwide, Canadians are among the most accepting of immigrants in their country.”
Overall, 60 per cent of those surveyed expressed a favourable view of immigration. This jumped to 80 per cent who see immigration having a positive impact on Canada’s economy. Only 16 per cent of Canadians disagreed with this view.
“The positive impact of immigration is the majority view across the population, and the upward shift is evident across across most groups but especially in Quebec and the western provinces, while holding steady in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario,” the study notes.
The survey results were published on the same day Statistics Canada revealed that international migration was the main driver of an increase in the country’s population in the last quarter of 2017. It also follows a report on Canada’s Atlantic provinces that says the retention of immigrants to the region is crucial for its economic survival.
The positive view of immigration was balanced by the fact 51 per cent of those surveyed said too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values. This percentage, however, was the lowest since the survey began asking Canadians about this issue in 1993.
Across Canada, positive opinions on immigration and refugees are more widespread in the province of British Columbia, where 66 per cent disagreed with the view that “overall, there is too much immigration in Canada.” The same percentage of Canadians aged 18 to 29 and second-generation Canadians also disagreed, as did 69 per cent of Canadians with a university degree.
Negative views of immigration and refugees were more widespread in the province of Alberta, among Canadians above the age of 60 and those with only a high school education.
Alberta also led Canadian provinces in the number of respondents who believed too few immigrants were adopting Canadian values (62 per cent). This view, meanwhile, was lowest in British Columbia and Manitoba / Saskatchewan, where 46 per cent of respondents shared this view.
The admission of 40,000 Syrian refugees since 2015 and the arrival of nearly 50,000 asylum seekers in Canada last year has not dampened Canadian support for refugees.
Of those surveyed, 45 per cent said they believe most people claiming to be refugees are legitimate compared to 38 per cent who believe they’re not. Environics said uncertainty has replaced some of the more strongly held views on the issue that it found in 2017, with 17 per cent now saying they have no clear opinion on the legitimacy of refugee claims, an increase of seven points.
“This softening trend is evident across much of the population, but is most noticeable in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” the study says, adding this was also the case in Quebec, which was the focus of the asylum seeker influx in 2017.
Negative perceptions of refugees tend to increase with age, decrease with socio-economic status, and are more prevalent among men and immigrants.
Environics also shared the findings of the 2017 Gallup World Poll, which is conducted each year in 140 countries. This study found Canadians holding some of the most positive views about their cities as a welcoming place for immigrants.
More than nine in 10 Canadians (92 per cent) said the city or area where they live is “a good place” for immigrants. This is an increase of four points over 2016.
“Canadian public opinion on their community as a place for immigrants is significantly more positive than for all other 34 OECD countries (where the average is 65 per cent), and has been consistently so since 2006,” the study says.
Overall, Canada was ranked third by Gallup’s Migrant Acceptance Index, which measures comfort levels and attitudes to immigrants. Only Iceland and New Zealand outranked Canada.
These findings mirror the recently released World Happiness Report, which surveys immigrants about their sense of well-being in their adopted countries. Canada ranked seventh in the world in terms of immigrant happiness, which Environics said parallels that of native-born Canadians.
Despite these views, most Canadians acknowledge that discrimination remains a concern, especially toward Muslims, people from Middle Eastern countries, and Indigenous peoples.
Of those surveyed, half said they believe Muslims experience discrimination “often” and 34 per cent said they believe this occurs “sometimes.” Interestingly, immigrants were less likely than native-born Canadians to believe such discrimination was frequent.
The belief that Muslims are frequently discriminated against was most evident in Quebec, where 58 per cent of respondents expressed this view. This number, however, was down 10 points since 2015.
“[Muslims] are among the most poorly understood and stigmatized groups, in part because of their recent arrival and ethnic origins, and in part because of specific religious and cultural practices (e.g., face coverings) make many Canadians uncomfortable,” the study says.
Canadians remain more inclined toward a generally positive view of Islam than a negative one (45 per cent versus 35 per cent). At the same time, 45 per cent of those surveyed said they think Muslims “want to be distinct from the larger society.”
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