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Ethnic Origins | Canada |

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Ethnic Origins

Jennifer Elrick

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Information on the ethnic origins of the entire population – immigrant and non-immigrant – was collected in the Canadian census from 1901 to 2006. Part of the voluntary NHS in 2011 (see previous section), the procedure for indicating one’s ethnic origins remains the same.

Passers-by in Toronto's Chinatown. (© picture alliance / Stuart Dee/Robert Harding )

Individuals may assign themselves to one or more ethnic groups, and Statistics Canada recognizes that this is a fluid measure that reflects a respondent’s self-perception at the time the individual is questioned, and that this self-perception may change over time. In 2011, more than 200 different ethnic origins were reported on the NHS. The thirteen origins that were mentioned the most were, in descending order, Canadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, First Nations (North American Indian), Ukrainian, East Indian, Dutch, and Polish. One interesting phenomenon in ethnic origin reporting is the rise of the "Canadian response". In the 1991 census only 3 percent of the population reported it as their sole ethnic origin. This proportion rose to 19 percent and 39 percent in the 1996 and 2001 censuses respectively. In 2011, 10,563,800 people reported being of Canadian origin. Some researchers see the "Canadian response" as a tool that is increasingly used by well-established European groups to distinguish themselves from more recent arrivals from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Visible Minority Population

The 1996 Employment Equity Act defined visible minorities as "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour", and the 1996 census was the first to obtain counts of visible minorities across the entire population. This information is collected as benchmark data for federal employment equity measures. On the 2011 NHS, 6,264,800 people, representing 19.1 percent of the population, identified themselves as belonging to a visible minority, up significantly from the less than 1 percent reported in 1971 and the 13 percent reported in 2001. The visible minority population – like the immigrant population – is concentrated in four provinces (Ontario, British Columbia, Québec and Alberta), and in urban centers, particularly Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. In 2011, 49.1 percent of Toronto’s population identified themselves as belonging to a visible minority, as did 45.2 percent and 20.3 percent of Vancouver’s and Montreal’s populations, respectively. In some suburbs, the proportions can be even higher. For example, in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, 70.4 percent of the population belongs to a visible minority, as does 72.3 percent of the population in the Toronto suburb of Markham.

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Jennifer Elrick is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on family-related immigration policies in Canada and Germany since 1945. E-Mail Link: