‘Multiculturalism’ is defined by the Canadian government as ‘the recognition of the cultural heritage and potential of all Canadians’. Citizens are encouraged to be a part of Canada’s social, cultural, economic and political affairs. Canada’s initial demographic stemmed from its collection of British colonists and indigenous peoples, and later immigrants from all around the world, such as Asia and Europe. Asian immigrants have played a large role in forming Canada’s multiculturalist identity, from a source of cheap labour and discrimination to one of Canada’s largest ethnic communities, especially in large cities such as Vancouver and Toronto.
Canada is a collective nation built from people of many different nationalities. However, this was not always the case. Canada was originally formed from British colonists, and then immigrants from other British colonies. Immigration to Canada has had its issues; many ethnic groups faced discrimination, racism, and prejudice before Canada passed its multiculturalism act.
The Canadian government started forming its immigration policy in 1869, until the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988 was passed to protect and encourage diverse cultural heritages. Key events in the history of Canadian immigration are summarized below:
• Immigration Act of 1869: the Canadian government focused on protecting immigrants from exploitation and harm on their passage to Canada.
• 1885, the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration was passed in order to regulate the number of Chinese immigrants moving to Canada, as popular belief during the time was that the Chinese were immoral, prone to disease and could not be assimilated into Canadian culture.
• The Chinese Immigration Act followed, in the same year, excluding immigrants on basis of ethnic origin. Every Chinese person seeking passage into Canada was to pay a duty of $50. Later, in 1900, the duty was increased to $100, then to $500 in 1903. After this first piece of discriminative legislation, the Immigration Act was passed in 1906, further restricting immigration. A formal deportation policy was erected, giving the government power to arbitrarily decide admission to Canada.
• Gentleman’s Agreement (1908): Japanese immigration was restricted due to influx of Japanese labourers in British Columbia.
• Continuous Journey Regulation (1908): Required those seeking entry into Canada to travel to Canada by continuous journey from which they were natives. Since there was no direct passage from India to Canada, Indian immigration was blocked.
• Immigration Act (1910): Gave the government more power over deciding which prospective immigrants to admit and which to deny.
• Naturalization Act (1914): Immigrants were required to live in Canada for at least 5 years, and be able to speak adequate French or English.
• Chinese Immigration Act (1923): Restricted all Chinese immigration to Canada by defining even more stringent criteria.
• Canadian Citizenship Act (1947): Created the category of Canadian Citizenship and outlined criteria for obtaining it.
• Immigration Regulations (1967): A system was set up to evaluate individual immigrants on basis of merit, such as education, occupational skills, language proficiency and age. Immigrants meeting the criteria were granted admission regardless of ethnicity.
• Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1971): Announced multiculturalism as an official government policy. Worked toward preserving the cultural freedom of ethnically diverse individuals and providing acknowledgement of cultural contributions of these individual groups to Canadian society.
• Immigration Act (1976): Mandated that the federal government must consult with other levels of government in immigration policies.
• Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988): Protected cultural heritage of all Canadians, discourage discrimination and encourage implementation of multicultural programs and initiatives within institutions and organizations.
The 2006 census showed that immigrants in Canada are strongly concentrated in large urban areas. In 2006, 81% of recent immigrants could be found in one of Canada’s six largest urban centres. Home to 70% of recent immigrants are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Of every five Canadians, four live in a metropolitan area. One in three live in one of Canada's three largest metropolitan areas: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The 2006 Canadian census of the metropolitan areas larger than 500,000 inhabitants accounted for more than half of Canada's population. It is predicted that one in two people would belong to a minority group in 2017, in Vancouver and Toronto.
In Ontario and British Columbia, more than one in four people is foreign-born.
Vancouver & Toronto
In the 2011 census, a combined percentage of over 50% of immigrants live in Toronto and Vancouver, making up half the immigrant population in Canada.
In 2011, 13 different ethnic origins had surpassed the 1-million mark, with Canadian being the most reported. Others that surpassed the 1-million include Chinese and East Indian. South Asians were among the largest visible minority groups. The other two largest include Chinese and Blacks, and together with South Asians they comprise 61.3% of the visible minority population.
In fact, these visible minorities account for more than a quarter (27.3%) of the provincial population of B.C. In Ontario, they amount to slightly over a quarter (25.9%).
Starting from the official apology issued by the Canadian government with regard to reparations and damages, the idea of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity began to change among many Canadians. Now Asians and other immigrants have been acknowledged for their signifiant contribution to Canadian history.