How do we define an ethnic group

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Jennifer Elrick

Jennifer Elrick is a PhD student in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Sociology. Her research focuses on family-related migration policies in Canada and Germany since 1945.
Email: [email protected]

Between 1901 and 2006, information on the ethnic backgrounds of the entire population of Canada (immigrants and non-immigrants) was collected in the regular censuses. They have been recorded in the national household survey (see above) since 2011, although the method of recording has not changed.

People walking in Chinatown, Toronto. (& copy picture alliance / Stuart Dee / Robert Harding)
Respondents can assign themselves to one or more ethnic groups. The Canadian statistical authority recognizes that this attribution is not static, but can change over time and thus only represents a snapshot of the respondent's self-perception at the time of the survey. In 2011, the National Household Survey indicated more than 200 different ethnicities. The 13 most frequent responses (in decreasing frequency) were: Canadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, North American Indians (First Nations), East Indian, Dutch and Polish. An interesting phenomenon in this context is the increasing use of ″ Canadian ″: in 1991 only 3 percent of the population stated this as their only ethnic background. This proportion rose to 19 percent by 1996 and further to 39 percent in 2001. In 2011, 10,563,800 people said they were of Canadian origin. Some scholars argue that the term "Canadian" is an instrument with which long-established European groups try to differentiate themselves from newer immigrant groups from Asia, Africa and Latin America. [1]

"Visible minorities"

The Employment Equity Act of 1996 defines so-called "visible minorities" as "persons who are not Native, Caucasian [2] or white." The census that same year was the first to determine the size of these minorities in the total population. This information serves as a reference point for government equality policies. In the 2011 national household survey, 6,264,800 respondents said they belonged to a "visible minority". This corresponds to 19.1 percent of the total population and represents a significant increase compared to 1971 (less than 1 percent) and 2001 (13 percent).

The "visible minorities", like the immigrant population, are concentrated in four provinces (Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta) and in the country's urban centers, particularly in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. In 2011, 49.1 percent of Toronto residents said they belonged to a "visible minority"; in Vancouver it was 45.2 percent and in Montreal 20.3 percent. The proportions are even higher in some suburbs, such as Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, where 70.4 percent are "visible minorities," or 72.3 percent in Markham, a suburb of Toronto.