Cultural Diversity in Canada: The Social Construction of Racial Difference

3. Changing Immigration Pattern and the Emergence of “Visible Minorities”

Historically, Canada had relied upon Western Europe, in particular Great Britain, as the major supplier of immigrants to Canada. In the two decades after the end of the Second World War, Canada maintained its policy of favouring immigrants from the United States, United Kingdom and other European countries. However, in the 1960s, there were major changes in the Canadian immigration policy which placed more emphasis on educational and occupational skills as criteria for selecting immigrants, although sponsored immigrants under family unification and refugee settlement remained important components of immigration.

Changes in immigration regulations in 1967 resulted in the adoption of a universal point system in assessing prospective immigrants, irrespective of country of origin or racial background (P.C. 1967-1616). The 1967 immigration regulations reflected Canada's attempt to compete for skilled labour around the world, although other factors were also influencing the change of policy (Li, 1992a).

The impact of the 1967 immigration regulations can be seen from immigration statistics (Li, 1992a: 153-157). Between 1954 and 1967, Canada lost 60,230 people in professional, technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial occupations to the United States. In return, Canada received 33,119 immigrants in these occupations from the United States. A consequence of the 1967 immigration regulations was to reverse this trend, as Canada placed more emphasis on human capital as the basis of immigrant selection. For the eighteen year period between 1968 and 1986, Canada experienced a net gain of 16,349 immigrants in professional, technical, managerial and entrepreneurial occupations from the United States (Li, 1992a).

Between 1954 and 1967, Canada lost 60,230 people in professional, technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial occupations to the United States. In return, Canada received 33,119 immigrants in these occupations from the United States. A consequence of the 1967 immigration regulations was to reverse this trend, as Canada placed more emphasis on human capital as the basis of immigrant selection. For the eighteen year period between 1968 and 1986, Canada experienced a net gain of 16,349 immigrants in professional, technical, managerial and entrepreneurial occupations from the United States (Li, 1992a).

Although European immigrants to Canada made up the majority of immigration to Canada in the post-war period, their importance, in terms of the proportion of the total immigrants admitted, declined after 1967. In the 1940s and 1950s, immigration to Canada was made up almost exclusively of immigrants from Europe. For example, in the post-war years from 1946 to 1953, Canada admitted slightly less than 1 million immigrants into Canada, about 96 percent of whom came from Europe; British immigrants alone accounted for 35 percent of this stream of immigration (Statistics Canada, 1965). Between 1954 and 1988, Canada admitted 4.8 million immigrants, 56 percent of whom came from Europe, and 20 percent came from the United Kingdom alone[2]. However, this relatively high percentage of post-war European immigration was largely a result of the almost exclusive reliance on European immigration prior to 1967. Between 1968 and 1988, European immigrants to Canada declined to 1.1 million, or 38 percent of total immigrants to Canada. The percentage decline for British immigrants to Canada was from 28 percent for 1954-67 to 14 percent for 1968-88. No doubt, the changes in the immigration regulations in the 1960s enabled Canada to abandon national origin as an admission criterion, and to select immigrants from all over the world.

Since the 1970s, the increased presence of the visible minority in Canadian society has become more noticeable,although historically, Canada had relied upon waves of Oriental labour in the development of major industries and mega-projects in western Canada (Li, 1998a). The term “visible minorities” received official recognition in 1984 when Commissioner Rosalie S. Abella identified this group as constituting one of the four designated categories in the Royal Commission Report on Equality in Employment, in accordance with the terms of reference of the commission (Canada, Royal Commission on Equality of Employment, 1984). The subsequent Employment Equity Act of 1986 also specifically included "persons who are, because of their race or colour, in a visible minority in Canada" as one of the designated groups to whom employers on federal works or federal crown corporations had to take special measures to improve their employment opportunities (S.C., 1986, c. 31, s. 3)[3]. In the 1986 Census of Canada, Statistics Canada operationalized membership in a visible minority to include ten origins: Blacks, Indo-Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, South East Asian, Filipino, Other Pacific Islanders, West Asian and Arab, and Latin American, excluding Argentinean and Chilean (Statistics Canada, 1990: 71-72).

In 1986, members of visible minorities made up 6.3 percent of Canada’s population; by 1991, they climbed to 9.4 percent; and by 1996, 11.2 percent (Statistics Canada, 1998). Among the 3.2 million people who identified themselves as members of a visible minority in 1996, Chinese origin accounted for 27 percent, South Asian origin, 21 percent, and Black, 18 percent (Statistics Canada, 1998).

No doubt, the single most important factor contributing to the growth of the visible minority in Canada has been immigration since the 1970s. The removal of racial or national barrier in immigrant selection in 1967 has facilitated immigration from Asia, Africa and other non-traditional sources that historically were restricted to enter Canada.

Immigration statistics for the period after 1967 show that there has been an increase in the proportion of immigrants from Asia and Africa, and a corresponding decrease in the proportion of immigrants from Europe (Table 2). In the five years after 1967, between 1968 and 1971, Canada admitted 737,124 immigrants, of which slightly over half came from Europe, 15.5 percent from the United States, and 15 percent from Asian countries. Thereafter, the proportion of immigrants from Europe continued to decline: from 38 percent for 1973-77 to 22.6 percent for 1988-92. In contrast, Asian immigrants increased from 25.4 percent for the period between 1973 and 1977 to 40 percent between 1978 and 1982, and then further to 51.8 percent between 1988 and 1992. Similarly, African immigrants, which made up only 5 percent of immigrants between 1973 and 1977, rose to 6.7 percent between 1988 and 1992.

Table 2: Immigrant Arrivals by Countries of Last Permanent Residence, 1967-1991

In total, for the 28-year period from 1968 to 1995, Canada admitted 4.4 million immigrants, of which 39.5 percent came from Asia, 5.1 percent from Africa, and 7.1 from the Caribbean. If immigrants from these regions were counted as members of visible minorities in Canadian society, then about 51.7 percent of the 4.4 million immigrants coming to Canada between 1968 and 1995 would have been members of visible minorities. In addition, if some of the immigrants from Central and South America were also counted as members of racial minorities, then the proportion of the visible minorities among immigrants to Canada between 1968 and 1995 would be 58.7 percent. For the same period, European immigrants made up 31.5 percent of all immigrants entering Canada, and immigrants from the United States accounted for 8 percent (Table 2).

The foregoing immigration statistics suggest that about 2.3 to 2.6 million members of visible minorities were added to the Canadian population between 1968 and 1995. In view of the fact that the total number of visible minorities was 1.6 million individuals in the 1986 Census, 2.6 million individuals in the 1991 Census, and 3.2 million individuals in the 1996 Census (Statistics Canada, 1998), then it is clear that immigration between the 1970s and 1990s alone would largely account for the emergence of the visible minority population. The immigration pattern also means that most members of the visible minority are first-generation immigrants born outside of Canada, in contrast to most European-Canadians who, because of a historical immigration policy in favour of their admission, tend to be native born in Canada.

The immigration pattern also means that most members of the visible minority are first-generation immigrants born outside of Canada, in contrast to most European-Canadians who, because of a historical immigration policy in favour of their admission, tend to be native born in Canada.


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