Is there Rising Intolerance against Immigrants in Canada?

 Recently, a poll on the attitudes of Canadians on immigration was conducted by Forum Research, a private research firm. The finding generated some press attention—the poll indicates that over 70% of native Canadians believe that the government should limit the number of immigrants admitted into the country, and that over 60% think that immigrants should abandon their native cultural values for Canadian cultural values.

At first glance, these findings contradict Canada’s reputation as an immigrant-friendly country, making Canadians seem rather intolerant. As Yahoo News Canada notes, “apparently Canada isn’t the welcoming multicultural paradise we once fancied ourselves.” However, is the poll genuinely reflective of Canadians’ perspective on immigration? Not really.

A Misleading Poll

More specifically, The poll asks: “should Canada accept all qualified immigrants who want to enter the country, or should we limit the number of immigrants allowed in each year?” The question itself it skewed toward the selection of the latter option as even those who are highly generous on immigration would not agree on admitting all prospective immigrants. There are many individuals who are qualified to be Canadian immigrants,  and it is just practically unfeasible to accept all–it is reasonable for Canada to monitor the inflow of immigrants based on its economic conditions. Instead of inquiring whether Canadians would appreciate higher level of immigration or not, the above question is more about how Canadians would like their immigration to monitor the number of immigrants entering the country each year.

The question on whether immigrants should assimilate into “mainstream” Canadian cultural values is also phrased misleadingly. The question, “do you agree or disagree: immigrants must abandon their native cultural values when they conflict with Canadian cultural values” may drive Canadians to agree on the issue, because their own cultural identity is threatened in this context—participants may automatically associate those native cultural values to be hostile toewards core Canadian values, such as individual liberty and equal opportunity for all. Many aspects of immigrant culture can coexist with and complement central Canadian values. The question does not tease out how tolerant and open-minded Canadians are about cultural diversity, but it simply examines which side Canadians are willing to take when the two cultural identities clash, becoming potentially threatening.

Besides the two flaws in the poll, other findings in the same research point to the fact that Canadians are immigrant-friendly. A large majority of Canadians support admitting immediate family of immigrants into the country, while a relatively smaller majority think that the extended family of immigrants should not be granted immigration through affiliation. Moreover, 60% of all respondents believe that immigrants should be allowed to hold dual nationality. As Lysiane Gagnon, a columnist for the Globe and MaiL suggests, these findings demonstrate that “on immigration, Canadians are welcoming but realistic.”

But What Exactly is the “Canadian Culture”?

Although the poll’s question on conflicting cultural values is not an accurate indicator of how adamant Canadians are about assimilating immigrants, it is an important question for hyphenated immigrants (i.e Chinese-Canadians or Italian-Canadians) to ask themselves: should you abandon your native cultural values when they conflict Canadian cultural values. For many, it is difficult to answer.

For instance, the cultural values of immigrants’ country of origin may be much more conservative and religious than dominant Canadian cultural values. When Muslim women immigrate to a country that values gender equality and freedom, to what extent are they willing to abandon their religious duties and traverse beyond their traditional cultural roles to embrace Canada’s more liberated cultural identity? Which parts of her native culture should be preserved, and which should be diminished?

As Canadian immigrants settle in Canadian society and integrate Canadian cultural values into their identity, they form a new  niche that holds a spot in the bigger picture, adding to the cultural mosaic that comprises the Canadian identity. Simply put, when an immigrant develops a hybrid national identity, it is sometimes difficult judge whether his values, activities and lifestyles are wholly Canadian, or foreign.

Although core Canadian cultural values, such as respecting individual liberty and equal opportunity are constant, the Canadian cultural identity is continuously expanding. This is a good thing, as it enables Canadians to draw on the best of every culture. Canadian society as whole may be able to marry the strong work ethic that immigrants carry with the sense of individuality ingrained in Canadian culture to produce a much more innovative population.


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