Canadians love diversity, just not the change that comes with it: survey

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets members of a Syrian refugee family during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, July 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canadians are proud to live in an open, welcoming society and believe that diversity helps to strengthen the country’s economy, but they remain wary of new arrivals who refuse to integrate and request special accommodations.

Those are some of the results of a government survey commissioned last winter by the Privy Council Office, the government body that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office in Ottawa.

The research indicates that more than two years after being elected on a platform that prioritized inclusion, increased immigration and diversity, the Liberals are paying close attention to how the Canadian public is responding to those themes.

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The online survey, conducted between November and January, did contain some good news for the government. It revealed, for instance, that 65 per cent of respondents agree (strongly or somewhat) that diversity is a defining characteristic of Canada, and 60 per cent agree that diversity is an economic benefit.

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Nearly 70 per cent said they were proud of Canada’s reputation as an open and welcoming country, with just 8 per cent disagreeing “strongly” with that sentiment.

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But there were also indications that Canadians feel they are being asked to change or adapt too much as the population grows more diverse.

Almost half of respondents — 46 per cent — agreed that diversity “is causing Canada to change in ways I don’t like.”

A full 61 per cent also agreed that “too many minority groups are seeking special treatment these days,” something that has been the subject of intense political debate in Quebec over the last several years. Another 59 per cent said too many immigrants don’t adopt “Canadian values” (a still somewhat undefined term).

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The apparent contradiction in these results came as no surprise to Michael Bach, founder and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

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“I think there is woeful lack of understanding in Canada about the experiences of newcomers,” said Bach.

“The reality is, we are willingly, actively going out into the world and bringing in, this year, 350,000 people, the majority of whom come from India, China and the Philippines which have significantly different cultural norms. So integration takes time, and when I say time, I mean generations.”

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The average Canadian may also struggle to understand why it’s so hard for immigrants to find work, he added, and the hurdles they face. One man Bach mentored from Pakistan spoke perfect English and had a degree from an American university, but struggled to even secure a job interview, he said.

Bach reached out to several human resources managers to follow up with the man’s resumes. Most of those people cited the man’s lack of Canadian experience, prompting Bach to completely change his perspective.

‘People feel threatened’

There has also been more general backlash against diversity and inclusion since the 2015 election, Bach said.

“People feel threatened. This is change,” he said, adding that straight, white, able-bodied men may feel particularly threatened by, and excluded from, these discussions.

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“I’m a white man. I recognize and understand that I’ve never been stopped by the police because they thought I looked shifty… until you surround yourself with ‘the other,’ you don’t know what it’s like.”

The survey did actually measure the level of interaction respondents had with various minority groups. Just under half had interacted socially with someone from the LGBTQ community in the past month, 52 per cent had interacted with someone Indigenous, and a full 80 per cent with someone from a different ethnic, racial or cultural group.

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Bach said the key to tackling the fears people may have surrounding diversity is to “stay the course” with current immigration and inclusion policies.

The government’s survey revealed something else that Bach already knew: the older the Canadian, the more likely they are to have a negative view of increasing diversity, change and accommodation.

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“They’re not a lost cause,” he said. “We just need to speak with them where they are, and help them to move along just a little bit. We often describe this work as the incremental revolution.”

The online survey was completed by 5,010 participants between Nov. 16, 2017, and Jan. 3, 2018. The results were then weighted based on age, sex, geography and educational attainment. The research cost a total of $24,680.

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