The past two years have provided several opportunities for Canadians to evaluate the state of race relations in the country.
Areas of Canada that were under severe lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic considered larger police powers to enforce stay-at-home rules, immediately raising concerns about unconscious bias. Cities like Vancouver regrettably had to report obscenely high rates of harassment and attacks towards East Asian residents.
Still, some of what we have experienced as a country recently can be regarded as positive. A Canadian Football League (CFL) franchise in Alberta has forever abandoned its Indigenous names and logos and was recently joined in that effort by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team in Ohio. An Indigenous woman is Canada’s new governor general. The unofficial practice of carding residents, which demonstrably affected residents of African origin, is all but gone in some major urban centres.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the policy of multiculturalism earlier this month, 73% considered it “very good” or “good” for the country. There is some national consistency, as this result is only down one point from last year, but some regional disparities remain. British Columbians are the staunchest defenders of multiculturalism (81%), while residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are more skeptical (69%).
There is an issue that has seen a remarkable shift over the last 12 months. Almost half of Canadians (47%, up six points) think Canada should be a mosaic – a place where cultural differences within society are valuable and should be preserved. Just over a third of Canadians (35%, down 11 points) prefer the concept of the melting pot and want immigrants to assimilate and blend into Canadian society.
There are some nuances when Canadians assess these two concepts. Majorities of British Columbians and Albertans (57% and 54% respectively) endorse the mosaic, along with pluralities of Ontarians (47%) and Quebecers (44%). Residents are more divided in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada.
When the results are analyzed by ethnicity, a new picture emerges. More than three in five Canadians of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent (63% and 62% respectively) prefer the mosaic, along with 50% of South Asians and 47% of Europeans. Support drops among Canadians whose origins are African (41%) and First Nations (31%).
There is a high incidence of racism, both endured and perceived, across the country. Practically half of Canadians say they have personally experienced behaviour inside the country that they would consider racist on day-to-day social interactions (49%) and on social media (also 49%). The proportions are lower – although still worrisome – for racism suffered at school (41%), at work (40%), during interactions with police or law enforcement (35%) and during interactions with the health care system (32%).
Ethnic origin continues to play a role in the type of moments that Canadians have to face. Residents of African and First Nations descent are significantly more likely to have endured racism on social media (72% and 68% respectively), at work (74% and 79% respectively), at school (69% and 76%) and during interactions with police or law enforcement (66% and 75% respectively).
Last year’s death of Joyce Echaquan in a Joliette, Quebec, hospital bed led to renewed discussions about whether doctors and nurses in Canada behave differently with patients according to their ethnicities and backgrounds. In our survey, 59% of Canadians of First Nations descent say they have experienced racism in the health care system – an experience shared by 62% of South Asians and 68% of Africans.
When asked about witnessing behaviour that they consider racist, social media is, unsurprisingly, the worst culprit (58%). A majority of Canadians (53%) have also seen racism in day-to-day social interactions, while fewer recall this experience at school (47%), at work (43%), or during interactions with police or law enforcement (42%) or with the health-care system (36%).
Finally, Canadians are deeply divided on whether race relations in Canada have actually improved or worsened over the past two years, with 40% saying they have and 38% declaring that they have not.
One fascinating aspect of this last question is to look at just who thinks we are headed in the right direction. Majorities of Canadians of South Asian (58%), First Nations (53%) and African descent (also 53%) think race relations have improved since 2019, while those of Southeast Asian and East Asian descent are more skeptical (43% and 41% respectively).
European Canadians, who have experienced racism at a significantly lower level than their counterparts of other ethnicities, are the least likely to think that race relations are getting better (34%).
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online survey conducted from July 9 to July 18, 2020, among 2,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.