Canada - Leading Ethnicity by Census Data

An illustration of the leading ethnicities in Canada based on the census question on "ethnic and cultural origins." Source: Wikipedia

The current “racial” landscape in Canada is dominated by a governmental policy of “multiculturalism.” However, ancestral origin, immigration, and language have also shaped ideas of race in Canada.

The population of Canada can be broken down into three groups: aboriginals, immigrants (and immigrant-borns), and settler descendants. Those in the “settler descendants” category make up the anglophone and francophone white majority. Their heritages date back to French and British colonization of Canada (CIA World Factbook). The CIA World Factbook designates race using the following categories, listing primarily French and British-focused ancestry-based categorizations:

  • British Isles origin – 28%,
  • French origin – 23%,
  • other European – 15%,
  • Amerindian – 2%,
  • other, mostly Asian, African, Arab – 6%,
  • mixed background – 26%

However, these broad categories may not accurately reflect the diversity of Canada.


Debates over “biculturalism” (the dominance of French and British cultures) in the 1960s ultimately gave way to a policy of multiculturalism, one that recognizes the “mosaic” of Canadian identities (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity). New immigration patterns and a declining British empire foreshadowed the shift to multiculturalism. Concurrently, the French-speaking Québécois identity was grew stronger. These factors formed the basis of multiculturalism, a compromise that took into account the previously mentioned changes that followed the Second World War (Warburton, 2007).


However, defining race in Canada is not a simple task. In fact, the term “race” is not often used, while “ethnocultural” is (Warburton, 2007). I attribute this phenomenon to the high degree of heterogeneity in Canada. The Multiculturalism Act in particular has contributed to the prominence of cultural heterogeneity (meaning that there are many categories under the umbrella of “culture”).


This section will use the Canadian case in order to explore various topics in race politics. At times, I will compare the conditions in Canada with those in other countries. I make these comparisons in order to elucidate some theories of race politics that have been put forth. Do these theories apply to Canada? If so, how does Canadian race politics fit into an existing paradigm? If not, what makes the Canadian case an anomaly or does it disprove the rule?



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