Canada is a diverse nation with strong commitments to pluralism. In 1971, the Canadian government adopted multiculturalism as an official policy aimed at recognizing cultural diversity as a fact of Canada’s social fabric. While extensive legal steps have been taken to further the nation’s multicultural stance, Canada has made little progress in addressing issues impacting Indigenous groups and struggles to fully integrate individuals of diverse backgrounds into society. In reality, Indigenous communities still face colonial-era disadvantages and lower levels of societal belonging. Media representation of racialized groups continues to be unequal. And, economic disparities across these different communities persist. By focussing on the experiences of the Québécois, ethnoracialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples, the Global Pluralism Monitor: Canada report underscores that more work needs to be done to realize the country’s promises of a more pluralistic future. This assessment was completed in 2021.
Implementation of pluralism falls short to commitments
Canada has strong commitments to pluralism that often fall short in their implementation. Political parties respond to the needs of diverse groups and Canada does well in ensuring political equality. However, mainstream media or the private sector are lacking in their coverage of pluralism.
Poor implementation is most evident in group-based inequalities. Economic and social inequality, for example, are more evident in relation to Indigenous groups. Gaps in data related to health and the justice system for Indigenous and ethno-racialized groups support this.
Efforts for pluralism are spearheaded by minorities
The Monitor report underscores how minorities and Indigenous groups play a role in shaping policy. This is likely due to the strong protections for political equality for all groups. Many of today’s provisions that protect pluralism have been hard earned by minorities.
For example, Quebecois have used the threat of secession to advance policies that protect their identity. Ethnoracialized minorities have also used electoral leverage to push for opportunities for pluralism.
Accommodation of pluralism varies widely across groups
Implementation of pluralism varies widely across provinces and across groups. Pluralist policies have improved the experiences of the Quebecois and notably immigrant minorities. The same is not true, however, for Indigenous groups, Afro-Canadians and other racial minorities.
Canada’s international reputation is established as an example of multiculturalism, diversity and acceptance. This reputation is also characterized by its acceptance of newcomers. Similar accommodations are not provided to the original occupants of Canada, which remains an obstacle to realizing the promise of pluralism.
Address concerns raised by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission about the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Canada must address concerns raised by the UN Human Rights Committee over the lack of legal regulations and due process in counterterrorism legislation. This should be done by reviewing the procedural safeguards in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Additionally, the federal government should reconsider Canada’s reliance on immigration legislation to deal with terrorism, rather than relying on Criminal Code sanctions.
Resolve disputes with Indigenous Peoples regarding land claims
Canada has failed or has significantly delayed commitments to negotiate land claims agreements with Indigenous Peoples. Following through with these processes is challenging due to lengthy procedures. Federal and provincial governments should make a greater effort to resolve disputes with Indigenous Peoples regarding land claims and resource development projects.
Address xenophobic subculture in Canada
Federal and provincial governments should carefully monitor the threat to public safety posed by white supremacists and ethnonationalist organizations. These organizations often target ethnoracialized minorities, religious minorities and Indigenous Peoples with violence.
Adjust policies and practices on healthcare delivery
Provincial governments should review and adjust their policies and practices on health care delivery. This should be done to address concerns of systemic racism within the healthcare system. Particular attention must be paid to access to healthcare for ethnoracialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples, as well as the way that healthcare providers treat these groups.
Improve data collection on hate crimes
To respond to the increase in hate crimes, data collection must be improved. This must be done by accounting for which crimes can be motivated by identity-based hate. The police should report on the number of people victimized by hate crimes, the number of hate crimes committed and record the multiple motivations for hate crimes when these exist.
Canada has ratified 10 major UN human rights treaties but has not ratified treaties by the Organization of American States (OAS). These international commitments apply differently across groups. They mostly deal with racialized and Indigenous communities, and not the Québécois. Canada has accepted in full the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Unfortunately, Canada has made little efforts to resolve issues impacting Indigenous groups.
The decentralized federal system provides Québec with many privileges. This includes the right to self-determination and their own social and immigration policies. For example, this includes their intercultural model of integration policies, which seeks to integrate newcomers into the Québécois language and culture. Interculturality stands in contrast to Canada’s federal multicultural approach. Multiculturalism, for example, seeks to build a more inclusive nationalism. This has greatly benefited ethnoracialized communities by prohibiting hate speech and creating social protections for these groups. In contrast to Quebec, colonial era laws continue to significantly disadvantage Indigenous nations.
In terms of inclusive citizenship, Quebecois and francophone Canadians hold the same status as anglophone Canadians. Access to citizenship for ethnoracialized immigrants varies widely. Access to citizenship for permanent residents is straightforward. Citizenship application processes are more complicated and lengthier for those on work permits. Indigenous individuals, although considered citizens, sometimes do not define themselves as Canadian citizens. Today, the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canadian citizens remains complicated.
Despite an inclusive policy framework, policy implementation sometimes veers towards discrimination. For example, Québec has restrictions on provincial public servants’ right to wear religious symbols. This policy significantly impacts veiled Muslim women. In 2015, the federal government passed the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. This Act restricted Muslim women from wearing Niqabs in citizenship ceremonies. Although repealed, racialized stereotypes and Islamophobia persist. Finally, despite commitments to reconciliation, Canadian governments are reluctant to acknowledge Indigenous sovereignty claims.
Claims-making and Contestation
The Québec government acts as an advocate for Québécois
concerns. This results in Québécois
interests playing a role in intergovernmental politics. Ethnoracialized minorities, on the other hand, advance their claims through electoral and judicial strategies. Indigenous claims-making is a mix of formal negotiations, litigation and protest politics. Notably, blockades and demonstrations occur to protest development on disputed lands. Protests tend to be contentious, whether carried out by Indigenous or ethnoracialized groups. They often result in forceful opposition from the police and, sometimes, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police).
Leadership for Pluralism
Québec contains a majority of seats in Canadian parliament, so parties tend to be responsive to Québécois interests. As such, all political parties try to ensure there is Québécois representation in their parties. However, parties also have a strong interest in appealing to ethnoracialized minorities. This is due to the large population of racialized immigrants. Political party responsiveness to Indigenous groups remains weak. This has led to failed promises to Indigenous groups, such as lifting boil advisories.
News Media: Representation
Canadian media is not only bilingual, but also aims to reflect the multicultural and multiracial reality of Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has recently come under scrutiny. Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities are underrepresented in CBC’s workforce. Additionally, their coverage of issues impacting these groups tends to be limited. Overall, diverse news perspectives tend to be siloed, with ethnic or Indigenous media reporting mostly on stories impacting their groups.
News Media: Prominence of Pluralistic Actors
Media in Canada is unequal in their presentation of multicultural diversity. For example, English coverage of Québec tends to involve problematic stereotypes of the Québécois. Additionally, immigrant minorities are depicted in negative contexts, such as stories about crime or deviance. Economic migrants (those who have immigrated for financial reasons), receive the most sympathetic coverage. Indigenous Peoples are both underrepresented and misrepresented in mainstream media. Issues related to MMIWG receive very little coverage. Indigenous groups are often negatively portrayed, undermining Indigenous political advocacy.
Civil society operates differently across the country. Québec, for example, is home to many organizations focussed on the protection of Québécoisidentity. Civil society is supportive of pluralism and has played a key role in shaping multiculturalism policy. Indigenous civil society organizations have also played a prominent role in reconciliation. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), for example, has engaged in political lobbying in response to land disputes.
Although the private sector sees pluralism as an asset, businesses tend to be less engaged in debates about the issue. There is still discrimination in the Canadian labour market. For example, employers are more likely to interview individuals with English-sounding names. Across Canada, there is a lack of diversity in corporate leadership and on boards. In recent years, Indigenous entrepreneurship has grown significantly. This is due to federal programs that provide funding to Indigenous individuals seeking to start a business.
Average score: 7
Political representation in Canada differs among various groups. Québec residents have guaranteed representation at the federal level, but their share has decreased over the years due to a shrinking population. Ethnoracialized minorities have experienced increasingly better representation overall, but disparities exist within different minority groups. Indigenous Peoples are underrepresented in federal politics, with limited Cabinet representation. Data on provincial and municipal levels are limited, and Indigenous voter turnout tends to be lower than the general population.
Average score: 5.5
The pervasive economic gap between francophones and anglophones in Québec is almost closed, but overall economic disparities persist in Canada. Québec’s economy tends to lag behind the national growth rate. Recent immigrants are highly educated and experience little difference in unemployment rates across different generations of immigrants. However, these groups face an income penalty, demonstrating Canada’s inability to fully utilize their skills. Racialized minorities experience variations in unemployment rates and household incomes, illustrating systemic discrimination across the Canadian labour market. Indigenous Peoples face significant inequalities in unemployment rates, median income and access to land and resources. These inequalities have remained for decades and have yet to be resolved.
Average score: 6
Universal education and healthcare programs include the entire population, but differences in access and social outcomes persist. Québec stands out with a more expansive welfare state and lower inequality levels. Immigrants in Canada have good access to healthcare and education. First-generation immigrants often educationally outperform native-born Canadians. However, racialized minorities, particularly Black Canadians, face educational and healthchallenges, including high dropout rates and disparities in cancer screening. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected racialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples, especially those on reserves. Indigenous Peoples face significant barriers to accessing critical services, such as clean drinking water and quality education, and they face significant health disparities such as lower life expectancy. Forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women continues and Indigenous children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system.
Average score: 6.5
The Québécois language and culture are protected through federal and provincial guarantees. Federal protections include the Official Languages Act, while the province of Québec has its own language policies. Canada’s multicultural program promotes cultural diversity and supports activities such as anti-racism programs. However, discrimination and intolerance persist. Indigenous Peoples have faced cultural inequalities due to past assimilation efforts, including the suppression of languages and cultural practices. While the government now supports Indigenous languages and cultures, constitutional protection for Indigenous cultures has limitations.
Access to Justice
Average score: 5.5
Canada has an independent judiciary that protects the rights of ethnoracialized minorities, official language communities and Indigenous Peoples. Francophones have language rights in federal courts and most provinces. Non-citizens enjoy some Charter rights, and there are legal aid services for immigration and refugee cases. However, systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system, particularly in policing, leading to disparities in arrests, charges and incarcerations of racialized individuals. Access to justice for Indigenous Peoples differs between the northern territories and the rest of Canada, with evidence of systemic racism in law enforcement. Indigenous Peoples also face disproportionate incarceration rates.
Intergroup Relations and Belonging
Average score: 7.5
Hate crimes in Canada are generally low, but Muslim, Black and Jewish Canadians experienced a rise in 2017. Despite low overall numbers, ethnoracialized and religious minorities still face threats, with limitations in hate crime data collection. The COVID-19 pandemic saw increased hate crimes, with East Asian individuals disproportionately targeted. Violence against Indigenous Peoples is a significant issue, stemming from the colonial legacies of the residential school system and ongoing violations of treaty rights. Indigenous Peoples are overrepresented as survivors of hate crimes, especially Indigenous women. Marginalization contributes to the alarming number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Average score: 7.5
Limited evidence suggests that intergroup distrust between English Canadians and Québécois not prevalent in contemporary Canada. Positive attitudes exist between the two communities, with increasing positivity over the past 25 years. Trust levels in Canada overall are high, including trust toward different religions, ethnicities and immigrants. Levels of trust towards Indigenous Peoples are generally positive, but more research is necessary.
Trust in Institutions
Average score: 6
Trust in political institutions varies among different linguistic and ethnic groups in Canada. Francophones generally have higher levels of trust compared to anglophones and other minorities. Residents of Québec express more confidence in the police and justice systems, but lower trust in the health system and judiciary compared to the rest of Canada. Immigrants and ethnoracialized minorities have high trust in institutions, except for the police. Discrimination further reduces trust among Indigenous communities.
Inclusion and Acceptance
Average score: 6
Québec’s relationship with the rest of Canada complicates our understanding of acceptance and belonging. While Québécois
view themselves as distinct, they still maintain some attachment to Canada. Emotional attachment and perceptions of strong ties differ between Québec and the rest of the country. Immigrants generally feel a strong sense of belonging to Canada, but experiences of discrimination impact this perception. Indigenous Peoples often experience unfair treatment and discrimination rooted in prejudice. Limited data suggest that Indigenous Peoples feel excluded and have a lower sense of belonging compared to other groups.
Shared Ownership of Society
Average score: 6.5
Québécois individuals have a shared sense of ownership in Québec society but feel less ownership towards Canada as a whole. Still, many Québécois acknowledge they have a large say in Canadian political institutions. A majority of Canadians support immigrants’ rights to participate in decision-making. Two-thirds of those surveyed indicated that naturalized citizens were ‘real’ Canadians, though the score was considerably lower when asked about legal and undocumented non-citizens. Indigenous Peoples hold little confidence in Canada’s political institutions. They are routinely delegitimized by many Canadians.