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Canada: Country Profile

Canada has strong commitments to pluralism but often falls short in their implementation, particularly for Indigenous Peoples.


Global Centre for Pluralism

Canada is a pluralistic society that encompasses a diverse set of minority ethnic and racialized groups, including Indigenous Peoples, the original occupants of these lands, a French-speaking national minority based in Québec and a large immigrant population. Canada’s federal structure can make accommodating the rights, demands and entitlements of these groups complicated since implementation of human rights protections can vary widely between provinces and territories. Accommodation is further complicated by the fact that minority groups’ demands often challenge the established order and by the lack of a common vision of Canada that is shared by the majority and by Indigenous Peoples, Québécois and ethnoracialized minorities. Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, represented 4.9 percent of the population in 2016. Since European settlement, they have suffered the dispossession of lands, attempts to eradicate their cultures and traditional structures of governance, mistreatment in residential schools and many other rights abuses.

Indigenous Peoples claim the right to self-determination as First Nations and the original, self-governing inhabitants of the lands that became Canada. While Indigenous–Canadian relations are dominated by offers of delegated and limited self-governing powers, the goal of many Indigenous Peoples is a return to the nation-to-nation dealings that characterized their relationship with the settler state during the early contact period. The relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian state is full of ambivalence. Many Indigenous Peoples engage in negotiations to secure land claims agreements and advance their constitutional rights, while largely rejecting the sovereignty of the Canadian state. For some Indigenous scholars and activists, this ambivalence is resolved through a commitment to Indigenous Resurgence, a movement that envisages the rebuilding of Indigenous nations from within and a rejection of the “negotiated inferiority” offered by the settler states’ schedule of rights and delegated powers.

Considered one of the “two founding nations” at Confederation in 1867, Québec politics since the 1960s has been characterized by calls for the recognition of Québec as a nation within—a distinct society representing the homeland of French Canada. The adoption of a federal system in 1867 and the concentration of francophones in Québec has afforded Québécois a provincial government to represent their claims and engage in nation-building. While Québec–Canada relations have gone to the brink of secession and back, the province has used its provincial government and the flexibility of asymmetrical federalism to expand its jurisdiction in culturally sensitive domains such as immigration. Nonetheless, changing demographics and a growing immigrant population have created a sense of insecurity in the province about the future of the French-speaking nation.

Canada has long been a country of immigration. However, amendments to the immigration policies in 1962 and 1967 ushered in a fundamental change in the composition of the Canadian population. Racialized minorities previously discriminated against by immigration authorities entered the country en masse. At the time of the 2016 census, people born outside of the country represented 28.5 percent of the population, and racialized minorities constituted 22.3 percent. South Asian, Chinese and black individuals make up the three largest racialized minority groups, each with a population exceeding one million.1 Tensions with ethnoracialized groups once centred on the lesser place afforded to multicultural minorities relative to “the two founding nations” of English- and French-speakers. In 1971, the country adopted a policy of multiculturalism, promising a cultural mosaic in which citizen integration would not require the abandonment of cultural practices. More recently, immigration and multiculturalism discourses have seen the racialization of minority cultures and religions, which are seen by some as threats to Canadian and Québec cultures. This cultural insecurity feeds systemic racism and prejudice, which the multicultural program is struggling to address.

Associated Documents

Canada: Executive Summary

Canadian multiculturalism promotes inclusion for individuals of all diversities. However, the reality shows this is not always the case.

Canada Monitor Report

Pluralism varies in Canada. Experiences of Québecois, ethno-racialized minorities and Indigenous peoples show that there is still work to do.