In a growing world of intolerance, further fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have become more open, accepting and supportive of immigrants and refugees, a new study shows.
By a five-to-one margin, the public believes immigration makes Canada a better country, said the Environics Institute, which last week updated its research on Canadians’ attitudes about immigration and refugees.
The survey, which was conducted in partnership with the Faculty of Social Sciences’ IMPACT Project at the University of Ottawa and Century Initiative, involved interviews with 2,000 Canadians last month.
“Strong and increasing majorities of Canadians express comfort with current immigration levels, see immigrants as good for the Canadian economy and not threats to other people’s jobs, and believe that immigration is essential to building the country’s population,” the study authors said in their executive summary. “And for the first time in the research dating back four decades, a plurality of Canadians rejects the ideas that too many refugees are not legitimate, and that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.”
Support for immigrants grows across the country
The most striking aspect of this latest trend, according to the study, is “that it has taken place all across the country and among all demographic segments of the population; in some cases especially so where opinions about immigration have been the least positive, including Albertans and Canadians with lower levels of education and income, as well as supporters of the federal Conservative Party.”
The authors of the study could not pinpoint the reason for the growing public support for immigration and refugees, but said it might be in part a response to the pandemic (e.g., a “we are all in this together” reaction).
In their view, it could also be a reaction to the “alarming political instability” in the USA (“we are not like them”). “And it may reflect a solidifying public consensus that Canada’s economy (and one’s own livelihood) depends on making space for newcomers, especially this year when the economy needs all the help it can get,” they said.
Here are some of the key findings of the survey;
- A record high two-thirds of Canadians now reject the idea that immigration levels are too high, with this view strengthening across the country. A majority also believes Canada needs more immigrants to increase its population.
- A majority of Canadians accept if not endorse the premise that the country needs more immigrants to increase the population. This current sentiment reflects a sea change in perspective from the 1980s and 1990s, when most Canadians consistently took the opposite view.
- A large and increasing majority of Canadians see immigrants as important to the Canadian economy, and reject the view that they take jobs away from other Canadians. More than eight in ten (84%) now agree that immigration has a positive impact on the Canadian economy.
- Seven in ten Canadians say they strongly (35%) or somewhat (36%) favour Canada trying to encourage skilled immigrants who are denied entry into the United States to choose to come to Canada instead.
- Canadians increasingly reject the notion that most refugee claimants are not legitimate, and this positive trend is most evident among those parts of the population that have typically been the most suspicious. Positive opinions about refugee claimants are most pronounced in Atlantic Canada and B.C. Negative views about refugees remain more prevalent in Alberta but less so than before. Opinions have improved in Quebec while stable in Ontario and Manitoba/Saskatchewan.
- For the first time ever, Canadians are more likely than not to reject the idea that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values. Immigrants are seen as making Canada a better rather than a worse country by a five-to-one margin, mostly because they contribute to greater diversity and multiculturalism.
- Among the one in 10 Canadians who say that immigrants make the country worse, the predominant reason is that they weaken the Canadian (or Quebec) identity. Other reasons include immigrants creating a drain on public finances, hurting the economy/taking jobs from other Canadians, creating a security risk or contributing to over-population.
The findings in the Environics poll come in the wake of a global Gallup survey which said Canada was the most-accepting country in the world for migrants in 2019. The U.S. was ranked sixth.
Gallup’s Migrant Acceptance Index is based on three questions that Gallup asked in 140 countries in 2016 and 2017 and updated again in 145 countries in 2019. The pollster asks whether people think migrants living in their country, becoming their neighbours and marrying into their families are good things or bad things.
“In Canada, residents almost universally saw migrants living in their country (94%) and being in their neighbourhoods (95%) as good things, while more than nine in 10 (91%) said a migrant marrying into their family would be a good thing,” Gallup said.
Photo Credit: Kevin Hill (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Facebook file image of a citizenship ceremony)