ARCHIVED – A literature review of Public Opinion Research on Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration, 2006-2009

2. Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration (Continued)

2.2. Support for minority rights

2.2.1. General

The strong support seen for diversity and multiculturalism generally is not similarly reflected in the results of questions focusing specifically on “minority rights.” While one might expect that positive views of Canada’s multicultural makeup would lead to an emphasis on protecting the rights of minorities, in fact, most Canadians reject special rights for minority groups, preferring equal treatment for all.

Opinion on minority rights has been best captured in the Canadian Election Studies (CES). As shown in Figure 25, more than eight in ten (84%) Canadians in 2008 disagreed with the statement “Minority groups need special rights”. The same survey also reveals that more than seven in ten (72%) Canadians believe that “letting the majority decide” is more important in a democratic society than is “protecting the needs and rights of minorities” (Figure 26). Looking at the 2000 and 2004 CES surveys reveals that responses to both questions have been stable over time; so too have responses to the statements “We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country” (Figure 27). In each of the 2000, 2004 and 2008 election surveys, more than six in ten Canadians agreed with that statement—testament to the durable support for equality (rather than minority rights) over the past decade. Canadians’ preference for equality of individual rights over minority rights does not imply disregard for the rights and needs of newcomers. Rather, preference for the equal rights of all, including newcomers, is the prevailing position. In fact, Canadians who disagree with the statement “we should look after Canadians born in this country first and others second” are twice as many as those who agree (67% compared to 33%, Figure 28).

These trends are echoed in the responses from other survey questions on minority rights, three of which are included in Figure 29. A Strategic Counsel poll (2008) finds that more than six in ten (61%) of Canadians agree that “we make too many accommodations to visible minorities in Canada.” – a view that is less common but nonetheless still the majority position among younger Canadians (53% of those aged 18 to 34). At the same time, a 2007 Ipsos-Reid survey finds that a majority (62%) of Canadians agree with the statement that “recent immigrants should have equal say about Canada’s future”, and a similar proportion (67%) disagree that “it makes me angry when recent immigrants demand the same rights as Canadians.”

The trepidation apparent in Canadian attitudes about minority rights generally is also apparent in attitudes towards faith-based schools. Agreement with providing public funding to schools that teach Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Sikhism ranges between 15 to 21 percent, with strong majorities in all cases disagreeing with such financial support (Figure 30). There is a notable difference with support for Christian schools, which is 41%, still less than the proportion of Canadians disagreeing with it (51%), but only by a small margin; and clearly support for Christian schools is markedly higher than support for any other denominational school. Results in this domain may be telling—they suggest some discrepancy between support for minority rights, generally defined, and support for specific instances of accommodation and minority rights.

Figure 25: Minority groups need special rights (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Minority groups need special rights

Figure 26: Which is more important in democratic society: 1. letting the majority decide, or 2. protecting the needs and rights of minorities?


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Importance in democratic society

Figure 27: We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Pushing equal rights in this country

Figure 28: We should look after Canadians born in this country first and others second (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Canadians born in this country

Figure 29: Opinion on equal rights
a. We make too many accommodations to visible minorities in Canada (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 28
Somewhat agree 33
Somewhat disagree 22
Strongly disagree 14
Don’t know/not applicable 3

(2008, Strategic Counsel for Globe & Mail/CTV, sample size: 1,000)

b. It makes me angry when recent immigrants demand the same rights as Canadian citizens
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 15
Somewhat agree 16
Somewhat disagree 28
Strongly disagree 39
Don’t know/not applicable 2

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 1,002)

c. Recent immigrants should have equal say about Canada’s future.
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 28
Somewhat agree 34
Somewhat disagree 20
Strongly disagree 15
Don’t know/not applicable 2

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 1,002)

Figure 30: As you may know, there have been discussions over the past few years on providing public funding to faith-based schools. Thinking of each of the following religions, would you agree or disagree with providing public funding to schools that teach each of these faiths?


(2009, Angus-Reid Strategies, sample size: 1,007, online)

2.2.2. Multiculturalism, reasonable accommodation and bilingualism

In spite of the relative prominence of debates on multiculturalism and reasonable accommodation in the years covered by this review, there have been relatively few publicly-available polls that address these policy issues directly. Even in Quebec, following the activities of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, taking place in 2007-2008, and including a widespread public consultation on reasonable accommodation, [Note 2] there has been relatively little polling available in the public domain addressing directly this issue.

An online survey conducted by SES Research for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) found that Canadians are much more likely than not to oppose “accommodating” minorities. More than half (53%) of Canadians polled in 2008 thought that immigrants should fully adapt to culture in Canada, compared to two in ten (18%) who said it is reasonable to accommodate religious and cultural minorities (Figure 31). The proportion favouring adaptation grew even larger among those polled in 2006 (77%).

Online surveys conducted by Angus Reid Strategies in 2008 and 2009 suggest a similar degree of opposition to, or at least a lack of support for, accommodating minorities. In a question that refers to “reasonable accommodation” specifically, a slim majority (54%) of Canadians in 2008 thought that laws and norms should not be modified to accommodate minorities; this proportion grew to six in ten (62%) in 2009 (Figure 32). Quebecers were more likely than other Canadians to oppose reasonable accommodation (62% in 2008 and 74% in 2009), in line with the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s observation that public opinion surveys at that time revealed Quebec to be “less receptive to accommodation than the rest of Canada”.

Somewhat more detailed information on attitudes of Quebec residents towards specific instances of accommodation is available in a 2008 CROP poll (Figure 33). This survey (which asked the same questions as a SOM survey conducted earlier in 2007) found that most Quebecers still oppose the wearing of a kirpan to school (87%), wearing a hijab at school (58%) or at soccer matches (66%), or offering a different menu in school cafeteria for religious reasons (58%). The only statistically significant decline since 2007 was reduced opposition to the hijab at school (down 7 percentage points); on other questions, supporters of these accommodations were a minority, and responses stable over time.

Canadians are more divided about the lengths to which the country has gone to promote bilingualism. According to the 2008 Canadian Elections Study survey, about half (48%) agree Canada has gone too far in pushing bilingualism in Canada, while another half (52%) disagree (Figure 34). Moreover, the view that we have gone too far has declined since 2004 (down 6 points). Most (67%) Canadians do not agree that anglophones in Quebec receive better treatment than francophones in the rest of Canada (Figure 35), nor that federal government services should only be provided in the majority language, i.e., French in Quebec and English in the rest of Canada (73%) — see Figure 36.

Figure 31: Which of these two statements best reflects your personal view?


(2007, SES Research for IRPP, sample size: 1,083, online)

Text version: View about accomodation and adaptation

Figure 32: Over the past few months, there have been many discussions across Canada about the concept of “Reasonable Accommodation”, which entails modifying specific laws and norms when they could affect minorities. Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view?


(2008, Angus Reid Strategies, 2008 sample size: 1,006 Canadians and
800* Quebec residents / 2009 sample size: 1,007 Canadians, online)

Text version: Reasonable Accommodation

Figure 33: Would you say you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the following practices…


(2009, CROP, Quebec only, sample size: 1,000)

Text version: Cultural practices

Figure 34: We have gone too far in pushing bilingualism in Canada (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Pushing bilingualism in Canada

Figure 35: Anglophones in Quebec are better treated than Francophones in the rest of Canada (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones in the rest of Canada

Figure 36: Federal government services should be provided in only one language: French in Quebec and English in the rest of Canada (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)


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