People of Iraqi ethnic origin in Canada

This ethnic origin information paper was prepared by Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Research and Evaluation Branch. It provides demographic, socio-cultural and socio-economic information for the population reporting specific ethnic origins; as well as a history of their migration to Canada. The data comes from the 2011 National Household Survey and Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s publication Facts and Figures.

Introduction

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 49,680 people in Canada reported Iraqi ethnic originFootnote 1, representing 0.2% of Canada’s total population. Among the population of Iraqi origin, 74% indicated Iraqi ancestry as a single origin, and 26% indicated Iraqi in combination with other origins. Most people of Iraqi origin are immigrants (73%), 25% are non-immigrantsFootnote 2, and fewer than 2% are non-permanent residents. More than four in five immigrants of Iraqi origin were born in Iraq (85%), and most of the remaining 15% of the population were born in other Middle Eastern countries.

Ontario is home to the largest percentage of people of Iraqi origin (71%), followed by Quebec (10%), Alberta (9%) and British Columbia (6%). The cities with the highest percentages of people of Iraqi origin are Toronto (40%), Windsor (9%), Montréal (8%), Ottawa-Gatineau (8%) and Hamilton (7%).

The population of Iraqi origin is younger than the overall Canadian population. A greater share of people are under 45 years of age (73% versus 57% for all Canadians), with a high concentration among children under 15 years of age (27% versus 17% for all Canadians) and a slightly higher rate in the 25 to 44 working-age group (29% versus 27% for all Canadians). Compared to what we find in the overall Canadian population, males account for a slightly greater proportion of people of Iraqi origin (51% versus 49% for the Canadian population).

Table 1: Population reporting Iraqi ethnic origin by place of residence in Canadian provinces and territories, and top ten Census Metropolitan Areas / Census Areas, 2011 National Household Survey

Place of residence (Province) Total # Total % Non-immigrants Immigrants Non-permanent residents
Newfoundland and Labrador 110 0.2% 15 90 0
Prince Edward Island 35 0.1% 0 0 0
Nova Scotia 445 0.9% 50 380 0
New Brunswick 35 0.1% 0 15 0
Quebec 4,800 9.7% 1,425 3,320 55
Ontario 35,215 70.9% 8,580 25,980 660
Manitoba 610 1.2% 130 465 20
Saskatchewan 810 1.6% 185 625 0
Alberta 4,465 9.0% 1,285 3,020 160
British Columbia 3,140 6.3% 810 2,210 125
Yukon 0 0.0% 0 0 0
Northwest Territories 0 0.0% 0 0 0
Nunavut 0 0.0% 0 0 0
Canada 49,680 100.0% 12,520 36,125 1,035

Note: The figures in this table have been rounded. As a result, components may not sum to the total indicated.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey (CIC custom table 2011-EO-RELIGION-T-1_j4049114.IVT)

Place of residence (CMA/CA) Total # Total % Non-immigrants Immigrants Non-permanent residents
Montréal 4,150 8.4% 1,300 2,790 55
Ottawa-Gatineau (QC portion) 310 0.6% 50 255 --
Ottawa-Gatineau (ON portion) 3,600 7.2% 1,240 2,280 85
Toronto 19,780 39.8% 4,450 14,960 370
Hamilton 3,540 7.1% 905 2,620 10
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo 975 2.0% 120 840 15
London 1,640 3.3% 310 1,240 90
Windsor 4,650 9.4% 1,215 3,345 85
Calgary 2,575 5.2% 595 1,840 140
Edmonton 1,695 3.4% 660 1,025 0
Vancouver 2,780 5.6% 585 2,080 120

Note: The figures in this table have been rounded. As a result, components may not sum to the total indicated.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey (CIC custom table 2011-EO-RELIGION-T-1_j4049114.IVT)

Table 2: Population reporting Iraqi ethnic origin by age and sex, Canada, 2011 National Household Survey

Age groups Total # Total % Male Female
Under 15 years 13,515 27.2% 6,965 6,550
15 to 24 years 8,525 17.2% 4,470 4,060
25 to 44 years 14,405 29.0% 7,050 7,350
45 to 54 years 6,980 14.0% 3,640 3,345
55 to 64 years 3,715 7.5% 1,860 1,850
65 years and over 2,540 5.1% 1,265 1,280
Total 49,680 100.0% 25,245 24,435

Note: The figures in this table have been rounded. As a result, components may not sum to the total indicated.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey (CIC custom table 2011-EO-IMM-SOCIOECO (interim)_j6101274.IVT)

History of immigration to Canada

According to The Canadian Encyclopedia from 1945 until 1975, fewer than 200 Iraqis arrived in Canada. This situation changed when Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq in 1979. Immigration to Canada started to grow due to Iraq’s deteriorating political and economic situation. During this time, the security of Iraqi civilians was continually under threat as a result of ongoing international conflicts, including the Iraq–Iran War between 1980 and 1988, the first Gulf War from 1990 to 1991, the economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1990s and, more recently, the Iraq War of 2003 and protracted difficulties establishing civil peace in its aftermath. Consequently, Iraqi emigration, including a growing proportion of asylum seekers, has increased overall, resulting in a higher influx to Canada.

Based on Facts and Figures 2012Footnote 3, during the period from 1980 to 2012, there were 67,263 permanent residents (PR) from Iraq in Canada. 60% were refugees, 27% were economic immigrants and 13% were members of the Family Class. In 2013 and 2014, the percentages of PRs from Iraq that were refugees in Canada were 71.9% and 74.7% respectively.

Socio-cultural characteristics

As indicated by the 2011 National Household Survey,80% of people in Canada of Iraqi origin have a non-official language mother tongue, and 56% do not speak an official language most often at home. More than nine in ten (91%) people of Iraqi origin can conduct a conversation in an official language (or both), 80% speak English, 1% speak French and 10% speak both English and French.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 46% of people of Iraqi origin are Muslim and 46% are Christian (primarily Roman Catholic [30%], followed by Christian Orthodox [3%] and Protestant [1%]); 4% reported no religious affiliation.

Socio-economic characteristics

Based on the findings from the 2011 National Household Survey for the population aged 25 to 54:

  • About 34% of people of Iraqi origin are university graduates, compared to 28% of the total population of Canada. The rate of females of Iraqi origin with a university degree is slightly higher (35%) than the rate of males of Iraqi origin (34%) and higher than the rate of all Canadian females (30%).
  • The labour force participation rate of people of Iraqi origin is 65%, compared to 86% of the total population of Canada. Females of Iraqi origin have a lower labour force participation rate (52%) compared to males of Iraqi origin (77%) and to the total female population of Canada (82%).
  • The employment rate of people of Iraqi origin is lower (55%) than that of the total population (81%). Females of Iraqi origin have a lower employment rate (42%) compared to males of Iraqi origin (67%) and to the total female population of Canada (77%).
  • The unemployment rate of people of Iraqi origin is higher (15.4%) than that of the total population (6.2%). Females of Iraqi origin have a higher unemployment rate (19%) compared to males of Iraqi origin (12.9%) and to the total female population of Canada (6.1%).

In 2011, the prevalence of low income among people of Iraqi origin in Canada was 33%, higher than the rate of the total population of Canada (11%).

Country of origin

According to the World FactbookFootnote 4, Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire but was occupied by Britain during the course of World War I. In 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under the United Kingdom administration. Progressing in stages over the next dozen years, the independence of the kingdom of Iraq was attained in 1932. A “republic” was proclaimed in 1958 but, in fact, a series of autocratic leaders ruled the country until 2003; the last was Saddam Hussein. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980 to 1988). In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait but was expelled by US-led United Nations (UN) coalition forces during the Gulf War of January–February 1991. Following this conflict, the US-led war in Iraq in March 2003, motivated by Iraqi noncompliance with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, led to the demise of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party regime. US forces remained in Iraq under a UNSC mandate until 2009 and under a bilateral security agreement thereafter. Nearly nine years after the start of the Second Gulf War in Iraq, US military operations in the area ended in mid-December 2011.

In October 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this constitution, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (COR) in December 2005. The COR approved most cabinet ministers in May 2006, marking the transition to a constitutional government. In January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all governorates except for the three governorates comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kirkuk Governorate. Iraq held a national legislative election in March 2010, choosing 325 legislators in an expanded COR. After nine months of deadlock, the COR approved the new government in December 2010.

Selected people and country facts:

  • Iraq is located in the Middle East, bordering Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
  • Iraq encompasses a total area of 438,317 km², (slightly larger than Newfoundland and Labrador). It has a total population of over 31 million.
  • The national official languages are Arabic and Kurdish. Turkmen (a Turkish dialect) and Assyrian (Neo-Aramaic) are official languages in areas where they are spoken by a majority of the population. Armenian is also spoken.
  • The majority ethnic group is Arab (75% to 80%), followed by Kurdish (15% to 20%), and Turkoman, Assyrian, or other (5%).
  • The religion of the majority of Iraqis is Islam (97%), including Shia Muslims (approximately 60% to 65%) and Sunni Muslims (32% to 37%). The remaining 3% of the population includes Christians and others.

Useful references

  • Abu-Laban, Baha. “The Arab Canadian Community.” In The Arab Americans: Studies in Assimilation. Edited by Elaine C. Hagopian and Ann Padon. Wilmette, Ill.: Medina University Press International, 1969.
    • An Olive Branch in the Family Tree: The Arabs in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd, 1980.
    • “Canadian Muslims: The Need for a New Survival Strategy” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 2,2 (Winter 1980): 98–109.
    • “Arab-Canadians and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Arab Studies Quarterly 10,1 (Winter 1988): 104–26.
    • and Michael W. Suleiman, eds. Arab Americans: Continuity and Change. Belmont, Mass.: Association of Arab American University Graduates, 1989.
    • and Sharon McIrvin Abu-Laban. “The Gulf War and Its Impact on Canadians of Arab and Muslim Descent.” In Beyond the Gulf War: Muslims, Arabs and the West. Edited by B. Abu-Laban and M. Ibrahim Alladin. Edmonton: Muslim Research Foundation, 1991.
  • Shuraydi, Muhammad A. “Iraqis.” In Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. Edited by Paul Magocsi. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.
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