Canadians in poll value diversity, but demand loyalty above all


Thursday, October 13, 2005

The majority of Canadians believe the country's multicultural society helps guard against extremism, a new survey shows. However, most respondents also believe Canadians should be loyal first and foremost to Canada, not their countries of origin.

The results may indicate where a country that prides itself on multiculturalism is prepared to draw the line on tolerance.

According to a new survey on diversity by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, 68 per cent of Canadians believe that the country's multiculturalism moderates extremist influences. Regionally, support for this view was highest in the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec, where almost three-quarters of people agreed, and lowest in Alberta, at 62 per cent.

However, 58 per cent of those polled expressed concern that the loyalty of immigrants suffers if they maintain too strong an attachment to their countries of origin while becoming Canadian.

Carsten Quell, CRIC's director of research, said the results are not inconsistent, and should be viewed in context.

"Our research has shown consistently that Canadians value multiculturalism as a defining characteristic of the country," Dr. Quell said. "Younger people are as enthusiastic as older people to see cultural heritage maintained. What Canadians are telling us is that multiculturalism should not put our attachment to Canada into peril."

Donald Taylor, a professor in McGill University's psychology department, said Canada is a true multicultural society because public policy and taxpayer dollars, rather than just lip service, are used to promote multiculturalism and tolerance. In that sense, he said, Canada is not likely to breed extremism.

"But there is a flip side," Dr. Taylor added, "because it may then be perceived that Canada is a good place to be if you're an extremist."

Just over half of those who responded to the survey -- which has a margin of error of 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20 -- believe the federal government's level of support and celebration of Canada's immigrant communities should not be increased or reduced.

Even though the majority of Canadians believe strongly in Canada's multicultural identity, they may react to dramatic changes in the country's cultural makeup the same way they would react to dramatic technological changes.

"When change comes too big or too fast, it's threatening to people," he said. "When people feel threatened, they become ethnocentric."

The survey found most Canadians perceive a variety of benefits from immigration, including increased international competitiveness and population growth.

According to Statistics Canada, the country's natural birth rate is 1.5 children per woman, well below the level needed to maintain the current numbers. Population concerns often play a key role in provincial and federal government initiatives to increase immigration.

However, Dr. Taylor said Canada is always at risk of reverting to "folk-dance multiculturalism," where ethnic and cultural groups are celebrated superficially but have no impact on important decisions.

"Under the right circumstances," Dr. Taylor said, "we can be as intolerant as anyone."