The Wisdom of Diversity

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau signing the Constitution 17 April 1982. The Constitution enshrined a Charter of Rights (photo by Robert Cooper/Library and Archives Canada/PA-141503).

In today's world, many regard Canada as a model of a multiethnic and a multicultural society where people live in enviable harmony. According to the 2006 census, Canadians identify more than 200 ethnicities in their origins. In that same census, however, 32% (down from 39% in 2001) of the respondents chose "Canadian" as their first choice. Canadian was the most frequently selected ethnic origin.


Canada's immigration policies have helped to contribute to a diversity distinct from other countries. The proportion of foreign-born relative to our population is the highest it has been in almost 100 years. It is now about twice that in the United States, and second only to Australia. The current ranking of world cities in that respect includes two Canadian cities among the top five, which are, in order, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York.

There are other prosperous and peaceful countries that accept immigrants. Yet among those seeking to make a new home elsewhere, Canadian citizenship continues to be favoured. What distinguishes our society from others? What do others think of when they hear "Canada?"

Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Those from afar often have an impression of Canada as a society where there is both "opportunity" and "fairness." While such values are applied in our policies to decide who can enter Canada and apply for citizenship, they also apply to the values with which Canadians live among each other. In 1982, Canada moved to guarantee fundamental rights to its citizens when it enshrined a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its constitution. Owing to the Charter, Canada is seen as a country that vigorously protects individual and minority rights. Cases argued before the Supreme Court that invoke the Charter have reinforced this reputation of Canada.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's declaration of Canada as a bilingual and multicultural nation resulted in an explosion of multicultural research. Since that time, a sense of ethnic identity has evolved in immigrant groups, including those from Asia, even as they adapt to becoming Canadian. Nevertheless, studies show that individual ethnicity does not replace Canadian identity. Instead, it defines Canadians and their position in the world.

Learn more:
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act