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The Islamic Republic of Pakistan gained independence from Britain, and separation from India, in 1947. Although Pakistan is ethnically and linguistically diverse, Islam is the state religion, and Islamic Shari’a law has been in place since the 1980s. The country’s history since 1947 has been at times tumultuous, involving periods of civil war, conflict with India, and military government. These and other factors have prompted Pakistani immigration to Canada and elsewhere.

Pakistani Immigrants to Canada

The first immigrants from the area now known as Pakistan were Sikhs from the Punjab region who arrived in British Columbia in the early 1900s. Their numbers were sparse, and along with other South Asians, they faced discrimination and increasing immigration restrictions.

Small numbers of Pakistanis, mostly young men pursuing post-secondary schooling, or educated professionals, arrived in Ontario and Québec in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of these immigrants later sponsored extended family members, who joined them in Canada. During the 1970s, many Pakistani immigrants were skilled or semi-skilled workers. Most settled in Ontario, especially in the suburbs around Toronto, but Pakistani communities began to grow across the country. Immigrants from Pakistan, including those who had lived for a long or short time elsewhere (eg, in East Africa, in Britain or in the Middle East) continued to arrive in Canada, and today there are several hundred thousand Canadians of Pakistani background.

Pakistani Canadians Today

Most Pakistanis in Canada are Muslims, though some are Christians, Hindus or Sikhs, and religion typically remains an important part of their family and cultural life. Pakistani Canadians tend to worship with Muslims of other ethnic backgrounds, rather than establishing their own separate mosques.

Similarly, many Pakistani Canadians live in mixed suburban neighbourhoods, rather than developing their own ethnic enclaves; and in the workplace, most Pakistanis are integrated in a variety of professions and skilled or semi-skilled trades. Some own their own businesses; others own factories in Pakistan or enterprises in Canada and are involved in trade.

Pakistanis in Canada are active in both Pakistani-Canadian and Muslim organizations. Many maintain close links with Pakistan. They enjoy wide access to Pakistani radio and television programs, as well as Urdu-language newspapers. Pakistani cuisine is increasingly common in Canadian cities.

Canada-Pakistan Relations

Pakistan’s economy is considered semi-industrialized, and Canada’s relationship with Pakistan has gradually shifted from providing development aid to engaging in bilateral trade. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), however, does continue to provide assistance in areas such as education, health care, gender equality and good government. Both countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Learn more: Pakistanis in The Canadian Encyclopedia