Multicultural and Ethnic Attitudes in Canada: An Overview of the 1991 National Survey

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Abstract

A national survey of multicultural and ethnic attitudes was carried out in June 1991, with a representative sample of 2500 respondents, and oversamples in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (total N = 3325). Scales were developed to assess attitudes towards various aspects of multiculturalism (Multicultural Ideology, Perceived Consequences of Multiculturalism, and Multicultural Programme Attitudes), towards various ethnic and immigrant groups, and to assess Tolerance and Canadianism. In the total sample, attitudes toward multiculturalism were moderately positive, and tolerance moderately high; there was also a relatively high sense of attachment and commitment to Canada. Attitudes towards ethnic and immigrant groups were variable, with groups of European origin more positively evaluated than those of non-European origin. Variations in these attitudes by region of residence, and ethnic origin revealed significant differences to this general pattern: those of French origin living in Quebec tended to be less supportive than those of British and Other origins living outside Quebec. Overall, it was concluded that despite some signs of ethnocentrism, there are good prospects for achieving a diverse and tolerant society in Canada.

In a multicultural society such as Canada, it is important to monitor the state of relations among the various ethnocultural groups that make up the society. Along with political and economic dimensions to such relations, the social psychological study of attitudes towards multiculturalism and of intergroup prejudice and ethnic attitudes forms an essential element in understanding the current situation. In carrying out such research, it is important to conceptualize these phenomena in terms of the society in which they occur. Specifically for the notion of prejudice, Duckitt (1992) has argued that its conceptualization has varied according to important intergroup issues that vary by historical period, and the society in which they occur. In Canada, an explicit policy of multiculturalism has existed since 1971. The key elements of this policy are that all Canadians should be able to maintain and develop their own cultural identities if they so wish, that they should be willing to share their cultures with other Canadians, and that they should be free from prejudice and discrimination (see Berry, 1984).

What social psychological phenomena need to be understood, and what conditions need to be met, in order to manage successfully a multicultural society? In our view, there needs to be general support for multiculturalism, including acceptance of various aspects and consequences of the policy, and of cultural diversity as a valuable resource for a society. Second, there should be overall low levels of intolerance or prejudice in the population. Third, there should be generally positive mutual attitudes among the various ethnocultural groups that constitute the society. And fourth, there needs to be a degree of attachment to the larger Canadian society, but without derogation of its constituent ethnocultural groups. These four elements constitute a conceptualization of prejudice that is appropriate to our time and place. In contrast to these elements is the construct of ethnocentrism, which provides a challenge to multiculturalism. Ethnocentrism theory began with an initial insight of Sumner (1906) that in most intergroup situations "one's own group is the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it" (Sumner, 1906, pp. 27-28). He made a basic distinction between the ingroup (the group(s) to which one belongs) and the outgroup (all other groups) and proposed that one's ingroup is usually evaluated more positively than outgroups. This ethnocentric tendency for ingroup favouritism has been identified in many societies, leading LeVine and Campbell (1972) to claim that it is a universal feature of intergroup relations. The concept of ethnocentrism has also been used as a synonym for general antipathy towards all outgroups. …