Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Individual- and Community-Level Determinants of Support for Immigration and Cultural Diversity in Canada *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Individual- and Community-Level Determinants of Support for Immigration and Cultural Diversity in Canada *

Article excerpt

PRIOR TO 1967, MORE THAN 80% OF IMMIGRANTS to Canada came from Europe. That proportion has now declined to one in five (Canadian Census, 2001). In fact, since 1979, more than half of all immigrants to Canada (54%) have come from Asia (Li, 2002). Approximately 75% of all newcomers to Canada now go to Canada's three largest urban centres (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver). Thus, current patterns of immigration are enhancing cultural diversity within Canada's largest cities, while accentuating differences in diversity between these three "capitals of immigration" and other Canadian communities. For example, in 2001 visible minorities made up more than one third (37%) of Toronto's population but only 17% of Calgary's population.

Given the shift in source countries and in immigrants' choice of resettlement communities, we might expect to see corresponding changes in Canadians' attitudes toward immigration and cultural diversity. Such attitudes are developed within the contexts of family, school and work, but also in the broader community. Hence, when examining public opinion regarding immigration and cultural diversity it is important to consider not only individual predictors but also how communities might shape opinions. However, most studies of immigration attitudes have largely ignored community-level predictors. Our paper addresses this gap by sampling public opinion within a range of quite different communities and by asking how both community and individual attributes might influence attitudes toward immigration.

Documenting individual- and community-level predictors of attitudes toward immigration and cultural diversity is an interesting scholarly exercise in its own right, but it also has important policy implications. Such knowledge can be very useful in choosing immigrants with a high potential for successful integration in a particular community, in preparing immigrants for their resettlement destinations, and in educating community members about immigrants and their needs. These issues are particularly important today, when the Canadian government is actively promoting immigration as a solution to labour market shortages in second- and third-tier Canadian communities (Krahn, Derwing and Abu-Laban, 2003).

Theories and Theoretical Perspectives

Three relatively distinct theoretical traditions provide us with directional hypotheses about core factors that shape attitudes towards immigration and cultural diversity. Scarce resources and contact theories provide insight into inter-group relationships that can influence attitudes and beliefs, while educational progressivism theory addresses the influence of learning on attitude change. Although it has not yet developed into an established theory with directional hypotheses, a fourth, community perspective, emphasizes how a range of different community characteristics might shape individuals' attitudes and beliefs.

Scarce resources theory basically views society as comprised of opposing groups, with the most powerful controlling resources and attempting to maintain their advantaged position (Smelser, 1988; Dahrendorf, 1959). Competition (or at least perceived competition) and, sometimes, conflict over scarce resources can lead to minority groups or "outsiders" (immigrants are both) being seen as a threatening "other." Thus, scarce resources theory implies that the public is frequently xenophobic, fearing that immigrants will threaten the labour force advantages of the native-born and also possibly undermine the dominant culture and "Canadian values." In short, (perceived) competition for scarce resources leads to reduced public acceptance of immigrants, especially by those who feel they have the most to lose (e.g., the unemployed or the working poor). Immigrants pose a threat to Canadian-born workers who might believe that they will face greater competition for good jobs or that, because immigrants will accept jobs that others would not take, increased immigration will lead to worsening labour conditions and lower wages. …

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