Parkin, Triandafyllidou, Aytac: Newcomers to Canada are supportive of Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation

Particularly relevant on National Indigenous Peoples Day and current high levels of immigration:

Public education about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous Peoples is an important component of the process of reconciliation.

Knowing the history can better help citizens understand current challenges and equip them with the tools to work respectfully with Indigenous Peoples to build a better future, in keeping with the section on “education for reconciliation” in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report

Much of this public education occurs in schools, through the media and even via discussions among friends and within families. But new immigrants to Canada might miss some of this socialization (depending on their age of arrival) because they’ll have less exposure to Canadian schools and media in their formative years. 

This could affect their attitudes to Indigenous Peoples and support for the process of reconciliation itself. Given that one in five Canadians was born abroad, this would pose a significant political risk. 

Alternatively, it’s possible that, despite less exposure to Canadian schools and media, immigrants might be more supportive of Indigenous Peoples because they could be more aware of the legacies of colonialism worldwide, more open to learn about their new country or more conscious of their responsibility as newcomers to learn Canadian history.

Supportive of Indigenous Peoples

The question of how immigrants perceive Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and vice versa, is therefore relevant but rarely explored. 

But data from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 survey, conducted by the Environics Institute and including sufficiently large samples of both immigrants and Indigenous Peoples, allows us to examine these issues.

Specifically, we can explore perceptions of immigrants towards Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation, and look at responses to three questions: 

  1. How familiar do you feel you are with the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada?
  2. In your opinion, have governments in Canada gone too far or have they not gone far enough in trying to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples?
  3. Do you believe that individual Canadians do, or do not, have a role to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people? 

The survey results generally show that, despite less familiarity or certainty about these issues among new immigrants compared to those born in Canada, they are more likely to support Indigenous Peoples.

Gap in knowledge

The survey shows a big gap between how familiar Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people — both immigrants to Canada and non-immigrants — are with the history of Indian Residential schools.

The findings suggest first-generation immigrants are less likely than non-Indigenous Canadians to say they’re “very familiar” with this history, and are more likely to express no opinion.

These results indicate that first-generation immigrants don’t know as much as other Canadians about the history of Indian Schools in Canada. It is notable, however, that second-generation Canadians are more likely than third-generation Canadians to feel “very familiar” with the history of Indian Residential Schools.

A graph shows how familiar immigrants to Canada feel they are with the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada compared to Indigenous Peoples.
A graph shows how familiar newcomers to Canada feel they are with the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada compared to Indigenous Peoples. Author provided, Author provided

This lesser familiarity among first-generation immigrants, however, does not translate into lower support for efforts to advance reconciliation. 

Government response

This support is evident when they were asked about whether governments have gone too far, or not far enough, to advance reconciliation. 

The most striking difference — not surprisingly — is that Indigenous Peoples are much more likely than non-Indigenous Canadians to say that governments have failed to go far enough to advance reconciliation. 

But first-generation immigrants are just as likely to hold this view than second- or third-generation Canadians. First-generation immigrants are also less likely to say that governments have gone too far in their efforts to promote reconciliation — a result that’s significant when controlling for education (which is an important step since first-generation immigrants are more likely to be university-educated than the rest of the population). 

First-generation immigrants are also less likely to take a definitive position either way, and are more likely to say “neither” or “cannot say.”

A graph shows whether Canadians believe governments have gone far enough in trying to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
A graph shows whether Canadians believe governments have gone far enough in trying to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Author provided, Author provided

The role of Canadians

Similarly, Indigenous Peoples are unsurprisingly the most likely to say that individual Canadians have a role to play in reconciliation. 

But first-generation immigrants are just as likely as second- or third-generation Canadians to hold this view (although first-generation immigrants are also more likely to have no opinion on this question). 

A graph shows whether individual Canadians have a role to play to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples.
A graph shows whether individual Canadians have a role to play to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. Author provided, Author provided

These results are encouraging because they suggest that even if immigrants aren’t socialized in Canada at a young age, that’s not an obstacle to building understanding and support for reconciliation. 

Indigenous support for immigration

Interestingly, the survey also allows us to explore the other side of the relationship between immigrants and Indigenous Peoples in Canada, namely support among Indigenous Peoples for immigration. 

This is a potentially contentious issue. On the one hand, diverse sources of immigration in the post-Second World War period have already disrupted the narrative of Canada as a nation of two founding peoples (British and French). That in turn suggests a view of Canada that is not only multicultural but multi-national, and inclusive of Indigenous Peoples and nations. 

In this sense, the interests of immigrants and Indigenous Peoples could be aligned. But at the same time, the ongoing arrival of newcomers can be seen as a continuation of the settler/colonization process. 

Thoughts on immigration

We can explore this issue by referring to a question in the survey asking Canadians whether they agree or disagree that “overall, there is too much immigration to Canada.” 

The results show that there are significant differences in attitudes about immigration between the general population and Indigenous Peoples. Thirty per cent of Indigenous peoples “strongly agree” with the statement, the highest proportion among all groups. 

A graph shows whether Canadians and Indigenous people believe there is too much immigration to Canada.
A graph shows whether Canadians and Indigenous people believe there is too much immigration to Canada.Author provided, Author provided

However, this general difference about immigration levels is driven in large part by the difference in views between Indigenous Peoples and first-generation immigrants. While Indigenous Peoples, compared to first-generation immigrants, are more likely to strongly agree than strongly disagree that there is too much immigration to Canada, there are no statistically significant differences between Indigenous Peoples and second- or third-generation Canadians.

This suggests that the key factor influencing attitudes towards immigration might not be Indigenous identity, but being born in Canada.

Nonetheless, this finding is important because it’s a reminder to proponents of more immigration that they should be open to and engage with Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives on this issue. Immigration, as a policy objective, should be pursued with an eye on how it might be perceived by those who were displaced by the earlier arrival of settlers.

Source: Newcomers to Canada are supportive of Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation

A new ranking is giving Canada’s approach to immigrants top marks, with a notable exception

Good summary of the report and findings. MIPEX is policy-based and evaluates policies, not how effectively they have been implemented or the actual socioeconomic outcomes.

For that reason, I prefer the OECD’s integration indicators approach as they compare outcomes such as unemployment, educational attainment, low-income etc. Have not yet updated this table with selected OECD indicators yet but unlikely that these have changed significantly.

And I remain to be convinced that access to municipal voting is that important in Canada given that we have a relatively straightforward citizenship path, one that will become even more facilitative should the Liberal government implement its election commitment to eliminate citizenship fees.

Nevertheless, policy comparison indices like MIPEX are useful policy tools given their comprehensive nature to understand differences between countries as long as one also looks at the actual socioeconomic indicators:

Canada has been ranked fourth in the world when it comes to integrating immigrants, after it fell out of the top five nations under the former Conservative government in the previous survey.

The country jumped two spots in the latest Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) computed by an international network of experts in recognition of policies that emphasize equal rights, opportunities and security for newcomers.

The index, last released in 2015, puts Canada ahead of the world’s major immigration destinations: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Since the last edition of MIPEX, Canada returned to its traditional path to citizenship and strengthened its commitment to equal rights and opportunities,” said the 2019 MIPEX profile on Canada to be released Wednesday.

“Over the past five years, Canada improved policies on access to basic rights and equal opportunities.”

Some improvements cited in the MIPEX profile of Canada include the 2017 Citizenship Act, by which the Liberal government removed obstacles for immigrants to meet residence and language requirements created by its Conservative predecessor; and the restoration of health care for asylum seekers.

“Five years ago, we were sixth and now we’re fourth. It’s worth saying that when you’re already so high up, it’s difficult to get an improvement,” said Anna Triandafyllidou, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University.

“I think the improvement should be valued significantly. Overall, we should congratulate ourselves.”

Basing their ranking on numerous indicators, researchers survey international government policies as to how well they treat migrants in eight areas: labour market mobility, family reunification, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality and anti-discrimination efforts.

The index is peer-reviewed and released every five years to identify government policies that support or hinder newcomers in their integration. The number of countries covered has increased to 52 nations from 38 in the previous edition.

Top 10 countries

CountriesImmigration integration score
New Zealand77

Source: Migrant Integration Policy Index 2020 Get the data


Scoring 86 points out of 100, Sweden has remained the top ranked country, followed by Finland (86) and Portugal (81), with Canada being awarded 80 points. New Zealand, the U.S., Norway, Belgium, Australia and Brazil round up the top 10.

“Among English-speaking countries, Canada is becoming a more attractive and inclusive global destination,” said Thomas Huddleston, director of research for the Migration Policy Group, lead author of the European Union-funded index.

“Canada, along with New Zealand, is taking the place of previous top-ranking countries such as Australia, the U.K. and the United States, which all go down in the MIPEX rankings this round under pressure from populist political forces.”

The index credits Canada for overall policies that encourage the public to see immigrants as their equals, neighbours and potential citizens.

“These policies matter because the way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other,” it noted.

“Integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country.”

Bottom 10 countries

CountriesImmigration integration score

Source: Migrant Integration Policy Index 2020 Get the data


As the world sees the rise of nationalism, populism and xenophobia, Triandafyllidou said Canada fortunately has very well established public support for immigration, with all major political parties recognizing the importance of pro-immigration policies.

But it’s not to say Canada doesn’t have room to improve on its ranking.

MIPEX found the political participation of immigrants in Canada “halfway favourable.”

While immigrants can become active in local civil society and become full citizens, it said Canada, unlike other major destinations, does not experiment in local democracy by expanding voting rights or consultative structures.

“Canada’s score is relatively lower in (newcomers’) political participation. The reason is there are no political rights for non-citizens,” said Triandafyllidou.

“It has not been part of the objective of different governments, including the current Liberal government, to open up channels for local political participation (as in) voting rights and to be a candidate.”


How to build a better Canada after COVID-19: Rethinking immigration can boost the economy

Good overview of some of the challenges and options facing Canada post-COVID. The idea of “digital work permits” is innovative but not sure about how the practicalities of implementation would be that simple:

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped the flow of goods coming into Canada. That’s because countries around the world worked together to keep trade markets open for business. But Canada faces a potential crisis if its borders remain closed to people for a prolonged period of time.

Canadian governments, regardless of the party in power, have traditionally increased immigration numbers as a strategy to offset the country’s declining domestic birthrate. A continual flow of immigrants is essential for economic stability and growth.

How then can you maintain economic growth if no new immigrants are allowed into the country?

Every crisis can lead to new opportunities. And we’ve already seen challenges that emerged during the pandemic lead to innovative government programs. The same should happen with Canada’s immigration policy.

While the pandemic has temporarily closed the territorial borders to all foreigners for non-essential travel, there’s an opportunity to keep our “virtual” borders open to the best and brightest workers who want to come to Canada.

One million new immigrants by 2021

The current immigration plan calls for more than one million new permanent residents between 2019 and 2021. Of these newcomers, the majority will be economic migrants, coming through various provincial and federal programs such as the Federal Skilled Worker Class and the Provincial Nominee Program.

Illustrating the vital role of immigration for Canada, with emphasis on economic gain and global competitiveness, Canada’s then minister of immigration, Ahmed Hussen, stated in 2018: “The new multi-year immigration levels plan supports Canadian employers and businesses by ensuring they have the skilled labour they need to spur innovation and help to keep our country at the forefront of the global economy.”

This graphic from the government of Canada explains how immigration policy is linked to economic growth. (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

Some of the dilemmas that Canada will face in the post-pandemic recovery period will involve how to continue attracting the best and brightest, what sectors of the economy should be prioritized and how to deal with essential work like agriculture.

Unprecedented challenges

I have studied highly skilled and lower-skilled migration in Europe and internationally for over 20 years, with a special interest in how migration policy interacts with other sectors such as agriculture, the care industry and the competition for talent. But the COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges for Canada’s immigration policy because of the level of uncertaintythat the whole world is facing.

What’s happened to the government’s plans to attract “the best and brightest from around the world” — people who will be fundamental to the country’s economic future?

For more than three months, Canada has temporarily stopped processing work permit or permanent residency applications. This presents many challenges for businesses and for workers and their families.

While working remotely is a possibility for most highly skilled workers in Canada who are in non-essential sectors, that’s not an option for those who have a job offer but are still abroad. They cannot receive a work permit, a Social Insurance Number unless they enter the country. They also can’t be paid without a SIN number. There are important consequences for organizations that seek workarounds and do not respect labour laws.

Digital work permits

Technology can offer a solution to this impasse. A security-proof digital work permit and a social identification number could be assigned remotely to allow these “virtual immigrants” to start working remotely with their Canadian employers while they wait for the entry ban to be lifted.

The permit could be for three or six months and would automatically be replaced by the regular work permit and SIN if the ban is lifted and the worker moves to Canada. The worker and employer would commit to honouring their contract by coming to Canada within 90 days of lifting the entry restrictions.

This would give everyone — government, employers, workers and their families — both the necessary guarantees and flexibility to deal with this unexpected disruption.

But are those workers truly needed now — especially given the country’s record unemployment rate since the outbreak of the pandemic?

Canadian immigration policy involves long-term planning related to the country’s demographic composition, growth (or rather decline, without immigration), key industries and efforts to attract new immigrants to the smaller regional centres across this vast country.

In February, just before the pandemic was declared, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino told the Canadian Club in Toronto that Canada welcomed 341,000 new immigrants last year. He then added: “In 2020, the future of Canada hinges on immigration.” But the current situations means it seems unlikely Canada will be able to meet its immigration targets this year or next.

Not a job competition

Unemployment and underemployment data from April show temporary workers, those with less than one year at their last job or people not covered by a union or collective agreement, were hit the hardest by COVID-19. While it is imperative to provide for these workers and their families, these newly unemployed workers are not in competition for the same jobs as those to be filled by the highly skilled newcomers attracted by the Express Entry or Global Talent immigration streams.

As we go through and hopefully leave behind the pandemic, Canada needs to build a stronger health sector including industries that produce gowns, masks and gloves or health-care equipment like ventilators. The medical and pharmaceutical research sector should also remain a top priority. Transnational co-operation is key to Canadian entrepreneurship. Such sectors can only gain from highly skilled migrants who bring to the country innovative ideas, much needed skills and connections to other countries and continents.

New ideas needed

While rethinking policies about bringing highly skilled immigrants to Canada, new ideas are also needed for lower-skilled workers who are essential to the economy.

The deaths of Mexican farm workers in southern Ontario have raised an important debate about the responsibility of employers, but also the need for monitoring the health and the working conditions of those we bring to Canada to do jobs that are essential. There has been a growing awareness that the temporary foreign worker program in agriculture needs both a short- and long-term overhaul.

We need to consider how agricultural policy and migration policy can work hand in hand to promote better working and living conditions for migrant farm workers. One idea could be the expansion of a pilot project launched in May that will allow a small number of migrant agriculture workers to apply for permanent residency.

The many challenges that both highly skilled and low skilled migrants face during the pandemic can be turned into an opportunity that would help Canada’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.