Have Canada’s changing demographics made it time to retire the concept of ‘visible minority’?

This issue comes up periodically. However, it would require legislative changes to the Employment Equity Act, among others, and thus would be controversial.

More substantively, the advocates are correct in noting that lumping all communities together under visible minorities does not account for the differences in outcomes of groups and that relations between different groups are as important to integration as the old mainstream/visible minority dichotomy presented.

One of Kenney’s most substantial changes to multiculturalism was to recognize this and ensure that integration meant between all communities.

Some of the traditional equity challenges remain, but given the difference in communities, more targeted initiatives are part of the mix.

See the 2011 comparative analysis by CIC: Table 5: Ethnic Community Specific Challenges.

In 2011, the percentage of visible minorities was 19.1%, according to Statistics Canada. By 2031, that number is expected to grow to 30.6%, with South Asian and Chinese immigrants driving much that growth. Vancouver and Toronto are expected to become “majority-minority” cities with three out of five people — 60% — belonging to a visible minority group by then.

Compare that to 50 years ago, when the visible minority population was just 2%, and the majority of immigrants were from Europe.

“Personally, I have never liked the term ‘visible minority,’” says Frank Trovato, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta. “I doubt that most people belonging to these groups actually think of themselves as such. It may be that in the future Canadians will simply do away with this concept.”

The official use of the term can be traced back at least as far as the 1980s when federal lawmakers established the Employment Equity Act, which set out to remove barriers in the labour market for four “disadvantaged” groups: women, aboriginals, people with disabilities and visible minorities.

The act was a response to the recommendations of the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, led by Justice Rosalie Abella, who wrote, “Ignoring differences and refusing to accommodate them is a denial of equal access and opportunity. It is discrimination. To reduce discrimination, we must create and maintain barrier-free environments so that individuals can have genuine access free from arbitrary obstructions to demonstrate and exercise fully their potential.”

On visible minorities, Judge Abella wrote of the need to attack racism, which she described as “pervasive,” to provide language training for immigrants, to accommodate religious and cultural differences, and to find a better way to assess qualifications of those who did not attend school in Canada or who have no work experience in Canada.

Three decades later, many of the gaps in workforce representation have narrowed and there are some visible minority groups that are doing just as well as their white counterparts, says Frances Woolley, an economics professor at Carleton University, who favours retiring the term “visible minority.”

“[The Act] was written for another time … when the workforce was majority male, when the population was overwhelmingly white,” Ms. Woolley said.

There are still some groups that are disadvantaged — such as African-Canadian men — but the legislation “lumps everybody together in this visible minority category when some people are doing just fine and other people aren’t,” she said.

Have Canada’s changing demographics made it time to retire the concept of ‘visible minority’?