Between one third and half of Canada’s ethnic minorities have experienced racism, according to a new survey by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. 

An online survey of 3,111 Canadians aged 18 and older was conducted accounting for all provinces and genders, along with an “over-sample size” of participants identifying as Chinese, Black, South Asian, and/or Indigenous.

Key findings

According to researchers:

  • 54 per cent of Canadians identifying as Black and 53 per cent identifying as Indigenous have personally experienced discrimination due to race or ethnicity, either occasionally or regularly. The sentiment was shared by 38 per cent of South Asians, 36 per cent of Chinese, 32 per cent of other ethnic groups, and 12 per cent of whites.
  • 81 per cent of all participants described positive race relations in their communities.
  • More than half were either somewhat or very optimistic about the future of race relations. Young Canadians were the most optomistic.

The subtleties of racism

While the survey accounted for some microaggressions — subtle but offensive comments or actions that unconsciously reinforce stereotypes or bias — this form of discrimination can be hard to quantify because it’s often casual and delivered without the intent to offend. 

“That is actually one of the biggest problems … smaller but very meaningful insults,” Arjumand Siddiqi, the Canada research chair in population health equity, told Global News.

For that reason, discriminatory acts may have been under-reported in the survey.

The roots of racism

Canadians were more likely to view discrimination as an individual act and not an issue deeply rooted in Canadian society — an assertation that Toronto activist and writer Desmond Cole challenges.

“That is a fantasy,” he told CTV News.

“Unsurprisingly, a lot of Canadians are in denial that racism is a systemic thing.”

Cole says discrimination isn’t about the actions of a few.

“It’s not just a few people’s nasty or racist, bigoted opinions … It’s us not getting jobs. It’s us being kicked out of the education system. It’s us being disproportionately the victims of violence. Until that stops, do all the studies we want to. Those are the real issues.”

Siddiqi told Global the findings suggest more needs to be done to understand race relations in Canada.

“Racism isn’t just about how the individual experiences it, racism is also about structures,” she said.

“The survey doesn’t question the structure … It’s a uni-dimensional survey, which is good. But more work needs to be done.”