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Face of 'average Canadian' is anything but, says latest 2016 census

Last Updated Oct 25, 2017 at 9:15 am EST

Canada Citizenship and Immigration form

Increasingly, the face of the average Canadian is anything but average.

There was plenty of diversity on display in Wednesday’s deposit of Statistics Canada census data, including 250 different ethnic origins across the country, and hints of more to come: visible minorities could comprise fully one-third of Canadians by 2036 as immigration drives population growth not just in the cities, but across the country.

The release marks just the latest – and second-to-last – in a year-long series of statistical snapshots of the Canadian condition, one that also heralded the return of data from the much-maligned long-form census for the first time in a decade.

The census portrait began with a population boom out West and a commensurate spike in the number of households. Wednesday’s release showed a similar trend for two groups: the largest overall increase in the Indigenous population was in western Canada over the last decade, while the share of recent immigrants to the Prairies more than doubled over the last 15 years.

“Immigrants are diffusing across the country,” said Michael Haan, a sociology professor at Western University in London, Ont.

“What it’s forcing us to do, collectively, is think about our entire nation as being composed of immigrants, rather than just major cities.”

Nearly half of major metropolitan areas are comprised of visible minorities, noticeably Toronto and Vancouver, said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics Analytics. But the figures are also on the rise in places like Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, and Calgary, he added.

“Places that people didn’t think were culturally diverse are becoming now culturally diverse.”

Statistics Canada has been saying through the census that Canada is becoming more diverse with the latest data dump showing that more immigrants are arriving from Africa than ever before, placing ahead of Europe for the first time.

“The challenge is to make sure that they fully integrate into Canadian society. So there are challenges coming with this diversity as well,” said Jean-Pierre Corbet, assistant director of the social and aboriginal division at Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada has already documented a historically high number of seniors – a demographic soon to see ever-increasing numbers of Indigenous people – as well as children staying at home longer, more generations than ever living under Canadian roofs, a moderate increase in income levels and the changing face of the working poor.

Wednesday’s revelations included word that younger Canadians are opting less for home ownership, choosing instead the rental route as housing prices climb ever higher.

Aboriginal children face a poverty rate of just over 30 per cent, compared to 17 per cent in the wider population, the census found.

And more than 7.6 million Canadians identify as a visible minority, representing 22.3 per cent, just over one-fifth of the national population. That’s an almost five-fold increase from 1981, when visible minorities made up 4.7 per cent of the population.

“What comes through is diversity across all characteristics,” said Norris, who spent three decades at Statistics Canada.

Diversity is no stranger to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi.

According to the census, the small community on the eastern coast of James Bay has residents whose ethnic origins include the Caribbean, South America and Africa. The economic development officer for the band administration is from Sri Lanka, and has been in the community for almost a decade.

The community welcomes them all, but finding housing is becoming ever more difficult.

Chief David Bobbish said there is a need for 400 more homes in the community to ease overcrowding. Government spending only helps build about six houses a year, Bobbish added, leaving many families packed into too-small homes – a common plight across Indigenous communities in Canada.

“You don’t have any choice but to live in a house with other people,” he said. “Even evictions are difficult. You cannot evict people if they have nowhere to go.”

In Chisasibi, the community is looking for new ways to build homes and promote private ownership – efforts that may not get caught in the latest tranche of statistics.

Other communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, are looking for ways to make it easier for people to afford a roof over their head. Bobbish says addressing an acute housing shortage in his community could have wider ramifications.

“There are houses that have 10 or 15 people living under one roof. This is what creates a lot of social issues.”

Some selected highlights:

– The census counted 1.67 million Indigenous people in Canada in 2016, accounting for 4.9 per cent of the total population – up from 3.8 per cent in 2006 for a growth rate of 42.5 per cent over the last 10 years, four times the rate of the non-Indigenous population.

– The average age of the Indigenous population was 32.1 years, nearly a decade younger than the non-Indigenous population at 40.9 years. The census counted 145,645 children aged 0-4, 8.7 per cent of Aboriginal people in Canada.

– One in five Indigenous people in Canada is living in a dwelling that needs “major repairs,” while one in 10 lives in a household that has a space shortfall of at least one bedroom.

– However, 7.3 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada are 65 or older, compared with 4.8 per cent in 2006 – and that proportion could double by the year 2036.

– The census counted 145,645 Indigenous children aged 0-4 in 2016.

– The number of people who identified as First Nations reached 979,230 last year, up 39.3 per cent over 2006, while the Metis population grew by 51.2 per cent over the same period to 587,545 people. The census recorded 65,025 Inuit, 29.1 per cent higher than in 2006.

– Winnipeg (92,810), Edmonton (76,205), Vancouver (61,460) and Toronto (46,315) reported the largest Indigenous populations, while the highest proportion of Aboriginal people were in Thunder Bay (12.7 per cent), Winnipeg (12.2 per cent) and Saskatoon (10.9 per cent).

– In 2016, 7.5 million people – about 21.9 per cent of the total population – reported being foreign-born individuals who immigrated to Canada. In 1921, the census reported that proportion at 22.3 per cent, the highest since Confederation. Statistics Canada projects that proportion could reach between 25 and 30 per cent by 2036.

– The census counted 1,212,075 new immigrants who permanently settled in Canada between 2011 and 2016, 3.5 per cent of the total population last year.

– 60 per cent entered under the economic category, 26.8 per cent to join family already in Canada and 11.6 per cent as refugees. During the first four months of 2016, refugees accounted for one-quarter of all immigrants admitted to Canada, thanks to an influx of refugees from Syria.

– Asia, including the Middle East, remains the largest source of recent immigrants to Canada at 61.8 per cent, followed by Africa at 13.4 per cent. Europe – once dominant in this category at 61.6 per cent in 1971 – ranked third at 11.6 per cent.

– More immigrants have been settling in the Prairies. The percentage of new immigrants living in Alberta reached 17.1 per cent in 2016, compared with 6.9 per cent in 2001; In Manitoba, it went to 5.2 per cent, up from 1.8 per cent, and four per cent in Saskatchewan, up from one per cent in 2001.

– Visible minorities numbered 7.7 million in 2016, 22.3 per cent of Canada’s population. 30 per cent were born in Canada.

– In 1921, more than 70 per cent of the foreign-born population reported English or French as a mother tongue, while fewer than 30 per cent reported a different language. In 2016, the precise opposite was true: more than 70 per cent reported a different mother tongue, compared to less than 30 per cent for English or French.

– In 2016, nearly 2.2 million children under 15 – 37.5 per cent of all children in Canada – were either foreign-born themselves or had at least one foreign-born parent.

– Some 1.9 million people reported being of South Asian heritage, fully one-quarter of the visible minority population. Chinese was the second-largest group at 1.6 million or 20.5 per cent of visible minorities, while blacks – surpassing the one-million mark for the first time – were third at 1.2 million, a share of about 15.6 per cent. Filipinos and Arabs rounded out the top five.

– More than 9.5 million of the 14.1 million households in Canada owned their home in 2016, a rate of 67.8 per cent, down slightly from 69 per cent in 2011. However, rates varied widely depending on age: 70 per cent of homeowners in 2016 were aged 35-54, compared with 20- to 34-year-olds at just 43.6 per cent.

– Nearly 1.9 million households – about 13.3 per cent – were living in condominiums in 2016, up 1.1 percentage points from 2011. Of those, about 67 per cent were owners, the rest renters.

– Condos are most popular in Vancouver, where they comprised 30.6 per cent of all local households. Calgary was second at 21.8 per cent, followed by Abbotsford-Mission, B.C., at 21.5 per cent, Kelowna at 21.3 per cent and Toronto at 20.9 per cent.

– In 2016, 24.1 per cent of households – down from 24.4 per cent in 2006 – were spending 30 per cent or more of their average monthly total income on shelter costs, such as rent or mortgage payments, electricity, heat and property taxes or fees. Of those, the highest proportions were in Toronto (33.4 per cent) and Vancouver (32 per cent).

– Vancouver homeowners reported an average dwelling value of $1,005,920, compared to $734,924 in Toronto and $366,974 in Montreal. Across the country, the average value was $443,058, compared to $345,182 in 2011, not accounting for inflation.