Main Body

Chapter 11. Race and Ethnicity

A man wearing a turban.
Figure 11.1. The dastaar (turban) is a required article in the observance of the Sikh faith. Baltej Singh Dhillon (not shown here) was the first Sikh member of the RCMP to wear a turban on active duty. This sparked a major controversy in 1990, but today people barely bat an eye when they see a police officer wearing a turban. Race and ethnicity are part of the human experience. Do the signs of racial and ethnic diversity play a role in who we are and how we relate to one another? (Photo courtesy of Gurumustuk Singh/Flickr)

Learning Objectives

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups

  • Understand the difference between race and ethnicity.
  • Define a majority group (dominant group).
  • Define a minority group (subordinate group).

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination

  • Explain the difference between stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
  • Identify different types of discrimination.

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity

  • Describe how major sociological perspectives view race and ethnicity.
  • Identify examples of culture of prejudice.

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity

  • Explain different intergroup relations in terms of their relative levels of tolerance.
  • Give historical and/or contemporary examples of each type of intergroup relation.

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada

  • Compare and contrast the different experiences of various ethnic groups in Canada.
  • Apply theories of intergroup relations and race and ethnicity to different subordinate groups.

Introduction to Race and Ethnicity

Visible minorities are defined as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour” (Statistics Canada, 2013, p. 14). This is a contentious term, as we will see in this chapter, but it does give us a way to speak about the growing ethnic and racial diversity of Canada. The 2011 census noted that visible minorities made up 19.1% of the Canadian population, or almost one out of every five Canadians. This was up from 16.2% in the 2006 census (Statistics Canada, 2013). The three largest visible minority groups were South Asians (25%), Chinese (21.1%), and blacks (15.1%).

Going back to the 1921 census, only 0.8% of population were made up of people of Asian origin, whereas 0.2% of the population were black. Aboriginal Canadians made up 1.3% of the population. The vast majority of the population were Caucasians (“whites”) of British or French ancestry. These figures did not change appreciably until after the changes to the Immigration Act in 1967, which replaced an immigration policy based on racial criteria with a point system based on educational and occupational qualifications (Li, 1996). The 2011 census reported that 78% of the immigrants who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 were visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2013).

Still, these figures do not really give a complete picture of racial and ethnic diversity in Canada. 96% of visible minorities live in cities, mainly Vancouver and Toronto, making these cities extremely diverse and cosmopolitan. In Vancouver, almost half the population (45.2%) is made up of visible minorities. Within Greater Vancouver, 70.4% of the residents of Richmond, 59.5% of the residents of Burnaby, and 52.6 of the residents of Surrey are visible minorities. In the Toronto area, where visible minorities make up 47% of the population, 72.3% of the residents of the suburb of Markham are visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2013). In many parts of urban Canada, it is a misnomer to use the term visible minority, as the “minorities” are now in the majority.

Table 11.1. Visible minority population and top three visible minority groups, selected census metropolitan areas, Canada, 2011, p. 17. (Table courtesy of Statistics Canada’s Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada report [PDF])

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Cities Total Population Visible Minority Population Percentage Top Three Visible Minority Groups
Canada 32,852,325 6,264,755 19.1% South Asian, Chinese, Black
Toronto 5,521,235 2,596,420 47.0% South Asian, Chinese, Black
Montréal 3,752,475 762,325 20.3% Black, Arab, Latin American
Vancouver 2,280,695 1,030,335 45.2% Chinese, South Asian, Filipino
Ottawa – Gatineau 1,215,735 234,015 19.2% Black, Arab, Chinese
Calgary 1,199,125 337,420 28.1% South Asian, Chinese, Filipino
Edmonton 1,139,585 254,990 22.4% South Asian, Chinese, Filipino
Winnipeg 714,635 140,770 19.7% Filipino, South Asian, Black
Hamilton 708,175 101,600 14.3% South Asian, Black, Chinese

Source Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011.

Projecting forward based on current trends, Statistics Canada estimates that by 2031, between 29 and 32% of the Canadian population will be visible minorities. Visible minority groups will make up 63% of the population of Toronto and 59% of the population of Vancouver (Statistics Canada, 2010). The outcome of these trends is that Canada has become a much more racially and ethnically diverse country over the 20th and 21st centuries. It will continue to become more diverse in the future.

In large part this has to do with immigration policy. Canada is a settler society, a society historically based on colonization through foreign settlement and displacement of Aboriginal inhabitants, so immigration is the major influence on population diversity. In the two decades following World War II, Canada followed an immigration policy that was explicitly race based. Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s statement to the House of Commons in 1947 expressed this in what were, at the time, uncontroversial terms:

There will, I am sure, be general agreement with the view that the people of Canada do not wish, as a result of mass immigration, to make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population. Large-scale immigration from the orient would change the fundamental composition of the Canadian population. Any considerable oriental immigration would, moreover, be certain to give rise to social and economic problems of a character that might lead to serious difficulties in the field of international relations. The government, therefore, has no thought of making any change in immigration regulations which would have consequences of the kind. (as cited in Li, 1996, pp. 163-164)

Today this would be a completely unacceptable statement from a Canadian politician. Immigration today is based on a non-racial point system. Canada defines itself as a multicultural nation that promotes and recognizes the diversity of its population. This does not mean, however, that Canada’s legacy of institutional and individual prejudice and racism has been erased. Nor does it mean that the problems of managing a diverse population have been resolved.

In 1997, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized the Canadian government for using the term “visible minority,” citing that distinctions based on race or colour are discriminatory (CBC, 2007). The term combines a diverse group of people into one category whether they have anything in common or not. What does it actually mean to be a member of a visible minority in Canada? What does it mean to be a member of the “non-visible” majority? What do these terms mean in practice?

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups

While many students first entering a sociology classroom are accustomed to conflating the terms race, ethnicity, and minority group, these three terms have distinct meanings for sociologists. The idea of race refers to superficial physical differences that a particular society considers significant, while ethnicity is a term that describes shared culture. And minority group describes groups that are subordinate, or lacking power in society regardless of skin colour or country of origin. For example, in modern history, the elderly might be considered a minority group due to a diminished status resulting from popular prejudice and discrimination against them. The World Health Organization’s research on elderly maltreatment shows that 10% of nursing home staff admit to physically abusing an elderly person in the past year, and 40% admit to psychological abuse (2011). As a minority group, the elderly are also subject to economic, social, and workplace discrimination.

What Is Race?

Historically, the concept of race has changed across cultures and eras, eventually becoming less connected with ancestral and familial ties, and more concerned with superficial physical characteristics. In the past, theorists have posited categories of race based on various geographic regions, ethnicities, skin colours, and more. Their labels for racial groups have connoted regions (Mongolia and the Caucus Mountains, for instance) or denoted skin tones (black, white, yellow, and red, for example).

However, this typology of race developed during early racial science has fallen into disuse, and racialization (the social construction of race) is a far more common way of understanding racial categories. According to this school of thought, race is not biologically identifiable. Rather, certain groups become racialized through a social process that marks them for unequal treatment based on perceived physiological differences. When considering skin colour, for example, the social construction of race perspective recognizes that the relative darkness or fairness of skin is an evolutionary adaptation to the available sunlight in different regions of the world. Contemporary conceptions of race, therefore, which tend to be based on socioeconomic assumptions, illuminate how far removed modern race understanding is from biological qualities. In modern society, some people who consider themselves “white” actually have more melanin (a pigment that determines skin colour) in their skin than other people who identify as “black.” Consider the case of the actress Rashida Jones. She is the daughter of a black man (Quincy Jones) but she does not play a black woman in her television or film roles. In some countries, such as Brazil, class is more important than skin colour in determining racial categorization. People with high levels of melanin in their skin may consider themselves “white” if they enjoy a middle-class lifestyle. On the other hand, someone with low levels of melanin in their skin might be assigned the identity of “black” if they have little education or money.

The social construction of race is also reflected in the way that names for racial categories change with changing times. It’s worth noting that race, in this sense, is also a system of labelling that provides a source of identity — specific labels fall in and out of favour during different social eras. For example, the category ”negroid,” popular in the 19th century, evolved into the term “negro” by the 1960s, and then this term fell from use and was replaced with “black Canadian.” The term was intended to celebrate the multiple identities that a black person might hold, but the word choice is an ambiguous one: It lumps together a large variety of ethnic groups under an umbrella term. Unlike the case in the United States where the term “African American” is common, most black Canadians immigrated from the Caribbean and retain ethnic roots from that area. Culturally they remain distinct from immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa or the descendants of the slaves brought to mainland North America. Some prefer to use the term “Afro-Caribbean Canadians” for that reason.

What Is Ethnicity?

Ethnicity is a term that describes shared culture — the practices, values, and beliefs of a group. This might include shared language, religion, and traditions, among other commonalities. Like race, the term ethnicity is difficult to describe and its meaning has changed over time. And like race, individuals may be identified or self-identify with ethnicities in complex, even contradictory, ways. For example, ethnic groups such as Irish, Italian, Russian, Jewish, and Serbian might all be groups whose members are predominantly included in the racial category “white.” Conversely, the ethnic group British includes citizens from a multiplicity of racial backgrounds: black, white, Asian, and more, plus a variety of race combinations. These examples illustrate the complexity and overlap of these identifying terms. Ethnicity, like race, continues to be an identification method that individuals and institutions use today — whether through the census, affirmative action initiatives, non-discrimination laws, or simply in personal day-to-day relations.

What Are Minority Groups?

Sociologist Louis Wirth (1897-1952) defined a minority group as “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination” (1945). The term minority connotes discrimination, and in its sociological use the term subordinate can be used interchangeably with the term minority, while the term dominant is often substituted for the group that’s in the majority. These definitions correlate to the concept that the dominant group is that which holds the most power in a given society, while subordinate groups are those who lack power compared to the dominant group.

Note that being a numerical minority is not a characteristic of being a minority group; sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power. It is the lack of power that is the predominant characteristic of a minority, or subordinate group. For example, consider apartheid in South Africa, in which a numerical majority (the black inhabitants of the country) were exploited and oppressed by the white minority.

According to Charles Wagley (1913-1991) and Marvin Harris (1927-2001), a minority group is distinguished by five characteristics: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits like skin colour or language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage (1958). Additional examples of minority groups might include the LGBTQ community, religious practitioners whose faith is not widely practised where they live, and people with disabilities.

Scapegoat theory, developed initially from John Dollard’s (1900-1980) frustration-aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace their unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group (1939). History has shown us many examples of the scapegoating of a subordinate group. An example from the last century is the way that Adolf Hitler was able to use the Jewish people as scapegoats for Germany’s social and economic problems. In Canada, eastern European immigrants were branded Bolsheviks and interned during the economic slump following World War I. In the United States, many states have enacted laws to disenfranchise immigrants; these laws are popular because they let the dominant group scapegoat a subordinate group. Many minority groups have been scapegoated for a nation’s — or an individual’s — woes.

Multiple Identities

Tiger Woods playing golf.
Figure 11.2. Golfer Tiger Woods has Chinese, Thai, African American, Native American, and Dutch heritage. Individuals with multiple ethnic backgrounds are becoming more common. (Photo courtesy of familymwr/Flickr)

Prior to the 20th century, racial intermarriage (referred to as miscegenation) was extremely rare, and in many places, illegal. In the United States, 41 of the 50 states at one time or another enacted legislation to prevent racial intermarriage. In Canada, there were no formal anti-miscegenation laws, though strong informal norms ensured that racial intermixing was extremely limited in scope. Thompson makes the case, however, that the various versions of the Indian Act, originally enacted in 1876, effectively worked on a racial level to restrict the marriage between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people (2009). A key part of the Act enumerated the various ways in which Aboriginal people could lose their status and, thus, their claim to Aboriginal land title and state provisions. Until its amendment in 1985, the most egregious section of the Act (Section 12.1.b) determined that an Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would lose her Indian status and her children’s Indian status, whereas an Indian man who married a non-Indian woman would retain his status, as would his children. In this way, the thorny question of having multiple racial identities could be avoided.

Figure 11.3. Louis Riel was the son of a prominent French-Ojibwa father and French mother. He was executed in 1885 on the charge of high treason for his role in the Northwest Rebellion. This picture was taken at the time of his trial in 1885. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Métis are Canada’s original exception to this rule. Prior to the full establishment of British colonial rule in Canada, racial intermarriage was encouraged in some areas to support the fur trade. The Métis formed a unique mixed-race culture of French fur traders and mostly Cree, Anishinabe, and Saulteaux people centred in the Red River settlement of what is now Manitoba. The progeny of liaisons between the Hudson’s Bay Company’s British traders and Aboriginal women were known as “half-breeds,” a largely pejorative term both then and now. It is unfortunately a testament to the untenability of multiple identities in 19th century Canada that the attempt to establish and protect an independent Métis culture under the provisional government of Louis Riel (1844-1885) led to the violent suppression of the Métis in the Red River Rebellion of 1869 and the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Despite the promises of the newly founded Canadian government, the Métis were swindled out of their land through a corrupt script system and displaced by a massive influx of Anglo-Saxon immigrants (Purich, 1988).

During the late modern era, the trend toward equal rights and legal protection against racism have steadily reduced the social stigma attached to racial exogamy (exogamy refers to marriage outside of one’s core social unit). It is now common for the children of racially mixed parents to acknowledge and celebrate their various ethnic identities. Golfer Tiger Woods, for instance, has Chinese, Thai, African American, Native American, and Dutch heritage; he jokingly refers to his ethnicity as “Cablinasian,” a term he coined to combine several of his ethnic backgrounds. In Canada the prevalence of multiple identities is captured in the 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey. While just over 19 million Canadians described themselves as having a single ethnic origin, (including almost 6 million who claimed a “Canadian” ethnic origin), almost 14 million Canadians described themselves as having a multiple ethnic origin (Statistics Canada, 2011). According to 2006 census data, 3.9% of all Canadian couples were “mixed unions,” that is, couples made up of either a visible minority member and a non-visible minority member or two members from different visible minorities. This was up from 3.1% in 2001 and 2.6% in 1991 (Milan et al., 2010).

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination


The terms stereotype, prejudice, discrimination, and racism are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation. But when discussing these terms from a sociological perspective, it is important to define them: Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people; prejudice refers to thoughts and feelings about those groups; while discrimination refers to actions toward them. Racism is a type of prejudice that involves set beliefs about a specific racial group.

As stated above, stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people. Stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation — almost any characteristic. They may be positive (usually about one’s own group, such as when women suggest they are less likely to complain about physical pain) but are often negative (usually toward other groups, such as when members of a dominant racial group suggest that a subordinate racial group is stupid or lazy). In either case, the stereotype is a generalization that doesn’t take individual differences into account.

Where do stereotypes come from? In fact new stereotypes are rarely created; rather, they are recycled from subordinate groups that have assimilated into society and are reused to describe newly subordinate groups. For example, many stereotypes that are currently used to characterize black people were used earlier in Canadian history to characterize Irish and eastern European immigrants.

Prejudice and Racism

Prejudice refers to beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that someone holds about a group. A prejudice is not based on experience; instead, it is a prejudgment originating outside of actual experience. Racism is a type of prejudice that is used to justify the belief that one racial category is somehow superior or inferior to others. White supremacist groups are examples of racist organizations; their members’ belief in white supremacy has encouraged hate crimes and hate speech for over a century.


While prejudice refers to biased thinking, discrimination consists of actions against a group of people. Discrimination can be based on age, religion, health, and other indicators. Race-based discrimination and anti-discrimination laws strive to address this set of social problems.

Discrimination based on race or ethnicity can take many forms, from unfair housing practices to biased hiring systems. Overt discrimination has long been part of Canadian history. Discrimination against Jews was typical until the 1950s. McGill University imposed quotas on the admission of Jewish students in 1920, a practice which continued in its medical faculty until the 1960s. As we saw in the Nova Scotia case of Viola Desmond in Chapter 7, Canada had also its own version of American Jim Crow laws, which designated “whites only” areas in cinemas, public transportation, workplaces, etc. Both Ontario and Nova Scotia had racially segregated schools. It is interesting to note that while Viola Desmond was prosecuted for sitting in a whites only section of the cinema in Glasgow, Nova Scotia, she was in fact of mixed-race descent as her mother was white (Backhouse, 1994). These practices are unacceptable in Canada today.

However, discrimination cannot be erased from our culture just by enacting laws to abolish it. Even if a magic pill managed to eradicate racism from each individual’s psyche, society itself would maintain it. Sociologist Émile Durkheim called racism “a social fact,” meaning that it does not require the action of individuals to continue (1895). The reasons for this are complex and relate to the educational, criminal, economic, and political systems that exist.

For example, when a newspaper prints the race of individuals accused of a crime, it may enhance stereotypes of a certain minority. It is difficult to think of Somali Canadians, for example, without recalling the news reports of gang-related deaths in Toronto’s social housing projects or the northern Alberta drug trade (Wingrove & Mackrael, 2012). Another example of racist practices is racial steering, in which real estate agents direct prospective homeowners toward or away from certain neighbourhoods based on their race. Racist attitudes and beliefs are often more insidious and hard to pin down than specific racist practices.

Prejudice and discrimination can overlap and intersect in many ways. To illustrate, here are four examples of how prejudice and discrimination can occur. Unprejudiced nondiscriminators are open-minded, tolerant, and accepting individuals. Unprejudiced discriminators might be those who, unthinkingly, practise sexism in their workplace by not considering females for certain positions that have traditionally been held by men. Prejudiced nondiscriminators are those who hold racist beliefs but don’t act on them, such as a racist store owner who serves minority customers. Prejudiced discriminators include those who actively make disparaging remarks about others or who perpetuate hate crimes.

Discrimination can also involve the promotion of a group’s status, such as occurs with white privilege. While most white people are willing to admit that non-white people live with a set of disadvantages due to the colour of their skin, very few white people are willing to acknowledge the benefits they receive simply by being white. White privilege refers to the fact that dominant groups often accept their experience as the normative (and hence, superior) experience. Failure to recognize this “normality” as race-based is an example of a dominant group’s often unconscious racism. Feminist sociologist Peggy McIntosh described several examples of “white privilege.” For instance, white women can easily find makeup that matches their skin tone, and white people can be assured that, most of the time, they will be dealing with authority figures of their own race (1988). How many other examples of white privilege can you think of?

Institutional Racism

Discrimination also manifests in different ways. The illustrations above are examples of individual discrimination, but other types exist. Institutional discrimination or institutional racism is when a societal system has developed with an embedded disenfranchisement of a group, such as Canadian immigration policies that imposed “head taxes” on Chinese immigrants in 1886 and 1904. Institutional racism refers to the way in which racial distinctions are used to organize the policy and practice of state, judicial, economic, and educational institutions. As a result these distinctions systematically reproduce inequalities along racial lines. They define what people can and cannot do based on racial characteristics. It is not necessarily the intention of these institutions to reproduce inequality, nor of the individuals who work in the institutions. Rather, inequality is the outcome of patterns of differential treatment based on racial or ethnic categorizations of people.

Clear examples of institutional racism in Canada can be seen in the Indian Act and immigration policy, as we have already noted. The effects of institutional racism can also be observed in the structures that reproduce income inequality for visible minorities and Aboriginal Canadians. The median income of Aboriginal people in Canada was 30% less than non-Aboriginal people in 2006 (Wilson & Macdonald, 2010). Rates of child poverty (using Statistics Canada’s after-tax low-income measure) for all Aboriginal people in 2006 were at 40%, while rates for non-Indigenous, non-racialized, non-immigrant children were 12% (Macdonald & Wilson, 2013).

Institutional racism is also deeply problematic for visible minorities in Canada. This can be seen, for example, in the racialized characteristics of the economy. As described below, although labour participation rates are similar for racialized and non-racialized individuals, unemployment for racialized men, (and even more so or racialized women), is much hight than for their non-racialized counterparts. Moreover, income levels for racialized Canadians are much lower than for non-racialized Canadians (Block and Galabuzi, 2011). These substantial, statistically significant differences between racialized and non-racialized Canadians indicate that economic institutions in Canada are systematically structured on the basis of racialized differences in the workforce rather than on the basis of individual qualities of workers or individual acts of prejudice of employers.

Young aboriginal students sit on benches in a crowded classroom.
Figure 11.4. St. Joseph’s Mission residential school near Williams Lake, B.C., circa 1890. (Photo courtesy of LibraryArchives/Flickr)

The residential school system was set up in the 19th century to educate and assimilate Aboriginal children into European culture. From 1883 until 1996, over 150,000 Aboriginal, Inuit, and Métis children were forcibly separated from their parents and their cultural traditions and sent to missionary-run residential schools. In the schools, they received substandard education and many were subject to neglect, disease, and abuse. Many children did not see their parents again, and thousands of children died at the schools. When they did return home they found it difficult to fit in. They had not learned the skills needed for life on reserves and had also been taught to be ashamed of their cultural heritage. Because the education at the residential schools was inferior they also had difficulty fitting into non-Aboriginal society.

The residential school system was part of a system of institutional racism because it was established on the basis of a distinction between the educational needs of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. In introducing the policy to the House of Commons in 1883, Public Works Minister Hector Langevin argued, “In order to educate the children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that” (as cited in Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2012, p. 5). The sad legacy of this “civilizing” mission has been several generations of severely disrupted Aboriginal families and communities; the loss of Aboriginal languages and cultural heritage; and the neglect, abuse, and traumatization of thousands of Aboriginal children. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded, the residential school system constituted a systematic assault on Aboriginal families, children, and cultures in Canada. Some have likened the policy and its aftermath to a cultural genocide (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012).

While the last of the residential schools closed in 1996, the problem of Aboriginal education remains grave, with 40% of all Aboriginal people aged 20 to 24 having no high school diploma (61% of on-reserve Aboriginal people), compared to 13% of non-Aboriginals (Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, 2010).  The impact of generations of children being removed from their homes to be educated in an underfunded and frequently abusive residential school system has been “joblessness, poverty, family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown, sexual abuse, prostitution, homelessness, high rates of imprisonment, and early death” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2012). Even with the public apology to residential school survivors and the inauguration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, the federal government, and the interests it represents, continue to refuse basic Aboriginal claims to title, self-determination, and control over their lands and resources.

Income Inequality among Racialized Canadians

Figure 11.5. Rastafarian in Toronto, Kensington Market, 2012. (Image courtesy of Eric Parker/Flickr)

We also see the effects of institutional racism in the structures that reproduce income inequality for visible minorities or racialized Canadians. The median income of Aboriginal people in Canada was 30% less than non-Aboriginal people in 2006 (Wilson & Macdonald, 2010). In 2006, the rates of child poverty (using the after tax Low-Income Measure) for all Aboriginal people were at 40% (and 50% for Status Indians, 62% for Status Indians in Manitoba, and 64% for Status Indians in Saskatchewan), whereas the rates for non-Indigenous, non-racialized, non-immigrant children were 12% (Macdonald & Wilson, 2013).

Institutional racism is also deeply problematic for other visible minorities. In 2006, racialized individuals made up 16% of the Canadian population, up from less than 5% in the1980s. By 2031, this figure is expected to be 32% (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). In 2006, of these 5,068,100 individuals:

  • 25% were South Asian
  • 24% were Chinese
  • 15.5% were Black or African Canadian
  • 8.3% were Arab & West Asian
  • 8.1% were Filipino
  • 6% were Latin American

While labour participation rates in the economy are more or less equal for racialized and non-racialized individuals, racialized men are 24% more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized men. Racialized women are 48% more likely to be unemployed than non-racialized women (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). Moreover, racialized Canadians earned only 81.4% of the income that non-racialized Canadians earn because they tend to find work in insecure, temporary, and low paying jobs like call centres, security services, and janitorial services (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). Those identifying as Chinese earned 88.6% of the income of non-racialized Canadians; South Asians 83.3%; and Koreans, Latin Americans, and West Asians approximately 70% (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). According to Block and Galabuzi, these inequalities in income are not simply the effect of the time it takes immigrants to integrate into the society and economy. Table 11.2 (below) shows how the income inequality between racialized and non-racialized individuals remains substantial even into the third generation of immigrants.

Table 11.2. Average Employment Income for Racialized and Non-Racialized Canadians by Generation in 2005 (Table courtesy of Block & Galabuzi, 2011/CCPA)

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Generation Racialized Non-racialized Differential (%)
Men Women Men Women Men Women
1st Generation $45,388 $32,165 $66,078 $39,264 68.7% 81.9%
2nd Generation $57,237 $42,804 $75,729 $46,391 75.6% 92.3%
3rd or more Generation $66,137 $44,460 $70,962 $44,810 93.2% 99.2%

Source: Statistics Canada – 2006 Census. Catalogue Number 97-563-XCB2006060

11.3 Theories of Race and Ethnicity

Theoretical Perspectives

Issues of race and ethnicity can be observed through three major sociological perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. As you read through these theories, ask yourself which one makes the most sense, and why. Is more than one theory needed to explain racism, prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination?


In the view of functionalism, racial and ethnic inequalities must have served an important function in order to exist as long as they have. This concept, of course, is problematic. How can racism and discrimination contribute positively to society? Sociologists who adhere to the functionalist view argue that racism and discrimination do contribute positively, but only to the dominant group. Historically, it has indeed served dominant groups well to discriminate against subordinate groups. Slavery, of course, was beneficial to slaveholders. Holding racist views can benefit those who want to deny rights and privileges to people they view as inferior to them, but over time, racism harms society. Outcomes of race-based disenfranchisement — such as poverty levels, crime rates, and discrepancies in employment and education opportunities — illustrate the long-term (and clearly negative) results of slavery and racism in Canadian society.

Apart from the issues of race, ethnicity, and social inequality, the close ties of ethnic and racial membership can be seen to serve some positive functions even if they lead to the formation of ethnic and racial enclaves or ghettos. The close ties promote group cohesion, which can have economic benefits especially for immigrants who can use community contacts to pursue employment. They can also have political benefits in the form of political mobilization for recognition, services, or resources by different communities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Aboriginal residential school survivors or the policy of multiculturalism are examples. Finally, the close ties of racial or ethnic groups also provide cultural familiarity and emotional support for individuals who might otherwise feel alienated by or discriminated against by the dominant society.

Critical Sociology

Critical sociological theories are often applied to inequalities of gender, social class, education, race, and ethnicity. A critical sociology perspective of Canadian history would examine the numerous past and current struggles between the Anglo-Saxon ruling class and racial and ethnic minorities, noting specific conflicts that have arisen when the dominant group perceived a threat from the minority group. Modern Canada itself can in fact be described as a product of internal colonialism. While Canada was originally a colony itself, the product of external colonialism, first by the French and then the English, it also adopted colonial techniques internally as it became an independent nation state. Internal colonialism refers to the process of uneven regional development by which a dominant group establishes its control over existing populations within a country. Typically it works by maintaining segregation among the colonized, which enables different geographical distributions of people, different wage levels, and different occupational concentrations to form based on race or ethnicity.

For critical sociology, addressing the issues that arise when race and ethnicity become the basis of social inequality is a central focus of any emancipatory project. They are often complex problems, however. Feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (b. 1948) developed intersection theory, which suggests we cannot separate the effects of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other attributes (1990). When we examine race and how it can bring us both advantages and disadvantages, it is important to acknowledge that the way we experience race is shaped, for example, by our gender and class. Multiple layers of disadvantage intersect to create the way we experience race. For example, if we want to understand prejudice, we must understand that the prejudice focused on a white woman because of her gender is very different from the layered prejudice focused on a poor Asian woman, who is affected by stereotypes related to being poor, being a woman, and being part of a visible minority.

Symbolic Interactionism

For symbolic interactionists, race and ethnicity provide strong symbols as sources of identity. In fact, some interactionists propose that the symbols of race, not race itself, are what lead to racism. Famed interactionist Herbert Blumer (1900-1987) suggested that racial prejudice is formed through interactions between members of the dominant group: without these interactions, individuals in the dominant group would not hold racist views. These interactions contribute to an abstract picture of the subordinate group that allows the dominant group to support its view of the subordinate group, thus maintaining the status quo. An example of this might be an individual whose beliefs about a particular group are based on images conveyed in popular media. These beliefs are unquestioned because the individual has never personally met a member of that group.

A culture of prejudice refers to the idea that prejudice is embedded in our culture. We grow up surrounded by images of stereotypes and casual expressions of racism and prejudice. Consider the casually racist imagery on grocery store shelves or the stereotypes that fill popular movies and advertisements. It is easy to see how someone living in Canada, who may know no Mexican Americans personally, might gain a stereotyped impression from such sources as the Speedy Gonzales cartoon character, Taco Time fast-food restaurants, or Hollywood movies. Because we are all exposed to these images and thoughts, it is impossible to know to what extent they have influenced our thought processes.

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity

Throughout Western history intergroup relations (relationships between different groups of people) have been subject to different strategies for the management of diversity. The problem of management arises when differences between different peoples are regarded as so insurmountable that it is believed they cannot easily coincide or cohabit with one another. A strategy for the management of diversity refers to the systematic methods used to resolve conflicts, or potential conflicts, between groups that arise based on perceived differences. How can the unity of the self-group or political community be attained in the face of the divisive presence of non-selves or others? As Richard Day (b. 1964) describes it, the template for the problem of diversity was laid down at least as early as the works of the ancient Greeks Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle: “the division of human individuals into groupable ‘types,’ the arrangement of these types into a hierarchy, the naming of some types as presenting a ‘problem,’ and the attempt to provide ‘solutions’ to the problem so constructed” (2000, p. 7). The solutions proposed to intergroup relations have ranged along a spectrum between tolerance and intolerance. The most tolerant form of intergroup relations is multiculturalism, in which cultural distinctions are made between groups, but the groups are regarded to have equal standing in society. At the other end of the continuum are assimilation, expulsion, and even genocide — stark examples of intolerant intergroup relations.


Genocide, the deliberate annihilation of a targeted (usually subordinate) group, is the most toxic intergroup relationship. Historically, we can see that genocide has included both the intent to exterminate a group and the function of exterminating of a group, intentional or not.

Possibly the most well-known case of genocide is Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people in the first part of the 20th century. Also known as the Holocaust, the explicit goal of Hitler’s “Final Solution” was the eradication of European Jewry, as well as the decimation of other minority groups such as Catholics, people with disabilities, and homosexuals. With forced emigration, concentration camps, and mass executions in gas chambers, Hitler’s Nazi regime was responsible for the deaths of 12 million people, 6 million of whom were Jewish. Hitler’s intent was clear, and the high Jewish death toll certainly indicates that Hitler and his regime committed genocide. But how do we understand genocide that is not so overt and deliberate?

Figure 11.6. Portrait of Demasduit in 1819, a Beothuk woman captured and renamed “Mary March” by her captors. Demasduit died of tuberculosis in 1820. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

During the European colonization of North America, some historians estimate that Aboriginal populations dwindled from approximately 12 million people in the year 1500 to barely 237,000 by the year 1900 (Lewy, 2004). European settlers coerced Aboriginal people off their own lands, often causing thousands of deaths in forced removals, such as occurred in the Cherokee or Potawatomi Trail of Tears in the United States. Settlers also enslaved Aboriginal people and forced them to give up their religious and cultural practices. But the major cause of Aboriginal death was neither slavery nor war nor forced removal: it was the introduction of European diseases and Aboriginal people’s lack of immunity to them. Smallpox, diphtheria, and measles flourished among North American Aboriginal peoples, who had no exposure to the diseases and no ability to fight them. Quite simply, these diseases decimated them. How planned this genocide was remains a topic of contention. Some argue that the spread of disease was an unintended effect of conquest, while others believe it was intentional with rumours of smallpox-infected blankets being distributed as “gifts” to Aboriginal communities.

Importantly, genocide is not a just a historical concept, but one practised today. Recently, ethnic and geographic conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. As part of an ongoing land conflict, the Sudanese government and their state-sponsored Janjaweed militia have led a campaign of killing, forced displacement, and systematic rape of Darfuri people. A treaty was signed in 2011.


Expulsion refers to a dominant group forcing a subordinate group to leave a certain area or country. As seen in the examples of the Beothuk and the Holocaust, expulsion can be a factor in genocide. However, it can also stand on its own as a destructive group interaction. Expulsion has often occurred historically with an ethnic or racial basis. The Great Expulsion of the French-speaking Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British beginning in 1755 is perhaps the most notorious case of the use of expulsion to manage the problem of diversity in Canada. The British conquest of Acadia (which included contemporary Nova Scotia and parts of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine) in 1710 created the problem of what to do with the French colonists who had been living there for 80 years. In the end, approximately three-quarters of the Acadian population were rounded up by British soldiers and loaded onto boats without regard for keeping families together. Many of them ended up in Spanish Louisiana where they formed the basis of contemporary Cajun culture.

On the West Coast, the War Measures Act was used in 1942 after the Japanese government’s attack on Pearl Harbor to designate Japanese Canadians as enemy aliens and intern them in camps in the Slocan Valley in British Columbia, in southern Alberta, and elsewhere in Canada. Their property and possessions were sold to pay for their forced removal and internment. Over 22,000 Japanese Canadians (14,000 of whom were born in Canada) were held in these camps between 1941 and 1949, despite the fact that the RCMP and the Department of National Defence reported there was no evidence of collusion or espionage. In fact, many Japanese Canadians demonstrated their loyalty to Canada by serving in the Canadian military during the war. This was the largest mass movement of people in Canadian history. At the end of World War II, Japanese Canadians were obliged to settle east of the Rocky Mountains or face deportation to Japan. This ban only ended after 1949, four years after the war’s end. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney issued a formal apology for this expulsion, and compensation of $21,000 was paid to each surviving internee.


Segregation refers to the physical separation of two groups, particularly in residence, but also in workplace and social functions. It is important to distinguish between de jure segregation (segregation that is enforced by law) and de facto segregation (segregation that occurs without laws but because of other factors). A stark example of de jure segregation is the apartheid movement of South Africa, which existed from 1948 to 1994. Under apartheid, black South Africans were stripped of their civil rights and forcibly relocated to areas that segregated them physically from their white compatriots. Only after decades of degradation, violent uprisings, and international advocacy was apartheid finally abolished.

De jure segregation occurred in the United States for many years after the Civil War. During this time, many former Confederate states passed “Jim Crow” laws that required segregated facilities for blacks and whites. These laws were codified in 1896’s landmark Supreme Court case Plessey v. Ferguson, which stated that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. For the next five decades, blacks were subjected to legalized discrimination, forced to live, work, and go to school in separate — but unequal — facilities. It wasn’t until 1954 and the Brown v. Board of Education case that the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” thus ending de jure segregation in the United States.

The store front of a billiard hall called, "Rex Billiard Hall for Colored"
Figure 11.7. In the “Jim Crow” South, it was legal to have “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

De jure segregation was also a factor in Canada’s development. Although slavery ended in Canada in 1834, when Britain abolished slavery throughout the empire, the approximately 60,000 blacks who arrived with the British Empire Loyalists following the American Revolution and through the “Underground Railroad” up until the end of the American Civil War, were subject to discrimination and differential treatment. Legislation in Ontario and Nova Scotia created racially segregated schools, while de facto segregation of blacks was practised in the workplace, restaurants, hotels, theatres, and swimming pools. Similarly, segregating laws were passed in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario preventing Chinese- and Japanese-owned restaurants and laundries from hiring white women out of concern that the women would be corrupted (Mosher, 1998). The reserve system created through the treaty process with First Nations peoples can also be regarded as a form of de jure segregation. As was the case in the United States, de jure segregation (with the exception of the reserve system) was largely eliminated in Canada by the 1950s and 1960s.

De facto segregation, however, cannot be abolished by any court mandate. Segregation has existed throughout Canada, with different racial or ethnic groups often segregated by neighbourhood, borough, or parish. Various Chinatowns or Japantowns developed in Canadian cities in the 19th and 20th centuries. The community of Africville was a residentially and socially segregated black enclave in Halifax established by escaped American slaves. As noted at the beginning of the chapter, some urban neighbourhoods like Richmond, Surrey, and Markham are home to high concentrations of Chinese and South Asians.

Sociologists use segregation indices to measure racial segregation of different races in different areas. The indices employ a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is the most integrated and 100 is the least. In Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, these indices were relatively high (2001 data) for visible minorities as a whole — over 40 — and higher for Chinese and South Asians — over 50 (Walks & Bourne, 2006).  This means that 40% of either visible minorities or whites, 50% of Chinese and South Asians or whites, would have to move in order for each neighbourhood to have the same racial balance as the whole metro region. However, these indices are much lower than those observed in the United States for black populations. In the New York metropolitan area, for instance, the black-white segregation index was 79 for the years 2005–2009. This means that 79% of either blacks or whites would have to move in order for each neighbourhood to have the same racial balance as the whole metro region (Population Studies Center, 2010).


Assimilation describes the process by which a minority individual or group gives up its own identity by taking on the characteristics of the dominant culture. In Canada, assimilation was the policy adopted by the government with the Indian Act, which attempted to integrate the Aboriginal population by Europeanizing them. Assimilation was also the policy for absorbing immigrants from different lands through the function of immigration.

Figure 11.8. Government advertisement in 1907 to encourage immigration and settlement of the western provinces. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Canada is a settler nation. With the exception of Aboriginal Canadians, all Canadians have immigrant ancestors. In the 20th century, there were three waves of immigration to Canada (Li, 1996). During the wheat boom from 1900 to the beginning of World War I, Canada recruited almost 3 million settlers from various parts of Europe, although many subsequently emigrated to the United States. For the two decades following World War II, another 3 million immigrants arrived (96% from Europe between 1946 and 1954, and 83% from Europe between 1954 and 1967). As we saw at the beginning of the chapter, the third wave of immigration following the change of the race-based immigration policy saw increasingly larger proportions of immigrants from non-European countries. Most immigrants are eventually absorbed into Canadian culture, although sometimes after facing extended periods of prejudice and discrimination. Assimilation means the loss of the minority group’s cultural identity as ithe people in that group become absorbed into the dominant culture, while there is minimal to no impact on the majority group’s cultural identity.

Some assimilated groups may keep only symbolic gestures of their original ethnicity. For instance, many Irish Canadians may celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, many Hindu Canadians enjoy the Diwali festival, and many Chinese Canadians may celebrate Chinese New Year. However, for the rest of the year, other aspects of their originating culture may be forgotten.

Assimilation is antithetical to the “cultural mosaic” model understood by Canadian multiculturalism; rather than maintaining their own cultural flavour, subordinate cultures give up their own traditions in order to conform to their new environment. Cultural differences are erased. It is sometimes understood as the American “melting pot” model, although ideally the “melting pot” sees the combination of cultures resulting in a new culture entirely. Sociologists measure the degree to which immigrants have assimilated to a new culture with four benchmarks: socioeconomic status, spatial concentration, language assimilation, and intermarriage. When faced with racial and ethnic discrimination, it can be difficult for new immigrants to fully assimilate. Language assimilation, in particular, can be a formidable barrier, limiting employment and educational options and therefore constraining growth in socioeconomic status.


In the government document, Multiculturalism: Being Canadian, multiculturalism is defined as “the recognition of the cultural and racial diversity of Canada and of the equality of Canadians of all origins” (as cited in Day, 2000, p. 6). It is represented in Canada by the metaphor of the mosaic, which suggests that in a multicultural society each ethnic or racial group preserves its unique cultural traits while together contributing to national unity. Each culture is equally important within the mosaic. There is a great mixture of different cultures where each culture retains its own identity and yet adds to the colour of the whole. The ideal of multiculturalism is characterized by mutual respect on the part of all cultures, both dominant and subordinate, creating a polyethnic environment of mutual tolerance and acceptance.

Figure 11.9. The Monument to Multiculturalism (1985) by Francesco Pirelli, in front of Union Station, Toronto (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As a strategy for managing diversity, Canada was the first country to adopt an official multicultural policy. In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau implemented both a policy of official bilingualism (both French and English would be the languages of the state) and a policy of multiculturalism. The multicultural policy was designed to assist the different cultural groups in Canada to preserve their heritage, overcome cultural barriers to participation in Canadian society, and exchange with other cultural groups in order to contribute to national unity (Ujimoto, 2000). Critics argue that Trudeau’s motives were more oriented to undermining the Québécois separatist movement and winning the votes of urban ethnic communities than distributing more power to ethnic communities (Li, 1996). However, as a result of this policy initiative, multiculturalism was enshrined in the Canadian Constitution in 1982 and in the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 as a fundamental principle of Canadian society. The result is a mechanism, stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that obliges Canadian law and federal institutions to operate “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (as cited in Li, 1996, p. 132).

Whereas constitutional democracies like Canada are typically based on the protection of individual rights, multiculturalism implies that the protection of cultural difference also depends on protecting group-specific rights or group-differentiated rights (i.e., rights conferred on individuals by virtue of their membership in a group). Kymlicka notes that there are three different ways that the principle of multicultural group-specific rights can be conceived: (1) as self-government rights in which culturally distinct nations within a society attain some degree of political autonomy and self-determination to ensure their survival and development as unique peoples; (2) as polyethnic rights in which culturally distinct groups are able to express their particular cultural beliefs and practices without being discriminated against, and (3) as special representation rights in which the systematic underrepresentation of minorities in the political process is addressed by some form of proportional representation (e.g., reserving a certain number of parliamentary seats for specific ethnic minorities or language groups) (1995). While multicultural policy in Canada has generally been implemented on the basis of polyethnic rights, self-government rights have been a key part of First Nations’ claims and special representation rights have also occasionally been proposed, as was the case during the Charlottetown Accord debate in 1992.

While the outcome of Canadian multicultural policy has been the establishment of a generally accepted norm in which no culture takes precedence over any other in Canadian society, at least not in official practice, and all Canadians are recognized as “full and equal participants in Canadian society” (as stated in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988), there have been a number of flashpoints in which the viability of the policy has been called into question. The case of whether Sikhs in the RCMP should be allowed to wear dastaar while in uniform was an early example. Although it seems trivial today, in 1990 many felt that the right of Sikhs to maintain their religious practice undermined a core and inviolable tradition of both the police force and Canada. As such, the case served as an emblem of a deeper fear about multiculturalism, namely that it would foster a dangerous fragmentation of an already fragile Canadian unity. In particular, new non-European immigrants were seen by some as too different and their demands for accommodation too disruptive to “Canadian” values  and practices to sustain. Of course, similar claims about the unassimilable differences of  immigrants from Ireland, eastern Europe, and southern Europe were made in earlier waves of immigration. More recently a similar issue played out with respect to the Parti Québécois’ Quebec Charter of Values, which sought to secularize government institutions by removing visible symbols of religious practice like the Sikh dastaar, Muslim hijab, or Jewish kippah from public service.

While the positive outcome of the multicultural policy is that the Canadian population remains remarkably accepting of diversity — the most accepting of all OECD countries in 2011 according to the Gallup World Poll (Conference Board of Canada, 2013) — issues around multiculturalism continually bring up the problem of ethical relativism, the idea that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal value. In a fully multicultural society, what principles can be appealed to in order to resolve issues where different cultural beliefs or practices clash? Richard Day has argued that rather than resolving the problem of diversity, official multiculturalism has exacerbated it. “Far from achieving its goal, this state sponsored attempt to design a unified nation has paradoxically led to an increase in both the number of minority identities and in the amount of effort required to ‘manage’ them” (2000, p.3).


Hybridity is the process by which different racial and ethnic groups combine to create new or emergent cultural forms of life. Rather than a multicultural mosaic, where each culture preserves its unique traditions, or a melting pot, where cultures assimilate into the majority group, the hybrid combination of cultures results in a new culture entirely. The post-colonialist theorist Homi Bhabha (b. 1949) suggested that the mingling of formerly fixed cultural identities “open[s] up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (1994, p. 4). The contemporary cultures of the Caribbean, for example, is a mixture of European colonization, African roots, and “New World” setting that defies the imposition of a single cultural identity. Those things that are regarded as essentially Caribbean like the accents, racial blendings, religious beliefs, spicy cuisines, and music have thoroughly diverse origins while being continuously reinvented (Hall, 1990).

As we noted earlier in this chapter, intermarriage between people of different races or cultures creates new hybrid identities. The Métis were Canada’s original hybrid culture (Day, 2000). More recently, Canadian culture has been home to numerous emergent cultural forms, some superficial and some profound, due to the intermingling of people from diverse backgrounds. From fusion cuisine to martial arts and yoga, from hip hop to reggae, and including alternative spiritual and healing practices hybridity seems to capture some of the fluidity of contemporary Canadian culture. As the category of multiple ethnic origins by which people identify themselves grows, it is possible that the distinctions between ethnicities or between races that supported the “us versus them” narratives of earlier forms of racism and ethnocentrism might disappear all by themselves (Day, 2000).

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada

When colonists came to the New World, they found a land that did not need “discovering” since it was already occupied. While the first wave of immigrants came from western Europe, eventually the bulk of people entering North America were from northern Europe, then eastern Europe, then Latin America and Asia. And let us not forget the forced immigration of African slaves. Most of these groups underwent a period of disenfranchisement in which they were relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy before they managed (those who could) to achieve social mobility. Today, our society is multicultural, although the extent to which this multiculturality is embraced varies, and the many manifestations of multiculturalism carry significant political repercussions. The sections below describe how several groups became part of Canadian society, discuss the history of intergroup relations for each group, and assess each group’s status today.

Aboriginal Canadians

The only non-immigrant ethnic group in Canada, Aboriginal Canadians were once a large population, but by 2011 they made up only 4.3% of the Canadian populace (Statistics Canada, 2013).

Making Connections: Social Policy and Debate

Sports Teams with Indigenous Names

The left image shows an Inuit person. The right image shows two football teams faceing off.
Figure 11.10. Many people believe sports teams with names like the Eskimos, Indians, Braves, and Warriors perpetuate unwelcome stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples. (Photo (left) courtesy of born1945/Flickr; Photo (right) courtesy of Daniel Paquet/Flickr)

The sports world abounds with team names like the Eskimos, Indians, Warriors, Braves, and even Savages and Redskins. These names arise from historically prejudiced views of Aboriginal people as fierce, brave, and strong savages: attributes that would be beneficial to a sports team, but are not necessarily beneficial to North Americans who should be seen as more than just fierce savages.

Speaking with regard to the Edmonton Eskimos football team, Natan Obed of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (the national Inuit organization) argues that the term “Eskimo” is derogatory and represents a legacy of colonialism and disrespect.” If I was called an Eskimo or introduced as an Eskimo by anyone else, I would be offended by that…. It is something that was acceptable at one time but now just isn’t…. It’s time for the team to change its name. And it’s time also for all sports teams to change their names if they continue to use Indigenous people as their mascots” (CBC, 2015).

Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has been campaigning against the use of such mascots, asserting that the “warrior savage myth … reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture” (NCAI Resolution #TUL-05-087, 2005). The campaign has met with only limited success. While some teams have changed their names, hundreds of professional, college, and K–12 school teams still have names derived from this stereotype. Another group, American Indian Cultural Support (AICS) is especially concerned with such names at K–12 schools, grades where children should be gaining a fuller and more realistic understanding of Aboriginal people than such stereotypes supply (2005).

What do you think about such names? Should they be allowed or banned? What argument would a symbolic interactionist make on this topic?

How and Why They Came

The earliest humans in Canada arrived millennia before European immigrants. Dates of the migration are debated with estimates ranging from between 45,000 and 12,000 BCE. It is thought that people migrated to this new land from Asia in search of big game to hunt, which they found in huge herds of grazing herbivores in the Americas. Over the centuries and then the millennia, Aboriginal cultures blossomed into an intricate web of hundreds of interconnected groups, each with its own customs, traditions, languages, and religions.

History of Intergroup Relations

Figure 11.11. Elders and Aboriginal soldiers in the uniform of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I. Seated in the middle is W. M. Graham, an ambitious official in the Department of Indian Affairs, whose career was focused on preventing Canadian Indians from “regressing” to their old, traditions. To his mind ceremonial dancing was an unmitigated evil that only “demoralized the Indians” (Titley, 1983). (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/Wikimedia Commons).

Aboriginal cultures prior to European settlement are referred to as pre-contact or pre-Columbian: that is, prior to the coming of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Mistakenly believing that he had landed in the East Indies, Columbus named the Indigenous people “Indians:” a name that has persisted for centuries despite it being a geographical misnomer used to homogenously label over 500 distinct groups who have their own languages and traditions.

The history of intergroup relations between European colonists and Aboriginal peoples is a brutal one that most Canadians are familiar with. As discussed in the section on genocide, the effect of European settlement was to nearly destroy the Aboriginal population. And although Aboriginal people’s lack of immunity to European diseases caused the most deaths, overt mistreatment by Europeans was equally devastating.

The history of Aboriginal relations with Europeans in Canada since the 16th century can be described in four stages (Patterson, 1972). In the first stage, the relationship was largely mutually beneficial and profitable as the Europeans relied on Aboriginal groups for knowledge, food, and supplies, whereas the Aboriginals traded for European technologies. In the second stage, however, Aboriginal people were increasingly drawn into the European-centred economy, coming to rely on fur trading for their livelihood rather than their own indigenous economic activity. This resulted in diminishing autonomy and increasing subjugation economically, militarily, politically, and religiously. In the third stage, the reserve system was established, clearing the way for full-scale European colonization, resource exploitation, agriculture, and settlement. If Aboriginal people tried to retain their stewardship of the land, Europeans fought them off with superior weapons. A key element of this issue is the Aboriginal view of land and land ownership. Most First Nations cultures considered the Earth a living entity whose resources they were stewards of; the concepts of land ownership and conquest did not exist in Aboriginal societies. The last stage of the relationship developed after World War II, when Aboriginal Canadians began to mobilize politically to challenge the conditions of oppression and forced assimilation they had been subjected to. In this stage, Aboriginal people developed political organizations and turned to the courts to fight for treaty rights and self-government.

A key turning point in Aboriginal-European relations was the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which established British rule over the former French colonies, but also established that lands would be set aside for First Nations people. It legally established that First Nations had sovereign rights to their territory. Although these were often disputed, challenged, or ignored by the arriving waves of colonists, land speculators, and subsequent government administrations, they became the basis of contemporary treaty rights and negotiations.

The Indian Act of 1876 was another turning point. The Act attempted to codify and formalize the provisions of the Royal Proclamation and all other accumulated acts of government with respect to First Nations along the lines of a paternalistic “civilizing policy.” The care of the Aboriginal population was placed under the control of the federal government until they were assimilated into European culture. In effect, discrimination against Aboriginal Canadians was institutionalized in a series of provisions intended to subjugate them and keep them from gaining any power. The belief was that a separate act to govern Aboriginal peoples would no longer be necessary once they had integrated into society. As the deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs said in 1920, “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department” (as cited in Leslie, 1978, p. 114). Nevertheless the Indian Act became the most pervasive mechanism in Aboriginal life, regulating and controlling everything from who could be defined as an Indian, to the reserve and band council system, to the types of Aboriginal activities that would no longer be permitted (e.g., potlatch and ceremonial dancing).

Some of the most impactful provisions of the Indian Act (and its subsequent amendments) were:

  • The prohibition against owning, acquiring, or “pre-empting” land
  • The dismantling of traditional institutions of Aboriginal government and the banning of ceremonial practices
  • The imposition of the band council system, which was foreign to Aboriginal tradition and powerless to make meaningful decisions without approval of the Department of Indian Affairs
  • Denial of the power to allocate funds and resources
  • The prohibition against hiring lawyers or seeking legal redress in pursuing land claims
  • The denial of the right to vote municipally (until 1948), provincially (until 1949), and federally (until 1960) (Mathias & Yabsley, 1991)

Aboriginal Canadian culture was further eroded by the establishment of residential schools in the late 19th century, as we saw earlier in this chapter. These schools, run by both Christian missionaries and the Canadian government, also had the express purpose of “civilizing” Aboriginal Canadian children and assimilating them into European society. The residential schools were located off-reserve to ensure that children were separated from their families and culture. Schools forced children to cut their hair, speak English or French, and practise Christianity. Education in the schools was substandard, and physical and sexual abuses were rampant for decades; only in 1996 did the last of the residential schools close. Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered an apology on behalf of the Canadian government in 2008. Many of the problems that Indigenous Canadians face today result from almost a century of traumatizing mistreatment at these residential schools.

Current Status

The eradication of Aboriginal Canadian culture continued until the 1960s, when First Nations began to mobilize politically and intensify their demands for Aboriginal rights. The Liberal government’s White Paper of 1969 became a focus of Aboriginal protest as it proposed to eliminate the Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs, and the concept of Aboriginal rights altogether. First Nations people would be treated just like everyone else, as if the sovereign treaties and centuries of oppression had not occurred. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared, “No society can be built on historical might-have-beens” (as cited in Weaver, 1981, p. 55). By the time of the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982, the government’s position had reversed and the status of Indians, Inuit, and Métis were recognized, as were existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. The 1996 Nisga’a Treaty of the Nisga’a people of the Nass Valley in northern British Columbia is the first modern treaty in British Columbia. The comprehensive treaty provisions for the Nisga’a’s right to self-government and authority over lands and resources serve as a new model for First Nations–Crown relations in Canada.

However, First Nations people still suffer the effects of centuries of degradation. As noted earlier in the chapter, the income of Aboriginal people in Canada is far lower than that of non-Aboriginal people and rates of child poverty are much greater. Even though the last residential school closed in 1996, the problem of Aboriginal education remains grave with 40% of all Aboriginal people failing to complete high school. Long-term poverty, inadequate education, cultural dislocation, and high rates of unemployment contribute to Aboriginal Canadian populations falling to the bottom of the economic spectrum. Aboriginal Canadians also suffer disproportionately with lower life expectancies than most groups in Canada.

The Québécois

Modern Canada was founded on the displacement of the Aboriginal population by two colonizing nations: the French and the British. The French and the British were the two “charter groups” of Confederation and the British North America Act. The Constitution Act of 1867 protected the linguistic, religious, and educational of the French and English in Quebec and Ontario, as well as the rest of the country. However, the French were both colonized by the English and were a numerically smaller group, leading to a relationship of inequality that has been a prominent issue throughout Canada’s history. Due to their linguistic and cultural isolation in English speaking North America, the Québécois — descendants of the original settlers from France — developed a unique identity, which became the basis of nationalist and sovereigntist aspirations during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

How and Why They Came

French colonists began to settle New France after Jacques Cartier’s exploration of the St. Lawrence River in 1534. Permanent French settlements were established in Port Royal, Acadia (now Nova Scotia) in 1605, and Quebec City in 1608. By the time of the British conquest of Acadia in 1710 and the defeat of Montcalm’s army in Quebec in 1760, there were approximately 60,000 French settlers. Most of the settlers could trace their origins to the northwest of France, particularly present-day Normandy. One estimate suggests that the Québécois descend from only 5,800 original immigrants from France who arrived between 1608 and 1760 (Marquis, 1923).  The economy of New France was based on agriculture and the fur trade, but with the arrival of the British and especially the British Loyalists escaping the American Revolution in 1776, a pattern of British economic and financial domination emerged.

History of Intergroup Relations

The establishment of British rule in Canada was accomplished by conquest; that is, the forcible subjugation of territory and people by military action. Port Royal was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 and Quebec and Montreal in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. As we noted earlier, after attempts at assimilating the French population, the conquest of Port Royal and Acadia led eventually to the Great Expulsion of 1755, in which a large portion of the Acadian French population was deported from Nova Scotia. However, from the time of the Treaty of Paris onward, the British recognized the need to accommodate the French in Canada to avoid the problem of pacifying a large and hostile population. The Quebec Act of 1774 granted religious and linguistic rights to the French, and the Constitution Act of 1791 divided the province of Canada into Upper and Lower Canada, each with the power of self-government. The division of Canada into two founding charter groups — French and English — was further established by Confederation. The Constitution Act of 1867 protected the religious, educational, and linguistic rights of the French and English in Canada. In addition, civil law in Quebec continued to be based on the French Napoleonic Code of 1804: the Civil Code of Lower Canada (1866).

Despite the notion of equality behind the two-founding-nations theme of Canadian Confederation, English-speaking Canadians in Montreal held the positions of power in the economy. English was the language of commerce in Quebec.  The French-speaking population in Quebec were largely rural, agricultural, and dominated by the Catholic Church until the mid-20th century. Although the Québécois achieved status as a new middle class of lawyers, doctors, administrators, politicians, scientists, and intellectuals, they were effectively barred from the upper echelons of the stratified system. English and French tended to live in what Canadian author Hugh MacLennan famously called “two solitudes.” This ethnic stratification system began to be challenged during the period of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s when the control of the Catholic Church was challenged in the spheres of education, health, and welfare, and the long-standing reactionary Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis was defeated by Jean Lesage’s Liberals. In the process of modernizing the state to address the new conditions of industrialization, urbanization, and continental capitalism, the Quebec independence movement emerged alongside an increasingly militant labour movement.

To address the emerging crisis of Canadian unity, the federal government appointed the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963. True to its name, the commission tried to address the grievances of the Québécois solely as cultural and linguistic matters. The report of the commission emphasized ways in which the equality of the two founding peoples could be recognized and led to the Official Languages Act of 1969. The Act recognized French and English as the two official languages in Canada and mandated that federal government services and the judicial system would be conducted in both languages. However, when a small terrorist group — the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) — kidnapped a provincial government minister and a British diplomat in 1970, the response of the federal government was to implement the War Measures Act, suspending the rights of Canadians from coast to coast and arresting and detaining hundreds of individuals without legal due process. The notion of equal partnership between French and English Canada was proven to be questionable at best.

A crowd of people stand in front of a stage. Many hold Quebec flags in the air.
Figure 11.12. St. Jean Baptiste Day, La Fête Nationale, celebrated in Quebec on June 24. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

In 1976, the Parti Québécois was elected as an explicitly separatist political party. It failed to get sufficient votes to separate in the provincial referendum on sovereignty in 1980, but the move to repatriate the constitution from Great Britain without the consent of Quebec in 1982 fuelled nationalist sentiment. Subsequent attempts to include Quebec as a voluntary signatory to the constitution failed in 1987 (the Meech Lake Accord) and 1992 (the Charlottetown Accord). Many people in Quebec regarded these failures as rejection of Quebec by the English majority in other parts of the country. In 1995 a second referendum on Quebec sovereignty was a narrowly defeated by a vote of 50.5% to 49.5%. The history of intergroup relations between the French and English in Canada on the model of equal partnership has therefore proven to be a tenuous experiment in dual nationhood.

Current Status

A major component of the grievances between the French and English in Canada has been the social inequality of the French and English and the threat to Québécois linguistic and cultural survival. Income data from 1991 indicated that the income disparity between French and English Canadians both within and outside the province of Quebec had more or less disappeared, suggesting that the issues of intergroup relations had shifted to political, linguistic, and cultural alienation in Canada (Li, 1996).

Bill 101 or the Charter of the French Language was passed in 1977 in Quebec to protect the French language in Quebec. It defines French as the official language of Quebec, limits the use of English in commercial signs, and restricts who may enroll in English schools. Although it remains controversial, it appears to have been somewhat effective in preserving the French language. Linguistically, there were 7 million people who reported speaking French most often at home in 2011 compared to 6.7 million in 2006, although this represented a decline from 21.4% to 21% of the total population of Canada. (This is much lower than the 28 to 30% of population who claimed French origin in the first half of the 20th century, however). In Quebec, 75.1% of the population spoke only French at home in 2006 compared to 72.8% in 2011. This decline was paralleled by the decline in the proportion of the population who spoke only English at home in the rest of Canada from 77.1% to 74.1% between 2006 and 2011 (due to immigration). On the other hand, the number of people reporting that they were able to conduct conversation in both French and English increased by 350,000 to 5.8 million people in 2011. Bilingualism was reported by 17.5% of the population, albeit largely in Quebec. In Quebec, 42.6% of people reported being able to conduct conversation in both English and French (Statistics Canada, 2012).

Black Canadians

As discussed in the section on race, the term “black Canadian” is usually preferred to the term African Canadian. Many people with dark skin in Canada have roots in the Caribbean rather than being descendants of the African slaves from the United States. They see themselves ethnically as Caribbean Canadians. Further, actual immigrants from Africa may feel that they have more of a claim to the term “African Canadian” than those who are many generations removed from ancestors who originally came to this country. The commonality of black Canadians is more a function of racism rather than origin.

How and Why They Came

The first black Canadians were slaves brought to Canada by the French in the 17th century. It is reported that at least 6 of the 16 legislators in English Upper Canada also owned slaves (Mosher, 1998). The economic conditions in Canada were not conducive to slavery so the practice was not widespread. Nevertheless, it was not until 1834 that slavery was banned throughout the British Empire, including Canada. Canada became the terminus of the famous Underground Railroad, a secret network organized by American abolitionists to transport escaped slaves to freedom. Between the American Revolution in 1776 and the end of the American Civil War in 1865, Canada received approximately 60,000 runaway slaves and black Empire Loyalists from the United States. It is estimated that 10% of the Empire Loyalists who came to Canada following the American Revolution were black (Walker, 1980). Many black Canadians returned to the United States after the Civil War, and by 1911 there were only about 17,000 left in Canada (Mosher, 1998).

After the change in immigration policy in the late 1960s, blacks from the Caribbean and elsewhere began to immigrate to Canada in increasing numbers. Prior to 1971, Canadians of black origin made up less than 1% of the population (Li, 1996). In the 2011 census, they made up 2.9% of the population and 15.1% of all visible minorities in the country; 42% of blacks lived in Toronto and 22.9% in Montreal (making them the largest visible minority group in Montreal) (Statistics Canada, 2013). Blacks with origins in the Caribbean make up the largest proportion of black Canadians with nearly 40% having Jamaican heritage and an additional 32% having heritage elsewhere in the Caribbean (Statistics Canada, 2007). Many Caribbean people come to Canada as part of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program or as domestic workers with temporary work permits, although the permanent Caribbean community in Canada has more or less the same higher education attainments and full-time employment rates as the rest of the population.

More recently, there has been an increase in immigration of Somalis from Africa as people fled conflict in the area. In the 2011 census, 4.4% of the black population in Canada claimed Somali origin (Statistics Canada, 2013). Between 1988 and 1996, more than 55,000 Somali refugees arrived in Canada, representing the largest black immigrant group ever to come to Canada in such a short time (Abdulle, 1999).

History of Intergroup Relations

Although slavery became in illegal in Canada in 1834, blacks did not effectively enjoy equal rights in Canada. Blacks had the same legal status as whites in Canada, but strongly held prejudices and informal practices of segregation lead to pervasive discrimination against the escaping slaves and black Empire Loyalists in the 19th century. Blacks could vote and sit on juries, but these rights were frequently challenged by white citizens. As noted earlier in this chapter, Ontario (outside of Toronto) and Nova Scotia enacted laws to segregate schools along racial lines that remained in effect until 1965 in Ontario and 1983 in Nova Scotia (Black History Canada, 2014).

Blacks were also segregated into residential neighbourhoods in Toronto, Hamilton, and Windsor (Mosher 1998). In Halifax, the community of Africville was set aside for blacks as early as 1749, although most accounts place its establishment to the arrival of black Loyalists after the War of 1812. It was considered a slum by city councillors and was bulldozed between 1965 and 1970 without meaningful consultation with its residents.

Blacks were also restricted by the type of occupations they could pursue. The employment of blacks through the first half of the 20th century was typically limited to being domestic workers or railroad porters. For example, the father of Oscar Peterson, the famous jazz pianist, was a Canadian Pacific railroad porter in Montreal, while his mother was employed as a domestic worker (Library and Archives Canada, 2001). Otherwise, for most of the 20th century, black Canadians were mostly employed in low-pay service jobs or as unskilled labour.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
Figure 11.13. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The story of a large group of black immigrants who arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, from San Francisco in the 1850s, illustrates some of the ambiguities of the early black experience in Canada. The blacks were initially welcomed to the British colony by Governor Douglas, who assured them they would have full civic rights. Douglas and others were worried that the immigration of white Americans to Vancouver Island might lead to annexation by the United States and the arrival of several hundred black immigrants would help to prevent that eventuality. There was also need for an industrious and reliable workforce and by 1858 the black immigrants were fully employed. In 1859, an all-black Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company was formed to fight in the “Pig War” dispute with the United States over the San Juan Islands. The de facto leader of the black immigrant group, Mifflin Gibbs (1823-1915), was a successful shopkeeper and prominent member of the community. He won a seat on city council in the wealthiest ward of the city, James Bay, and acted as temporary mayor for a time. He was also the Salt Spring Island representative to the Yale Convention where British Columbia’s terms for joining Confederation were drawn up.

On the other hand, tensions and discrimination began to develop between the black and white communities. Schools were integrated and only one church was segregated. However a dispute over black voting led to a racist campaign by future premier Amor de Cosmos. Blacks began to be denied access to some saloons and desired seating in theatres. An incident in 1860 involving a brawl that began when two blacks were denied their legitimate entry into Victoria’s Colonial Theatre generated newspaper accounts that blamed the blacks for causing trouble. As influential as Gibbs was, he was denied tickets to the retirement banquet of Governor Douglas, who had originally been a great supporter of the black immigrants. By the time Gibbs returned to the United States in 1870, the end of slavery after the U.S. Civil War had already led to many of the black community leaving Victoria. Without Gibbs’s presence, the black community declined even further and eventually disappeared (Ruttan, 2014).

Current Status

Although formalized discrimination against black Canadians has been outlawed, in many respects true equality does not yet exist. The 2006 census shows that black Canadians earned 75.6 cents for every dollar a white worker earned in Canada, or $9,101 less per year. In 2006, 24% of black individuals in families and 54% of single black individuals lived in poverty (compared to 6.4% of individuals in white families and approximately 26% of single white individuals) (Block & Galabuzi, 2011). In addition blacks are subject to greater degrees of racial profiling than other groups. Racial profiling refers to the practice of selecting specific racial groups for greater levels of criminal justice surveillance. Despite police denials, Wortley and Tanner’s study confirms black complaints in Toronto that they are more frequently stopped, questioned, and searched by the police for “driving while being black” violations than other groups (2004).

Asian Canadians

Figure 11.14. A Chinese head tax receipt for $500 issued on August 2, 1918. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Like many groups this section discusses, Asian Canadians represent a great diversity of cultures and backgrounds. The national and ethnic diversity of Asian Canadian immigration history is reflected in the variety of their experiences in joining Canadian society. Asian immigrants have come to Canada in waves, at different times, and for different reasons. The experience of a Japanese Canadian whose family has been in Canada for five generations will be drastically different from a Laotian Canadian who has only been in Canada for a few years. This section primarily discusses the experience of Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian immigrants.

How and Why They Came

The first Asian immigrants to come to Canada in the mid-19th century were Chinese. These immigrants were primarily men whose intention was to work for several years in order to earn incomes to support their families in China. Their first destination was the Fraser Canyon for the gold rush in 1858. Many of these Chinese came north from California. The second major wave of Chinese immigration arrived for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway when contractors recruited thousands of workers from Taiwan and Guandong Province in China. Chinese labourers were paid approximately a third of what white, black, and Aboriginal workers were paid. Even so, they were used to complete the most difficult sections of track through the rugged Fraser Valley Canyon, living under squalid and dangerous conditions; 600 Chinese workers died during the construction of the rail line. Chinese men also engaged in other manual labour like mining, laundry, cooking, canning, and agricultural work. The work was gruelling and underpaid, but like many immigrants they persevered (Chan, 2013).

A black and white photo taken from above shows many small houses in a mountain valley
Figure 11.15. Japanese internment camp in British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jack Long)

Japanese immigration began in 1887 with the arrival of the first Japanese settler, Manzo Nagano. The Issei (first wave of Japanese immigrants) were, like the first Chinese immigrants, mostly men. They came from fishing and farming backgrounds in the southern Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu. They settled in Japantowns in Victoria and Vancouver, as well as in the Fraser Valley and small towns along the Pacific coast where they worked mostly in fishing, farming, and logging. Like the Chinese settlers, they were paid much less than workers from European backgrounds and were usually hired for menial labour or heavy agricultural work. With restrictions imposed on the immigration of Japanese men after 1907, most of the early Japanese immigrants after 1907 were women, either the wives of Japanese immigrants or women betrothed to be married (Sunahara & Oikawa, 2011).

South Asians refer to a diverse group of people with different ethnic backgrounds in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The first South Asians in Canada were Sikhs whose origins were in the Punjab region of India. The first group of Sikhs arrived in Vancouver in 1904 from Hong Kong, attracted by stories of high wages from British Indian troops who had travelled through Canada the previous year (Buchignani, 2010). They were encouraged by Hong Kong–based agents of the Canadian Pacific Railway who had seen travel on their passenger liners plummet with the head tax imposed on Chinese immigration. Most of the first Sikhs in Canada arrived via Hong Kong or Malaysia, where the British had typically employed them as policemen, watchmen, and caretakers. They were originally from rural areas of Punjab and mortgaged their properties for passage with the prospect of sending money home. Many arrived in Canada unable to speak English but eventually found employment in mills, factories, the railway, and Okanagan orchards (Johnston, 1989). By 1908 there were over 5,000 South Asians in British Columbia, 90% of them Sikh. Many of them settled in Abbotsford (Buchignani, 2010).

History of Intergroup Relations

Asian Canadians were subject to particularly harsh racism in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries. Based on orientalist stereotypes, they were not considered “suitable” for Canadian citizenship. The 1902 Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration declared that the Japanese and Chinese were “unfit for full citizenship. They are so nearly allied to a servile class that they are obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state” (CBC, 2001). The  right of Asians  to vote, own property, and seek employment, as well as their ability to immigrate and integrate into Canadian society were therefore severely restricted. The right to vote federally and provincially was denied to Chinese Canadians in 1874, Japanese Canadians in 1895, and South Asians in 1907. This disenfranchisement also prevented these groups from having access to political office, jury duty, the professions like law, civil service jobs, underground mining jobs, and labour on public works because these all required being on provincial voters lists. Voting rights were only returned to Chinese and South Asian Canadians in 1947 and to Japanese Canadians in 1949, whereas immigration restrictions were not removed until the 1960s.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the immigration of Chinese workers to Canada, especially during the final stages of the building of Canadian Pacific Railway, led to increasing numbers of single Chinese men in the country who sought to bring their wives to join them. The imposition of “head taxes” of $50 in 1885 and $500 in 1903 were attempts to restrict Chinese immigration. As the Chinese workers were typically paid much lower wages than workers of European origin, various Asian exclusion leagues developed to press for further restrictions on Asian immigration. This led to riots in Vancouver in 1907 and eventually in 1923 to a complete ban on Chinese immigration.

For similar reasons, the immigration of Japanese men was restricted to 400 a year after 1907, and further reduced to 150 individuals a year after 1928. Their success in the fishing industry led the federal fisheries department to arbitrarily reduce Japanese trolling licences by one-third in 1922. They, like the Chinese, were also subject to “yellow peril” hysteria. When the Japanese, many veterans of the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, successfully defended their community against white supremacist mobs in the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver, they were accused of smuggling a secret army into Canada (Sunahara & Oikawa, 2011). An even uglier action was the establishment of Japanese internment camps of World War II, discussed earlier as an illustration of expulsion.

People board an already crowded ship.
Figure 11.16. South Asians aboard the Komagata Maru in English Bay, Vancouver, in 1914. (Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/Wikimedia Commons).

Of the three groups, South Asians were the most recent to arrive. However, by 1908 the large number of arrivals led to the imposition of immigration restrictions. As the South Asians were British subjects, the restrictions took a more devious form, however. Immigrants from South Asia were obliged to possess at least $200 on arrival (very challenging considering that in British India they might be able to earn 10 to 20 cents a day), and they had to arrive in Canada by continuous passage from India. The government then put pressure on steamship companies not to sell direct through-passage  tickets from Indian ports. The famous incident of the freighter Komagata Maru in 1914 was a direct consequence of this restriction. The ship, carrying 376 South Asian immigrants, many of whom had boarded in Hong Kong, was prevented from docking and kept in isolation in Vancouver harbour for two months until forced to return to Asia. Only 20 of the 376 passengers were allowed to stay in Canada (Johnston, 1989).

Current Status

Asian Canadians certainly have been subject to their share of racial prejudice, despite their seemingly positive stereotype today as the model minority. The model minority stereotype is applied to a minority group that is seen as reaching significant educational, professional, and socioeconomic levels without challenging the existing establishment. In the 2006 census, those identifying as Japanese earned 120% of the income of white Canadians, Chinese 88.6%, and South Asians 83.3% (Block & Galabuzi, 2011).

This stereotype is typically applied to Asian groups in Canada, and it can result in unrealistic expectations, putting a stigma on members of this group that do not meet the expectations. Stereotyping all Asians as smart, industrious, and capable can also lead to a lack of much-needed government assistance and to educational and professional discrimination. Some critics speak of a “bamboo ceiling” when it comes to Asians reaching the highest echelons of corporate success. It has been difficult for Asian Canadians to overcome the stereotypes that they are passive, lack communication skills, are “techies,” or not “real” Canadians.

Key Terms

assimilation: The process by which a minority individual or group takes on the characteristics of the dominant culture.

conquest: The forcible subjugation of territory and people by military action.

culture of prejudice: The theory that prejudice is embedded in our culture.

discrimination: Prejudiced action against a group of people.

dominant: Can be used interchangeably with the term majority.

dominant group: A group of people who have more power in a society than any of the subordinate groups.

ethical relativism: The idea that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal value.

ethnicity: Shared culture, which may include heritage, language, religion, and more.

exogamy: Refers to marriage outside of the group (community, tribe, etc.).

expulsion: When a dominant group forces a subordinate group to leave a certain area or the country.

genocide: The deliberate annihilation of a targeted (usually subordinate) group.

group-specific rights: Rights conferred on individuals by virtue of their membership in a group.

hybridity: The process by which different racial and ethnic groups combine to create new or emergent cultural forms and practices.

institutional racism: When a societal system has developed with an embedded disenfranchisement of a group.

internal colonialism: The process of uneven regional development by which a dominant group establishes control over existing populations within a country by maintaining segregation of ethnic and racial groups.

intersection theory: Theory that suggests we cannot separate the effects of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other attributes.

minority group: Any group of people who are singled out from others for differential and unequal treatment.

miscegenation: The blending of different racialized groups through sexual relations, procreation, marriage, or cohabitation.

model minority: The stereotype applied to a minority group that is seen as reaching higher educational, professional, and socioeconomic levels without protest against the majority establishment.

multiculturalism: The recognition of cultural and racial diversity and of the equality of different cultures.

prejudice: Biased thought based on flawed assumptions about a group of people.

racial profiling: The selection of individuals for greater surveillance, policing, or treatment on the basis of racialized characteristics.

racial steering: When real estate agents direct prospective homeowners toward or away from certain neighbourhoods based on their race.

racialization: The social process by which certain social groups are marked for unequal treatment based on perceived physiological differences.

racism: A set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices used to justify the belief that one racial category is somehow superior or inferior to others.

scapegoat theory: A theory stating that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group.

segregation: The physical separation of two groups, particularly in residence, but also in workplace and social functions.

settler society: A society historically based on colonization through foreign settlement and displacement of Aboriginal inhabitants.

stereotypes: Oversimplified ideas about groups of people.

strategy for the management of diversity: The systematic methods used to resolve conflicts, or potential conflicts, between groups that arise based on perceived differences.

subordinate: Can be used interchangeably with the term minority.

subordinate group: A group of people who have less power than the dominant group.

white privilege: The benefits people receive simply by being part of the dominant group.

visible minority: Persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.

Section Summary

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
Race is fundamentally a social construct. Ethnicity is a term that describes shared culture and national origin. Minority groups are defined by their lack of power.

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people. Prejudice refers to thoughts and feelings, while discrimination refers to actions. Racism refers to the belief that one race is inherently superior or inferior to other races.

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity
Functionalist views of race study the role dominant and subordinate groups play to create a stable social structure. Critical sociologists examine power disparities and struggles between various racial and ethnic groups. Interactionists see race and ethnicity as important sources of individual identity and social symbolism. The concept of culture of prejudice recognizes that all people are subject to stereotypes that are ingrained in their culture.

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity
Intergroup relations range from a tolerant approach of pluralism to intolerance as severe as genocide. In pluralism, groups retain their own identity. In assimilation, groups conform to the identity of the dominant group. In assimilation, groups combine to form a new group identity.

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada
The history of the Canadian people contains an infinite variety of experiences that sociologists understand follow patterns. From the Aboriginal people who first inhabited these lands to the waves of immigrants over the past 500 years, migration is an experience with many shared characteristics. Most groups have experienced various degrees of prejudice and discrimination as they have gone through the process of assimilation.

Section Quiz

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
1. The racial term “black Canadian” can refer to _______________________________.

  1. A black person living in Canada
  2. People whose ancestors came to Canada through the slave trade
  3. A white person who originated in Africa and now lives in Canada
  4. Any of the above

2. What is the one defining feature of a minority group?

  1. Self-definition
  2. Numerical minority
  3. Lack of power
  4. Strong cultural identity

3. Ethnicity describes shared _____________.

  1. Beliefs
  2. Language
  3. Religion
  4. Any of the above

4. Which of the following is an example of a numerical majority being treated as a subordinate group?

  1. Jewish people in Germany
  2. Creoles in New Orleans
  3. White people in Brazil
  4. Blacks under apartheid in South Africa

5. Scapegoat theory shows that _______________________________.

  1. Subordinate groups blame dominant groups for their problems
  2. Dominant groups blame subordinate groups for their problems
  3. Some people are predisposed to prejudice
  4. All of the above

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
6. Stereotypes can be based on _______.

  1. Race
  2. Ethnicity
  3. Gender
  4. All of the above

7. What is discrimination?

  1. Biased thoughts against an individual or group
  2. Biased actions against an individual or group
  3. Belief that a race different from yours is inferior
  4. Another word for stereotyping

8. Which of the following is the best explanation of racism as a social fact?

  1. It needs to be eradicated by laws.
  2. It is like a magic pill.
  3. It does not need the actions of individuals to continue.
  4. None of the above

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity
9. As a Caucasian in Canada, being reasonably sure that you will be dealing with authority figures of the same race as you is a result of ___________________.

  1. Intersection theory
  2. Conflict theory
  3. White privilege
  4. Multiculturalism

10. The Speedy Gonzales cartoon character is an example of __________________.

  1. Intersection theory
  2. Stereotyping
  3. Interactionist view
  4. Culture of prejudice

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity
11. Which intergroup relation displays the least tolerance?

  1. Segregation
  2. Assimilation
  3. Genocide
  4. Expulsion

12. What doctrine justified legal segregation in the American South?

  1. Jim Crow
  2. Plessey v. Ferguson
  3. De jure
  4. Separate but equal

13. What intergroup relationship is represented by the “mosaic” metaphor?

  1. Assimilation
  2. Pluralism
  3. Expulsion
  4. Segregation

14. Assimilation is represented by the _____________ metaphor.

  1. Melting pot
  2. Mosaic
  3. Salad bowl
  4. Separate but equal

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada
15. What makes aboriginal Canadians unique as a subordinate group in Canada?

  1. They are the only group that experienced expulsion.
  2. They are the only group that was segregated.
  3. They are the only group that was enslaved.
  4. They are the only group that did not come here as immigrants.

16. Which subordinate group is often referred to as the “model minority?”

  1. Black Canadians
  2. Asian Canadians
  3. White ethnic Canadians
  4. First Nations

17. Which federal act or program was designed to address Québécois nationalism?

  1. Official Languages Act
  2. The Treaty of Utrecht
  3. The Multiculturalism Act
  4. The repatriation of the Constitution

18. The Komagata Maru incident affected which visible minority?

  1. Métis
  2. Japanese
  3. South Asians
  4. Chinese

19. Which of the following groups is not considered a visible minority in Canada?

  1. The Issei
  2. Somali Canadians
  3. Sikhs
  4. Aboriginal Canadians

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups

  1. Why do you think the term “minority” has persisted when the word “subordinate” is more descriptive?
  2. How do you describe your ethnicity? Do you include your family’s country of origin? Do you consider yourself multiethnic? How does your ethnicity compare to that of the people you spend most of your time with?

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination

  1. How does racial stereotyping contribute to institutionalized racism?
  2. Give an example of stereotyping that you see in everyday life. Explain what would need to happen for this to be eliminated.

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity

  1. Give three examples of white privilege. Do you know people who have experienced this? From what perspective?
  2. What is the worst example of intersection theory you can think of? What are your reasons for thinking it is the worst?

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity

  1. Do you believe immigration laws should foster an approach of pluralism, assimilation, or amalgamation? Which perspective do you think is most supported by current Canadian immigration policies?
  2. Which intergroup relation do you think is the most beneficial to the subordinate group? To society as a whole? Why?

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada

  1. In your opinion, which group had the easiest time coming to this country? Which group had the hardest time? Why?
  2. Which group has made the most socioeconomic gains? Why do you think that group has had more success than others?

Further Research

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
Explore aspects of race and ethnicity at PBS’s site, “What Is Race?”:

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
How far should multicultural rights extend? Read more about multiculturalism in a world perspective at the Multiculturalism Policies in Contemporary Democracies website:

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity
Do you know someone who practises white privilege? Do you practise it? Explore the concept with this white privilege checklist [PDF] to see how much of it holds true for you or others:

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity
So you think you know your own assumptions? Check and find out with the Implicit Association Test:

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada
Are people interested in reclaiming their ethnic identities? Read this article and decide: “The White Ethnic Revival”:


11. Introduction
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Statistics Canada. (2013). Immigration and ethnocultural diversity in Canada: National household survey, 2011 [PDF] (Statistics Canada catalogue no. 99-010-X2011001). Retrieved from

Li, P. (1996). The making of post-war Canada. Toronto, ON: Oxford.

11.1. Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
Dollard, J., Miller, N. E., Doob, L. W., Mowrer, O. H., & Sears, R. R. (1939). Frustration and aggression. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Milan, A.,  Maheux, H., & Chui, T. (2010, April 20). A portrait of couples in mixed unions. Canadian social trends, 89 (Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008-X). Retrieved from

Purich, D. (1988). The Métis. Toronto, ON: James Larimer & Co.

Statistics Canada. (2010, March 9). Study: Projections of the diversity of the Canadian population. The Daily. Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (2011). 2011 national household survey: Data tables. (Statistics Canada catalogue no. 99-010-X2011028). Retrieved from

Thompson, D. (2009). Racial ideas and gendered intimacies: The regulation of interracial relationships in North America. Social and Legal Studies, 18(3), 353-371.

Wagley, C., & Harris, M. (1958). Minorities in the New World: Six case studies. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Wirth, L. (1945). The problem of minority groups. In R. Linton (Ed.), The science of man in the world crisis (p. 347). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Hacker, H. M. (1951). Women as a minority group. Social Forces, 30. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2011). Elder maltreatment. Fact Sheet N-357. Retrieved from

11.2. Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
Backhouse, C. (1994, Fall). Racial segregation in Canadian legal history: Viola Desmond’s challenge, Nova Scotia, 1946. Dalhousie Law Journal, 17(2), 299-362.

Block, S., & Galabuzi, G.-E. (2011). Canada’s colour coded labour market: The gap for racialized workers. [PDF] Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. (2010). Staying in school: Engaging Aboriginal students [PDF]. Retrieved from

Durkheim, É. (1982). The rules of the sociological method (W. D. Halls, Trans). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1895).

Hudson, D. L., Jr. (2009, October 16). Students lose Confederate-flag purse case in 5th Circuit. First Amendment Center. Retrieved from

Macdonald, D., & Wilson, D. (2013, June). Poverty or prosperity: Indigenous children in Canada. [PFD] Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In, White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2012). Canada, Aboriginal peoples, and residential schools: They came for the children. [PDF] Retrieved from

Wilson, D., & Macdonald, D. (2010). The income gap between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada. [PDF} Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

Wingrove, J., & Mackrael, K. (2012, June 25). Why so many Somali-Canadians who go west end up dead. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

11.3. Theories of Race and Ethnicity
Collins, P. H. (1990). Distinguishing features of black feminist thought. London, UK: Routledge.

11.4. Intergroup Relations and the Management of Diversity
Bhabha, H. (1994). The location of culture. London, UK: Routledge.

Conference Board of Canada. (2013). How Canada performs: International rankings: Acceptance of diversity. Retrieved from

Day, R. (2000). Multiculturalism and the history of Canadian diversity. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Hall, S. (1990). Identity: Community, culture, difference. London, UK: Lawrence & Wishart.

Kymlicka, W. (1995). Multicultural citizenship. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Lewy, G. (2004, September). Were American Indians the victims of genocide? History News Network. Retrieved from

Li, P. (1996). The making of post-war Canada. Toronto, ON: Oxford.

Mosher, C. (1998). Discrimination and denial: Systemic racism in Ontario’s legal and criminal justice systems, 1892-1961. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Population Studies Center. (2010). New racial segregation measures for states and large metropolitan areas: Analysis of the 2005–2009 American community survey. Retrieved from

Ujimoto, K. V. (2000). Multiculturalism, ethnic identity, and inequality. In B. Singh Bolaria (Ed.), Social issues and contradictions in Canadian society (pp. 228-246). Scarborough, ON: Nelson.

Walks, R. A., & Bourne, L. (2006). Ghettos in Canada’s cities? Racial segregation, ethnic enclaves and poverty concentration in Canadian urban areas. Canadian Geographer, 50(3), 273–297.

11.5. Race and Ethnicity in Canada
Abdulle, M. (1999). Somali immigrants in Ottawa: The causes of their migration and the challenges of resettling in Canada. (Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Ottawa). Retrieved from

American Indian Cultural Support. (2005). Mascots: Racism in schools by state. Retrieved from

Black History Canada. (2014). End of segregation in Canada. Historica Canada. Retrieved from

Block, S., & Galabuzi, G.-E. (2011, March). Canada’s colour coded labour market: The gap for racialized workers. [PDF] Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

Buchignani, N. (2010, May 12). South Asian Canadians. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

CBC. (2001). A land of many cultures: Legacy of hate. Canada: A People’s History. Retrieved from

CBC. (2015, November 29). Edmonton Eskimos must change offensive name, Inuit leader says. CBC News. Retrieved from

Chan, A. B. (2013, July 30). Chinese Canadians. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Johnston, H. (1989). The voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh challenge to Canada’s colour bar. Vancouver, BC: UBC.

Li, P. (1996). The making of post-war Canada. Toronto, ON: Oxford Press.

Leslie, J. (1978). The historical development of the Indian Act (2nd ed.). Ottawa, ON: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Library and Archives Canada. (2001, March 31). Oscar Peterson: A jazz sensation. Retrieved from

Library and Archives Canada. (2008, January 2). Africville: A community displaced. Retrieved from

Marger, M. (2003). Race and ethnic relations: American and global perspectives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Marquis, G. E. (1923). The French Canadians in the province of Quebec. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 107(May), 7-12.

Massey, D. S. (2006, August 20). Seeing Mexican immigration clearly. Cato Unbound. Retrieved from

Mosher, C. (1998). Discrimination and denial: Systemic racism in Ontario’s legal and criminal justice systems, 1892-1961. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Mathias, J., & Yabsley, G. (1991, Spring). Conspiracy of legislation: The suppression of Indian rights in Canada. BC Studies, 89, 34-45.

Myers, J. P. (2007). Dominant-minority relations in America. Boston, MA: Pearson.

National Congress of American Indians. (2005). The National Congress of American Indians resolution #TUL-05-087: Support for NCAA ban on “Indian” mascots [PDF]. Retrieved from

Patterson, P. E. (1972). The Canadian Indian: A history since 1500. Toronto, ON: Collier-Macmillan.

Ruttan, S. (2014). Vancouver Island scoundrels, eccentrics and originals: Tales from the library vault. Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions.

Arizona Legis. S. Senate Bill 1070. An Act amending Title 11, Chapter 7, Arizona revised statues…. relating to unlawfully present aliens [PDF]. 49 Legis. 2nd Reg. Sess. (2010). Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (2007, August). The Caribbean community in Canada. (Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-621-XWE). Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (2012). Linguistic characteristics of Canadians [PDF]. (Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-314-X2011001). Retrieved from

Statistics Canada. (2013). Immigration and ethnocultural diversity in Canada: National household survey, 2011 [PDF]. (Statistics Canada catalogue no. 99-010-X2011001). Retrieved from

Sunahara, A., & Oikawa, M. (2011, January 31). Japanese CanadiansThe Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Titley, B. (1983). W. M. Graham: Indian agent extraordinaire. Prairie Forum, 8(1), 25-41.

Walker, J. (1980). The history of blacks in Canada: A study guide for teachers and students. Ottawa, ON: Minister of State for Multiculturalism.

Weaver, S. (1981). Making Canadian Indian policy: The hidden agenda 1968-1970. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Wortley, S., & Tanner, J. (2004). Racial profiling in Canada: Survey evidence from Toronto. The Canadian Review of Policing Research, 1(1), 24-36.

Solutions to Section Quiz

1 D, | 2 C, | 3 D, | 4 D, | 5 B, | 6 D, | 7 B, | 8 C, | 9 C, | 10 B, | 11 C, | 12 D, | 13 B, | 14 A, | 15 D, | 16 B, | 17 A, | 18 C, | 19 D, [Return to quiz]

Image Attributions

Figure 11.1. Baltej Singh Dhillon by Gurumustuk Singh( used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (

Figure 11.3. Louis Riel ( is in the public domain (

Figure 11.4. Class of Mi’kmaq (Micmac) girls taken in the Shubenacadie Residential School, Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, 1929 by LibraryArchives ( used under CC BY 2.0 license (

Figure 11.5. Marijuana Shop by Eric Parker ( used under CC BY-NC 2.0 license (

Table 11.2. Average Employment Income in Block and Galabuzi, 2011 [PDF] ( used under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 licence (

Figure 11.6. A female Red Indian of Newfoundland by Philip Henry Gosse ( is in the public domain (

Figure 11.8. The last best west by The Globe — Toronto ( is in the public domain

Figure 11.9. Reach Toronto by Paul ( used under CC BY 2.0 license (

Figure 11.10. (Left). Eskimo Woman Ice Fishing from born1945 ( used under CC BY 2.0 license (

Figure 11.10. (Right). IMG_2988 by Daniel Paquet ( used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license (

Figure 11.11. Elders and Indian soldiers in the uniform of the Canadian Expeditionary Force by Canada. Dept. of the Interior ( is in the public domain (

Figure 11.12. First Nations CEF Soldiers ( is in the public domain (

Figure 11.13. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs ( is in public domain

Figure 11.14. Chinese Head Tax Receipt

Figure 11.15. Japanese internment camp in British Columbia by Jack Long ( is in public domain.

Figure 11.16. Komogata Maru ( is in the public domain (


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Introduction to Sociology - 2nd Canadian Edition Copyright © 2016 by William Little is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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