Sociology Index

Visible Minorities

Native Indians, Charter Groups

Visible Minorities are non-whites in Canada who make up a racial formation. In the 19th century, Canada used Asian workers in the development of western Canada, but did not consider them as worthy citizens. Tens of thousands of Chinese workers were brought to Canada to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in years 1881 and 1882.

Later, Chinese were refused entry into Canada, and those already in the country were denied certain political, economic, and mobility rights that other Canadians took for granted.

Japanese Canadians represent another racial formation that Canada treated harshly in the past, especially during World War II when they were removed from their homes, confined in camps, and had their properties confiscated because they were branded as enemy aliens.

The most important factor contributing to the growth of the visible minority in Canada has been immigration. Canada adopted a multiculturalism policy in 1971 and passed the Multiculturalism Act in 1988. In 1986 the Employment Equity Act addressed the employment conditions of disadvantaged groups; it included non-whites who were referred to officially as “visible minorities” among the four target groups. However, the notion of collective rights for the visible minority remains vague in the statutes of Canada.

Census data indicate that most visible-minority members are first-generation immigrants born outside of Canada, in contrast to most European Canadians, who, because of a historical immigration policy favoring their admission, tend to be Canada-born.

Studies of racial inequality suggest that race remains an enduring feature in Canadian society, and that the life chances of visible minorities are often affected by superficial physical features and perceived cultural idiosyncrasies. The laws in Canada do not permit blatant racial discrimination, nor do they condone racism.

However, Frances Henry and colleagues (2006) have shown that racism in Canada is articulated in a subtle and benign fashion in arts, the media, and social institutions in a mode they call democratic racism.