Most Canadians feel immigrants are just as likely to be good citizens as people who were born here, a recent Environics Institute survey suggests.
Canadians also don't appear to have problems with dual citizenship or with Canadian citizens living abroad, according to the telephone survey, which the Environics Institute says is the first poll to directly ask Canadians their views on citizenship.
A group made up of five national organizations – CBC, the Environics Institute, Maytree, The Institute for Canadian Citizenship and the RBC Foundation – commissioned the public opinion poll, which asked over 2,000 Canadians what they think are the characteristics of a good citizen and other questions about citizenship.
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The survey suggests Canadians have a broad, inclusive view of citizenship and see immigrants as their equals: nearly 9 out of every 10 respondents agreed that a person born outside Canada is just as likely to be a good citizen as someone born here.
"There's no real evidence of people feeling threatened or a sense that, 'Well, people can come live here from other countries, but they're not quite the same,'" said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute.
Policies, profits help integration
When it comes to immigration and citizenship, the views of the majority of Canadians born in the country and the 20 per cent born outside it are largely aligned. Canadian-born and foreign-born respondents were equally likely to feel fully like citizens (78 per cent versus 75 per cent).
Usha George, dean of Ryerson University's Faculty of Community Services, says the survey's findings confirm a lot of what those working with new Canadians know already.
The willingness of Canadians to not view a person's foreign background as an impediment to citizenship is a product of the country's multicultural policies and the visible effect of immigrants on the economy, George said.
Integration of immigrants has worked in Canada because the government has funded programs that teach immigrants about Canadian values and society has adapted its institutions to accommodate diversity.
"The mutual recognition that we should be respectful to each other and celebrate diversity in a genuine way, those values permeate the whole society,” said George, whose faculty trains many of those who provide social and other services to new immigrants.
Whatever Canada is doing, it seems to be positively influencing immigrants' views of the country, the survey suggests: 88 per cent of respondents who were born outside Canada said they were very proud to be Canadian, compared with 81 per cent of those born here.
"Canadians who were not born in Canada are more proud than naturally born Canadians simply because we had the choice of being Canadian," said Vikram Kewalramani, who immigrated to Canada in 2006 from India. "It wasn't something that, literally, was a birthright. We consider it a privilege."
For Amal Ibrahim, a Palestinian who became a citizen last year along with her two children, Canadian citizenship is primarily about respecting differences.
"It's a great diverse culture where people learn how to live in harmony with each other while they have different ideas, different religions and different backgrounds," she said.
Tolerance of others who are different was among the top five behaviours survey respondents considered a "very important" part of being a good citizen.