Canadians not so ‘exceptional’ when it comes to immigration and refugee views, new study finds

February 7, 2017

By David Akin, National Post |

Canadians may not be as tolerant of refugees and immigrants as they might think, a new study concludes.

The study, a project of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), also found that while attitudes among Canadians towards refugees and immigrants range largely from positive to benign, those views are not necessarily strongly held.

Study author Michael Donnelly, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, concludes that, as a result, there is potential for intolerant, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee sentiment to increase.

For the study, Donnelly took recent international public opinion research about immigration and refugees and then designed a Canadian poll in order to compare Canadian attitudes against the country’s peers in the Western developed world.

The poll was conducted by the firm Ipsos which surveyed 1,522 Canadians from January 18-27, well before either Trump announced his controversial immigration and refugee restrictions or before the shooting at the Quebec mosque which killed six Muslim worshippers. Respondents were invited to complete the online survey in either French or English.

The survey found that Canadians have what Donnelly described as an “impressive” knowledge of Canada’s immigration and refugee system and that most are satisfied with Canada’s multiculturalist approach to immigration policy.

And yet, as Donnelly writes in the study, “Whatever is driving Canada’s exceptionally positive history of immigration and integration over the last half century, it does not appear to be an exceptionally tolerant public.”

Indeed, Canada was neither most tolerant nor most intolerant but was around average compare to Europe and the U.S. on issues, for example, of how generous countries ought to be when considering a refugee application or whether immigrants from poor countries ought be accepted.

But any tolerance by Canadians to be more generous towards refugees and immigrants is “soft” in the sense that, as Donnelly argues, there are a great many who could do not have strong opinions one way or the other.

For example, the survey found what Donnelly described as “surprisingly weak” opposition to the idea of stopping all immigration to Canada.

While about 45 per cent of those surveyed would oppose any policy that would end all immigration, just under 20 per cent would support such a policy while nearly 35 per cent said they would neither oppose nor support such a policy.

“These results suggest that a serious anti-immigrant movement is not impossible,” Donnelly wrote.

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