05/11/2016 11:22 EDT | Updated 05/12/2017 05:12 EDT

Immigrants Feel As Canadian As The Rest Of Us

Mark Blinch / Reuters
A young Syrian refugee looks up as her father holds her and a Canadian flag at the as they arrive at Pearson Toronto International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Critics of immigration occasionally suggest that the problem with newcomers is they don't have a strong enough sense of attachment to a country. Some observers insist that Canada's multicultural policies encourage newcomers to maintain their attachment to their countries of origin. This in turn makes it difficult for them to establish a proper connection with Canada. Defenders of this view rarely provide supporting empirical evidence.

On the basis of data from the 2013 General Social Survey of Statistics Canada, in a previous text, I established that Canadians reporting a very strong sense of belonging to "people with [the] same ethnic/cultural background" as themselves also report a strong sense of belonging to Canada.

The same body of data further reveals that immigrants reporting a strong sense of belonging to their country of origin report a stronger sense of belonging to Canada than persons with a weak sense of belonging to their country of origin. Hence it remains unproven that it's only when immigrant ties to their country of origin diminish that there can emerge a meaningful attachment to Canada.

Underlying the assumption that it's with time that newcomers become attached to Canada is the idea that you need to be rooted in the nation, province, city or town to feel a strong connection. Following this logic, an immigrant can't possibly feel a greater sense of belonging than, say, someone born in the country. Yet we know this notion to be untrue in Canada.

French Canadians in Quebec are amongst the most rooted population in the country (some refer to themselves as "with roots"/de souche and/or pure wool/pure laine), but they have a considerably lower sense of attachment to Canada than do most Canadians, including newcomers.

This is explained by the sense of grievance rather than appreciation for Canada that some Quebec francophones have built up over time and that has been transmitted from one generation to the next. Amongst the most rooted population are the country's Indigenous peoples that include several leaders who have expressed a strong sense of grievance regarding their situation in Canada.

Some analysts describe the purported lack of attachment to Canada on the part of newcomers as a problem of immigrant integration. Paradoxically, the most aggrieved Quebec francophones complain that immigrants to the province have too strong a sense of attachment to Canada.

Independent of how long you've lived somewhere it may feel as though you've always belonged there.

Critics of multiculturalism outside of Quebec believe that this undocumented lack of newcomer attachment -- however defined -- is an integration problem. If attachment to Canada is used as integration criteria, for some Quebec observers the newcomers in the province will appear too well integrated!

But contrary to what some Quebecers assume, those immigrants in the province that possess the strongest degree of attachment to Canada also exhibit a strong sense of attachment to Quebec. It might be said they feel at home in the province and the country, and refuse to see a contradiction in this regard.

You don't have to live somewhere for a particularly long period of time to appreciate your home. Independent of how long you've lived somewhere it may feel as though you've always belonged there. Certain immigrants are especially grateful for the opportunity to reside in Canada and this can act as a catalyst for a relatively instant feeling of attachment to the country.

It's quite possible that the strong initial connection to a place can diminish over time if an immigrant's expectations are not met. But the same feeling about the country can apply to someone born here across their life cycle.

The 2013 General Social Survey confirms that there is no difference in the level of attachment to Canada between Canadians aged 15 to 24, whether they are domestic (rooted) or foreign-born (less rooted). Surveys repeatedly reveal that the youngest Canadians have the lowest sense of attachment to Canada, but this grows on many of us as we get older. In sum, it is one's age and not immigrant status that is perhaps the most important predictor of the sense of attachment to country.

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