MONTREAL - A new study suggests Canadians have grown more tolerant of the country's immigration levels — even as the number of newcomers has increased over the years.
A poll of 2,020 people, taken for the Institute For Research on Public Policy, found that 58 per cent of Canadians surveyed last year supported the country's level of immigration.
The findings also suggest that Canadians have had positive views of immigration levels for more than a decade.
The results tell a contrary story to one occasionally found in news headlines that suggest Canadians might be increasingly fed up with accommodating newcomers.
There were actually two prominent news stories Monday in Quebec related to disputes over minority accommodations.
Talk TV was exercised over a report on a Montreal-area municipality's decision to remove Christmas and Hanukkah decorations at city hall. A community group had requested to have Islamic symbols erected as well, and the Town of Mount Royal responded by taking down symbols from all religions, save for a Christmas tree.
There was also a report on the city of Gatineau's immigrant guide book, asking newcomers not to take part in honour killings or cook smelly foods.
But the research director for IRPP's diversity, immigration and integration program said while disputes make flashy headlines, they overshadow the many positive stories of integration that are never told.
"We think sometimes these debates are kind of tough in Canada and things are getting worse — but we're in a lot better shape, in all kinds of ways, than a lot of other countries," Leslie Seidle said Monday in Montreal.
"Contrary to many other countries, particularly in western Europe, we have a strong majority who think that the level of immigration we have right now is about right."
The IRPP study cited a 2010 survey that found close to 60 per cent of people in the United Kingdom thought there were too many immigrants in their country. By comparison, less than 20 per cent of Canadians felt the same way.
In the poll taken by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Canadians were also found to be more tolerant of immigrants than people in Italy, Spain, the U.S., France, Netherlands and Germany.
But Canadians' views toward immigrants haven't always been as welcoming.
The study by IRPP, a non-partisan, Montreal-based public policy think-tank, suggests there was a shift in public opinion about a decade ago.
From the late 1970s until the early 1990s, the majority of Canadians held negative attitudes about the country's immigration levels.
Following a shift in the 1990s, Canadians' view of immigration has been more positive than negative since the latter part of that decade.
The country opened its doors to 280,000 immigrants last year and has accepted more than 200,000 newcomers annually since 2000, according to Citizenship and Immigration Department statistics cited in the study. In the mid 1980s, fewer than 100,000 immigrants per year came to Canada.
The report argued that Canadians who support immigration believe that multiculturalism is a source of national pride and creates economic benefits.
The research also found that attitudes about immigration varied by region, though each area had majority support for existing levels.
The Prairies (62.8 per cent), Atlantic Canada (62.5 per cent) and Quebec (61.8 per cent) scored higher than the Canadian average. The other regions, included British Columbia (57.4 per cent), Alberta (54.4 per cent) and Ontario (53.5 per cent).
Seidle was asked whether he was surprised the study found one of the most pro-immigration areas in Quebec, a province that has been at the centre of heated debate over minority accommodations.
He blamed Quebec media for putting too much emphasis on disputes, such as a request a few years ago by a Montreal Jewish community group that a local YMCA frost its windows.
The group no longer wanted its youth to be able to see people wearing revealing clothes as they exercised inside.
"These stories have been blown up," said Seidle, who, for example, added that little adjustments to accommodate diet, dress and days of religious observance are made in schools throughout Montreal every day.
"But maybe we end up paying too much attention to this kind of stuff because it's got conflict underneath it. "