• Research & Reports
November 03, 2021

Race relations in Canada 2021: A survey of Canadian public opinion and experience

New research indicates increased pessimism around race relations progress, despite positive trends toward awareness of systemic racism

TORONTO, November 3, 2021— The results of a nationwide survey conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and the Environics Institute for Survey Research and sponsored by Pfizer Canada, confirm the reality and scope of racism in Canada and its effects on Canada’s racialized population. While most Canadians feel that race relations both in the country and in their local community are generally good, they are less likely to believe this than two years ago. This worsening perspective is most significant for Black Canadians (49% of whom now say race relations are generally good, down 23% from 2019), and just over half of Indigenous Peoples (51%) are least likely to describe race relations in Canada as generally good.

The survey also reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increasing anti-Asian sentiment, with many who are Chinese, South Asian, or with other Asian backgrounds reporting racially-motivated harassment in the form of people acting uncomfortably around them, being subjected to slurs and jokes, and fearing someone might threaten or physically attack them. Some also say other people have gone out of their way to express support since the pandemic began. Such experiences – both positive and negative – are as likely to be reported by Canadians who are Black or First Nations for whom such treatment has been a more persistent experience. Notably, a majority (59%) of Canadians recognize that the pandemic has led to rising discrimination against Chinese people, but fewer believe this has affected those who are South Asian (38%) or East or Southeast Asian (26%).

The Race Relations in Canada 2021 survey is a follow-up to the inaugural Race Relations in Canada survey conducted by CRRF and the Environics Institute in 2019 and documents Canada’s progress on issues related to racial discrimination across the country. This research is the most comprehensive of its type in Canada, and captures the opinions, perceptions, and lived experiences of the country’s major racial-cultural groups and how they are evolving over time.

“We’re honoured to have supported this research by the CRRF, which revealed many important insights about the existing inequities in the treatment of racialized Canadians within the healthcare system,” said Cole C. Pinnow, President, Pfizer Canada. “It is clear that there is much work to be done to address this and we are here to help as partners. At Pfizer, we live by the value of equity, which means that we believe everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and cared for.”

The survey shows that discrimination and mistreatment because of one’s race is a common experience, with one in five Canadians reporting this happens to them regularly or from time to time. Not surprisingly, such experiences are most widely reported by those who are Black (57%) or First Nations (45%), but also among those who are South Asian (48%), Chinese (40%), East or Southeast Asian (40%), Métis (36%), or those with other racialized backgrounds (35%).

Over the past two years, an increasing number see the problem as stemming from systemic inequities in the country’s laws and institutions rather than individual prejudice. As well, there is a growing belief – among both racialized and non-racialized Canadians, that people of colour are treated less fairly in specific settings and circumstances, especially when dealing with the police, but also in the workplace, in the courts, in stores, and restaurants, and when receiving health care services.

“This research documents increasing awareness and acknowledgment of the reality of systemic racism among non-racialized Canadians since 2019,” comments Keith Neuman, the lead researcher at the Environics Institute. “This is a positive development in that meaningful change toward racial equity and justice requires expanding recognition of this reality across the population.”

There are significant gaps when it comes to how police treat one’s own ethnic or racial group. Only one-third of those who are Black (26%) or First Nations (33%) rate police highly on this dimension, compared to non-racialized Canadians (73%). The public is divided on whether police need to do a better job of what they currently do (40%) or require a fundamental change in how they operate (32%), with the latter position most widely voiced by those who are First Nations, Black or South Asian.

“Events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent anti-Asian racism born from it, as well as the global protests spawned from the murder of George Floyd, exposed the long-simmering trauma that many racialized communities have felt for years, and this report confirms that,” said Mohammed Hashim, Executive Director of CRRF. “While increased awareness on the domino effect of systemic racism in Canada is a good thing, the results of this poll show that progress has been slow and that there is much to be done to create systemic reforms to make Canadian communities more equitable for all.”

The 2021 Race Relations in Canada report research consisted of a survey conducted online between May 13 and June 11, 2021, with a sample of 3,698 Canadians ages 18 and over. The sample was stratified to ensure representation by province, age, and gender, and included over-samples of individuals who self-identify as Chinese, Black, South Asian, East or Southeast Asian, or Indigenous (First Nations, Métis or Inuit).

Learn more about the two-year Race-Relations in Canada study

About CRRF:

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation was created in 1996 to reaffirm the principles of justice and equality for all in Canada. The mandate of the Foundation is to facilitate throughout Canada the development, sharing, and application of knowledge and expertise to contribute to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society.

About the Environics Institute:

The Environics Institute for Survey Research was established in 2006 to promote relevant and original public opinion and social research on important issues of public policy and social change. It is through such research that organizations and individuals can better understand Canada today, how it has been changing, and where it may be heading.

About Pfizer:

Pfizer Canada ULC is the Canadian operation of Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies. Our diversified healthcare portfolio includes some of the world’s best-known and most prescribed medicines and vaccines. We apply science and our global resources to improve the health and well-being of Canadians at every stage of life. Our commitment is reflected in everything we do, from our disease awareness initiatives to our community partnerships. 

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