The newest figures from Statistics Canada show that Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Since the 1990s Canada has had its highest proportion of immigrants since 1931, just before the Great Depression hit.

About two million new immigrants moved to Canada in the past decade. The vast majority of them choosing to live in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

But although millions of people from other nations are choosing to make Canada their home, the census shows a marked shift in where immigrants are coming from.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • 18.4 per cent of Canada's population (5.4 million) were born outside Canada;
  • 9.4 per cent of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s can't speak or understand French or English;
  • 73 per cent of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, with only only six per cent choosing to live in areas outside of major urban centres;
  • Of 1.8 million immigrants who arrived between 1991-2001, 58 per cent were from Asia, 20 per cent from Europe, 11 per cent from the Caribbean, Central and South America, eight per cent from Africa and three per cent from the United States;
  • Chinese was the largest visible minority group (3.5 per cent), then South Asian (3.0 per cent), black (2.2 per cent), Filipino (1.0) and Arab-West Asian (1.0);
  • Canadians reported more than 200 different ethnic origins in the 2001 census.

Until the 1960s, almost all of Canada's immigrants came from Europe. After that time, immigration policies were changed to make the country more inviting to people of different ethnic origins.

"Immigration has always played an important role in building Canadian society, and we can see that this trend is continuing," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre said Tuesday.

"The data released today reinforce the emphasis of the 2002 speech from the throne on Canada's openness to immigrants and how this country will continue to be a place where immigrants will find hope, hospitality and opportunity," he said.

Assistant deputy minister of immigration Alfred McLeod says today's reality in cities across Canada proves that social experiment was a success.

"Canada has distinguished itself as a place where people from immensely diverse cultures can come and make new lives for themselves and contribute to the Canadian dream," said McLeod.

But that success doesn't come without a challenge.

Nearly one in five schoolchildren in Vancouver and Toronto have moved to the city in the last 10 years. Many of them speak languages other than French or English at home.

Statistics Canada director general Doug Norris says the new census shows the way services from health care to education must be revisited.

"Delivery of virtually every type of service, I think, needs to take into account that multicultural nature and the changes to that nature that are occurring," he said.

So Norris says the biggest challenge is to address those changes now. Because he says immigration trends are expected to continue for some time, changing the face of Canada and its cities even more

Other highlights:

  • 18.4 per cent of Canada's population (5.4 million) were born outside Canada;
  • 9.4 per cent of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s can't speak or understand French or English;
  • 73 per cent of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, with only only six per cent choosing to live in areas outside of major urban centres;
  • Of 1.8 million immigrants who arrived between 1991-2001, 58 per cent were from Asia, 20 per cent from Europe, 11 per cent from the Caribbean, Central and South America, eight per cent from Africa and three per cent from the United States;
  • Chinese was the largest visible minority group, then South Asian (3.0 per cent), black (2.2 per cent), Filipino (1.0) and Arab-West Asian (1.0);
  • Canadians reported more than 200 different ethnic origins in the 2001 census.