21.9% of Canadians are immigrants, the highest share in 85 years: StatsCan

Canada is getting more diverse, with a rapidly increasing Indigenous population and more immigrants and visible minorities, according to newly released figures from the 2016 census.

Census 2016 shows more immigrants, visible minorities and Indigenous people

A group of new Canadians takes the citizenship oath during a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last month. Census figures released Wednesday show Canada is getting more diverse. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The share of immigrants in Canada has reached its highest level in almost a century, according to 2016 census figures released Wednesday.

The Statistics Canada data also shows the Indigenous population is growing at more than four times the rate of the non-Indigenous population, reaching nearly 1.7 million in 2016.

These are some of the findings of the latest data set from the 2016 census, focusing on the population related to immigration, ethnocultural diversity, housing and Indigenous people.

The numbers come just days before the annual immigration levels are set to be tabled in the House of Commons by the Liberal government. The levels were set at 300,000 per year in 2017.​

The census figures show 21.9 per cent of Canadians report being or having been an immigrant or permanent resident, nearly matching the high of 22.3 per cent in 1921 and up from 19.8 per cent in 2006. The number was slightly higher than 21.9 per cent in 1931 too.

Statistics Canada estimates immigrants could represent up to 30 per cent of all Canadians by 2036.

The country welcomed 1.2 million new immigrants between 2011 and 2016, with 60.3 per cent of them being admitted as "economic" immigrants — nearly half of those through the skilled workers program.

Immigrants headed West

Immigrants are heading to the Prairies in larger numbers, with increases in the share of new immigrants settling in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. While 39 per cent of new immigrants still head to Ontario, that is down from 55.9 per cent in 2001.

"This isn't just about the economy, but because some provinces are taking advantage of the Provincial and Territorial Nominee Program and using this program to attract immigrants that fit their economic needs," says René Houle, senior analyst with Statistics Canada.

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Urban centres in the Prairies have also welcomed disproportionately large numbers of new immigrants. Nevertheless, 56 per cent of them live in and around Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, while these centres are home to just over one-third of all Canadians.

More than 60 per cent of new immigrants come from Asia (including the Middle East), by far the largest source. Africa, however, has now surpassed Europe as the second-most important source of new immigrants, increasing to 13.4 per cent.

This is largely due to Quebec and its efforts in attracting French-speaking individuals. Nearly half of new immigrants from Africa settled in Quebec.

The largest individual source of new immigrants is the Philippines (15.6 per cent), followed by India (12.1 per cent) and China (10.6). Close to three per cent of new immigrants come from the United States, while Canada's former colonial masters, France and the United Kingdom, combine for four per cent of all new immigrants.

In large part due to the influx of refugees, Syria was the seventh most important source of immigrants. It was ranked 50th in 2011.

7.7 million visible minority population

The census shows 7.7 million Canadians belong to a visible minority, representing 22.3 per cent of the population. That is up from just 4.7 per cent in 1981 and could rise to about one-third by 2036.

South Asians are the largest visible minority group at 25.1 per cent of the total. Another 20.5 per cent of visible minorities are Chinese, while 15.6 per cent are black.

About one-third of Canadians report having at least one ethnic origin from the British Isles and another 13.6 per cent report French descent.

The largest group – 32.3 per cent — reported "Canadian" ethnicity. These tend to be Canadians with European ancestors who have been in the country for many generations, says Houle.

Just over six per cent of the population reported some Indigenous ancestry.

42.5% increase in Indigenous population since 2006

There were 1,673,785 Indigenous Canadians in 2016, representing 4.9 per cent of the country's population. That is an increase of 42.5 per cent since 2006, a rate of growth more than four times that of the non-Indigenous population.

Indigenous Canadians are a young and growing part of the country's population. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Factors behind the pace of growth include greater life expectancy, a higher fertility rate and an increase in the self-reporting of Indigenous identity.

The Indigenous population is young, averaging 32.1 years old — almost a decade younger than non-Indigenous Canadians — and more are living in cities.

The population in large metropolitan centres has grown by nearly 60 per cent since 2006, in part due to the increase in Indigenous self-identification, according to Thomas Anderson, an analyst with Statistics Canada

The Indigenous population "is young and growing, and will continue to grow," he says.

Statistics Canada estimates that on these trends, the Indigenous population could be 2.5 million by 2036.

The proportion of Indigenous people living in housing needing major repairs decreased for every category except for on-reserve status Indians. That share increased slightly by 0.8 points to 44.2 per cent, compared to 19.4 per cent for all Indigenous.

Home ownership stagnant

Among the general population, ownership of homes has slipped marginally over the last decade to 67.8 per cent. It was 68.4 per cent in 2006, but it had increased by nearly six percentage points over the previous 15 years.

The highest rate of home ownership was in Atlantic Canada, where 76.7 per cent of the population owned homes. Quebec was the province with the lowest rate, at 61.3 per cent, while it was just 20 per cent in Nunavut.

Condo towers, including one under construction, right, are seen in downtown Vancouver in August 2017. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The data also shows that millennials are less likely to own homes than their parents were, with fewer 30-year-olds in 2016 owning their homes than in 1981, and more living in apartments.

The data from Wednesday's release was drawn from the mandatory long-form portion of the census that had been ended by the former Conservative government and replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey for the 2011 census. This had been panned by statisticians, demographers and researchers for the unreliability of the data, particularly in small communities.

The mandatory long-form census was reinstituted by the Liberals in time for the 2016 census.

The last results of the census, including data on education, labour, commute to work, the language used at work, and mobility and migration, will be released by Statistics Canada at the end of November.

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