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Last Updated Saturday, May. 19, 2012 1:08AM EDT
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The next generation of Canadians could be comprised of nearly one-third visible minorities according to new projections from Statistics Canada, which also suggest that the majority of immigrants will continue to make their homes in large urban centres.

The federal statistics agency says between 11.4 million and 14.4 million people belonging to a visible minority group will be living in Canada by 2031. If the StatsCan projections are accurate, the population of visible minorities will be at least twice as big as the 5.3 million reported in 2006.

In 1981, only five per cent of the population identified themselves as visible minorities, numbering about one million people at that time. Fifty years later, according to StatsCan, this same group will make up between 29 and 32 per cent of the population.

StatsCan released the figures Tuesday in a report entitled "Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population: 2006 to 2031."

In compiling its figures, the statistics agency uses the federal Employment Equity Act definition of a visible minority, which is "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour."

According to the report, StatsCan expects the following trends in the growth of Canada's visible minority population by 2031:
  1. The South Asian population -- which includes people from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- will remain the country's largest visible minority group, growing to between 3.2 and 4.1 million, up from 1.6 million in 2006
  2. The Chinese population is expected to grow to between 2.4 million and 3.0 million, up from 1.3 million
  3. The West Asian population will likely number some 457,000 to 592, 000 people, up from 164,000 in 2006
  4. The Arab population will triple, or even quadruple, to between 806,000 and 1.1 million, up from 276,000 in 2006
  5. The Black population is likely to double, growing to between 1.6 million and 2.0 million, up from 815,000 in 2006
  6. The Filipino population is also likely to double, growing to between 908,000 and 1.1 million, up from 427,000 in 2006
In terms of geography, StatsCan expects that 71 per cent of visible minorities will be living in the metropolitan areas of Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal in 2031.

But it's not a new trend: From 2001 to 2006, about 1.1 million people immigrated to Canada and 69 per cent of them settled in the same three cities.

Richard Day, a sociology professor at Queen's University, said the numbers are "not a big change at all" when you consider the fact that immigration continues to take place in the big cities and not in small-town Canada.

Jeffrey Reitz, a professor of ethnic and immigration studies at the University of Toronto, said it is typical for larger cities to see the development of large ethnic communities, especially when they offer better job opportunities for residents.

"(They) become kind of magnets in themselves for people of similar backgrounds," Reitz told The Canadian Press.

"The existence of the communities in the cities sort of tends to become a self-perpetuating process."

Day said the same phenomenon can be seen in Bangkok, in a section of the Thai capital where many white ex-pats tend to live.

"Everybody goes where they think they will feel most comfortable," Day told in a brief telephone interview from his home.

Day said one major concern is how long it will take for visible minorities to feel comfortable in all parts of Canada -- and for the same Canadians to gain power and political influence outside of urban centres. But he is not optimistic that it will happen any time soon.

Lynn Moran, a member of a B.C. umbrella group, said it is possible immigrants may spread out to all parts of the country as communities become increasingly aware of the importance and influence of new Canadians.

"I see the gap as definitely narrowing," Moran said.

"A lot of smaller communities are becoming more aware that they really need immigrants to come and settle in their community."

Reitz said Canadians are largely of the mindset that multiculturalism is a major part of the country's identity. But he acknowledges there is still work to be done.

"At the same time, there is still sort of an image at the back of people's minds that a Canadian is a white person," he said.

"Chinese-Canadians will be asked about when they came to the country, where they really came from, which implies...maybe they're not as fully Canadian as some people are."

With files from The Canadian Press



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