African Canadians

The vast continent of Africa and its complex array of peoples has not had a close relationship with Canada. Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence.

Africans in Canada

The term "African" includes indigenous peoples of West, East and Southern Africa, the Hamito-Semites of Ethiopia, and people of other ethnocultural origins who view Africa as home by virtue of several generations of settlement on the African continent. Chief among these latter groups are Europeans of British, Portuguese, Afrikaner-Dutch and Jewish ethnocultural origins, people of mixed descent, and Asian Indians of Muslim, Hindu and Goan Christian religious-cultural backgrounds.

The vast continent of Africa and its complex array of peoples has not had a close relationship with Canada. Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence. Until recently, little formal documentation existed on any of these groups.

Historically, Canadian Immigration Policy has not favoured immigration by Asians and Africans. From 1946 to 1950 Africans comprised only 0.3% of new immigrants to Canada, a figure that rose to an average of only 1-2% over the next 20 years. With the 1966 White Paper on Immigration and the attempt to introduce a nondiscriminatory screening process, the proportion of African immigrants rose to an average of approximately 2% from 1968 to 1970, indicating that while the new system was more objective, it was highly selective.

The new system also favoured certain countries, including the black countries of Nigeria and Ghana. In 1972-73, with Canada's offer to accept some 7000 Ugandan Asians, the proportion of African immigrants rose to 6.8% of total immigration, and it remained at an average of about 5.2% from 1975 to 1978, corresponding with the movement of Portuguese and British settlers to Canada after Angola and Mozambique (1975) and Zimbabwe (1980) achieved independence. From 1973 to 1983, some 16 000 South Africans, mainly of nonblack ethnic origins, entered Canada. The steady, relatively high immigration from Tanzania and Kenya, too, reflected Asian Indian rather than black African migration.

The introduction of the Green Paper on Immigration (1976) had the effect of restricting the entry of potential landed immigrants in the "independent" class. This regulation seriously curtailed movement of people from black African countries, and was aggravated by the fact that there were just 3 Canadian Citizenship and Immigration offices in Africa at the time. Two of the offices were located in Yamoussoukro (formerly Abidjan), the capital of the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire), which served more than 20 widely dispersed neighbouring countries; and Nairobi, capital of Kenya, which served 19 equally dispersed countries in the northeastern part of the continent. By contrast, the third office, located in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, served just 5 countries at Africa's southern tip.

The 1978 Immigration Act, however, had the positive consequence of allowing Canadian citizens to sponsor close relatives. This stipulation was especially beneficial for landed immigrants from the Republic of South Africa and from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe (formerly the Republic of Rhodesia), and, to a lesser degree, Nigeria and Ghana. In 1984, 3552 people (comprising about 4% of Canada's total immigration that year) immigrated to Canada from Africa. Most of the immigrants from this group in the "independent class" came from the Republic of South Africa and Madagascar (Malagasy Republic).

At that time Canada's immigration policy favoured entrepreneurs and self-employed immigrants with the funds to establish business operations capable of employing Canadian citizens. Such entrepreneurs were more likely to emerge from the affluent European-Asian African groups than from black African groups. Overall, most Africans in any of the ethnocultural groups were drawn from the former English-speaking colonies of Africa; a smaller number originated in the former French-speaking colonies of Africa, chiefly from Mali, Senegal, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Madagascar and the Ivory Coast.

It is estimated that only about 10% of people classified as refugees in Africa would be classified as such according to the UN definition of the term, but all groups may count among their numbers self-exiled persons, or persons seeking greater personal freedom for themselves and their families. These subgroups are difficult to identify except where official data exist on immigrant refugee status, as, for example, in the case of Ugandan Asian Indians. The 1976 Immigration Act established a new "refugee class," and in 1984, Canada accepted 684 refugees from Ethiopia. Most of these people were sponsored by the federal government, but some were privately funded.

The African population in Canada has grown faster than the population as a whole and in 2001, about 48% of black immigrants who came to Canada in the 1990s were born in Africa. According to the 1981 census, there were 45 215 persons of African origin in Canada, comprising a mere 0.19% of the total population; between 1996 and 2001 the number of people of African origin rose by 32%, whereas the overall population grew by 4%. By 2006 the census recorded 138 750 persons who identified themselves as African; identifying Africans in the census who have not been identified elsewhere such as South African, Ethiopian, Ugandan, Nigerian, etc. has led to an under-reported population, especially for individuals who identified themselves as British, French or of other cultural identities. Two of the largest ethnic groups in Canada with African origins are from Somalia (37 785) and South Africa (25 855).

The rise in the African presence in Canada was a reflection of the political instability, factional wars and violence in many parts of the African continent, particularly from the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda on the eastern horn of Africa. In Southern Africa, the former Republic of South Africa, a country in transition from white to black rule, also experienced an exodus. Large communities of immigrants also hailed from Egypt and Morocco in North Africa.

Many people entered Canada in the "refugee" class, followed by the "family" class. A significant number of "independents" and "entrepreneurs" came from North and South Africa, the geographic "poles" of the continent. Overall, this ethnic group is well educated, with 25.5% holding university degrees, and 41.1% having some post-secondary education. Both men and women were employed in professional/managerial and service occupations in their respective countries; 35.6% of women were also in clerical positions.

Unfortunately, unemployment and underemployment in Canada has remained a major problem for many newcomers. Statistics Canada reported that immigrants born in Africa experienced difficulties in the labour market, regardless of when they immigrated to Canada, and that of the 70 000 most recent immigrants who were African-born there was an unemployment rate that was more than four times higher than that of Canadian-born individuals.

As in 1981, a decade later in 1991, most Africans settled in Ontario, followed by Québec; more people settled in British Columbia and Alberta after 1984. Ontario has the largest proportion of people from Eastern Africa. For all 10 provinces and 3 territories there has been an increase in African immigration in recent years. Many Africans speak an African language in their home settings, though, in general, Africans who come to Canada have a good working knowledge of either English or French.

Settlement, Integration and Cultural Life

Pioneer Black Africans
Prior to 1970 only a sprinkling of people from African countries settled in Canada, mainly from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Many African countries attained independence about that time: Ghana (1959), Nigeria (1960), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), and Zambia and Tanzania (1964). White Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain in 1965, and South Africa declared itself a republic and withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961. Given these changes, it has been difficult to judge the ethnic mix that entered Canada during those years. Many newcomers may have been European settlers emigrating from a changing Africa, but it seems certain that black Africans as well began to settle in Canada in the 1960s.

Ethiopian refugees accepted into Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s comprise a linguistic-cultural group distinct from other Africans. Refugees from the secessionist Red Sea province of Eritrea tended to be well educated and skilled. Many speak Italian as a consequence of the WWII Italian occupation of Ethiopia. In 1991 Eritrea won its independence after the longest war of recent African history. An interesting but tiny Ethiopian subgroup (of some 10 000-12 000 people) are the Falashas ("black Jews"), who come from the northwest provinces of Ethiopia. They practise an ancient form of Judaism, but have no knowledge of Hebrew, and their priests use Ge'ez, the Semitic-Sabaean script originating in the 4th century AD, as their liturgical language. In 1984 and again in 1991 thousands of Ethiopian Jews were secretly airlifted to Israel.

The Canadian African Newcomer Aid Centre in Toronto, founded in 1984 and serving Ontario's African population, reported that many African immigrants kept a low profile as they tried to integrate and overcome "culture shock." Changes in values, such as respect for elders and community leaders, emphasis on modesty, obedience and humility, shift from collectivist "we" to North American individualist "me" thinking, lack of traditional community support systems, and changes in spousal power relations, took a heavy toll. Many people have required counselling. Extended periods of spousal separation, coping with Canadian winters, learning to ask for help, and lack of accreditation for qualifications from African countries further add to life complexities. Educated immigrants are often underemployed given their skills, education and experience. African organizations, however, provide a base for networking and emotional support.

From West Africa to the Horn of Africa an estimated 2 million female children are circumcised each year. The procedure ranges from "mild" removal of parts of the clitoris to horrific infibulation and removal of all the genitalia, with the sides of the vulva sutured except for a tiny opening. The ensuing medical and psychological problems for an estimated 130 million females subjected to the practice are devastating. With the influx to Canada of people from Africa countries during the decade 1981-91, the continuance of the practice in this country has been a reality of worrisome concern to African ethnic communities and to the medical, legal and multicultural institutions of Canada. The Criminal Code of Canada was amended in 1997 to prohibit female genital mutilation.

Like migrants everywhere, African newcomers to Canada settle in major cities in search of employment, affordable housing and schools for their children. Paradoxically, while living in close proximity to "one's own" creates a positive and supportive environment for newcomers, it can also deter integration with the larger community and create barriers between ethnic groups. For example, lack of understanding of Somali children's Islamic religious practices and cultural mannerisms in school was singled out to explain antagonism between Somali and other children.

By 2006 a population of 77 960 French-speaking Africans had made the province of Québec their home. Many were refugees from the massacres and genocide of countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.

As a group, black Africans generally share one area of common experience - that of prejudice and discrimination and racism in the host country. Contrary to liberal credos held in Western societies, discrimination does not necessarily disappear in boom periods of the economy; rather it remains submerged to re-appear during bad economic times. It can be extremely difficult for African professionals to find work in their chosen fields and historically there has been a negligible African presence in the police force and on school boards. Regional municipalities are becoming testing grounds for government policies on multiculturalism and immigration; many are uncomfortable in accommodating different cultures. Being a racial minority, being black in a white country, generates frustration, bitterness, and anger. Blacks are forced into unity with diverse groups with common purpose.

African-Canadian artists, feeling marginalized from the mainstream artistic community, have created their own unique music, writing, poetry and painting outside the mainstream. Artists looked to their African roots for inspiration, vision and identity. Toronto is one of the largest centres for African music in North America, with each region of Africa contributing its own distinct, rich musical tradition. In 1990, Dr Thaddy Ulzen, a Ghana-born physician, was the co-founder and driving force for the creation of Afrofest, the annual African Music Festival. The Canadian Artists Network: Black Artists In Action Festival (CAN:BAIA) was founded in 1995 to celebrate African identity, bringing African artists out of their isolation for the exchange of ideas and the promotion of their talents. The organization Celebrating African Identity (CELAFI) was established to link international black artists and their Canadian counterparts through conferences, and performances of the visual arts, music, dance, film and literature. African themes and aesthetic traditions have been celebrated in Canada by Uganda-born David Kibuuka and Nigerian Macaulay Eteli and by dancer-choreographer Len Gibson, who have challenged our understanding of "Canadian art."

Ugandans and Other Asians

In 1972, with the so-called "Africanization" of Uganda, approximately 50 000 Ugandan Asians were expelled. Approximately 7000 were invited to settle in Canada; however only a limited number accepted the offer, and the 2006 census reported 3300 people of Ugandan origin in Canada. Given the variety of skills and professional background they brought with them, coupled with their initiative and enterprising attitudes, most Ugandans have made steady socioeconomic progress in Canada. They have settled primarily in Ontario (Toronto), BC and Québec.

The largest group of Ugandan Asians in Canada are the Ismalliyah (Ismailis), a sect of the Shiah branch of Islam. A smaller Islamic sect in Canada are the Ithna-Ashariyah. The Ismailis, and to a lesser degree the Ithna Asheri, have developed strong ethnocultural and religious groups that have contributed to their sociopsychological integrity and their economic progress.

In 2001, the Ismaili community in Canada had more than 580 000 members. Ismailis view Geneva-based Prince Karim Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. The Aga Khan is the 49th Imam and claims direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed. He founded and heads the worldwide Aga Khan Foundation, part of the Aga Khan Health Network engaged in philanthropic endeavours in developing nations. In 1992 the Aga Khan visited Canada, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the Ismailis to Canada. In that year, he entered into a funding arrangement with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which facilitated projects in Kenya and Tanzania.

Gujarati Hindus

Gujarati Hindus, traditionally a business caste in India and East Africa, have been successful in business and professional occupations in Canada. They tend to be a conservative people, practising the Hindu-Gandhian teachings of Ahimsa (nonviolence), asceticism and respect for all life. Members are mostly vegetarian; marriages are endogamous within similar castes and are frequently arranged by parents.

Goan Indians

Goan Indians originated in the Portuguese-dominated province of Goa on the Malabar Coast, 402 km south of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) India. Many contemporary Goans have some Portuguese background, have Portuguese names, and are generally Roman Catholic and English-speaking. When ousted by Idi Amin in 1972, many came to Canada, settling mainly in Toronto. Goan Indians have their own organizations, apart from people coming directly from Goa, and apart from the large Portuguese communities such as the one in Toronto.

The Asian Indian subgroups have more bonds of kinship with people from India and Pakistan and with the religions and cultures of those countries than with black Africans.

In 2006 the census recorded 4 815 Goans in Canada.

Angola-Mozambique Portuguese

In 1976-77, 2100 "returnees" (white and coloured Portuguese) from the newly independent territories of Angola and Mozambique were admitted into Canada, even though they did not qualify as genuine refugees since they held Portuguese passports. The Portuguese settlers in Africa had remained Portuguese citizens. Two factors contributed to this "humanitarian" gesture by Canada: pressure from the Portuguese Canadian community and requests from the Portuguese ambassador to Canada to help ease the burden of returning white colonials. Most returnees entered Canada in 1978-79 under contract as skilled workers to firms in Canada. These returnees prospered, and did not rely on the support of Portuguese aid societies. They integrated well into the larger society, possibly because of their fluency in English.

South Africans and Zimbabweans

By far the largest number of people who have entered Canada from any sub-Saharan region have originated in the former Republic of South Africa. In 1996, the immigrant population from South Africa was 13 950, and by 2006 the population had almost doubled (25 855). South Africans include a large number of English-speaking British and Jewish people, and small groups of Afrikaners (Dutch-French Huguenot), coloureds (mixed descent), Asian Indians and black Africans. Professionals of all types (university professors, medical doctors, school teachers, writers, artists and some skilled artisans) are found in all the groups. Immigrants from Zimbabwe (Rhodesians), numbering 3570 in 2006, have also found a wintry haven in Canada.

For almost half a century, the political climate of South Africa was characterized by tension and uncertainty. The political ideology of apartheid impacted every aspect of life in that country. Most white South Africans in Canada are liberal-minded, but the barriers to intergroup communication imposed by apartheid seemed to continue in the host country. Each racial group has at least some loose bonds within its own group, but little across groups, even where people originate from the same cities and towns. The 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa, President Nelson Mandela's vision of a "rainbow" nation, and the multicultural nature of Canadian society have mellowed attitudes and perceptions of "difference" among South Africans who have made Canada their home.

In 1995 the federal government announced a "Right of Landing Fee" of $975 for new immigrants and refugees over the age of 19 years and a $100 "Right of Citizenship Fee" that were both implemented as part of a series of citizenship and immigration user fees. Although some refugees were granted government loans to cover the fees, a new zeitgeist pervaded the country with a belief that ethnic minorities should adopt the "Canadian way of life." The combined effect of the landing fee and the shift away from tolerance of diversity negatively affected the new life of political and personal freedom for many uniquely talented refugees from the troubled countries of Africa; the Right of Landing Fee was eliminated in 2000.

The Ethnic Diversity Survey found a large majority (83%) of African-Canadians reported feeling a strong sense of belonging to Canada; however, they also maintained a strong connection to their ethnic or cultural group.

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