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Emily Hughes, 9, holds up a Canadian flag during a Canadian Citizenship ceremony in Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2010. Hughes along with her parents came from England to Canada in 2005. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)
Emily Hughes, 9, holds up a Canadian flag during a Canadian Citizenship ceremony in Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2010. Hughes along with her parents came from England to Canada in 2005. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)

More than one-fifth of Canadians are foreign-born: National Household Survey Add to ...

Sustained levels of immigration over the past two decades have literally changed the face of Canada.

The first report of the 2011 National Household Survey reveals that the percentage of people living in this country who were born someplace else is expanding along with those who consider themselves to be members of a visible minority.

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The report, which was released by Statistics Canada Wednesday, says more than 2.1 million immigrants have arrived here over the last decade, leaving Canada the country with the highest foreign-born population in all the G8.

Canada is home to 6.8 million foreign-born residents, or 20.6 per cent of the population, compared to 19.8 per cent in 2006.

It also suggests a rapidly expanding aboriginal demographic, thanks to a baby boom among the First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

In all, Canada is becoming a more diverse population, something that is especially true of the suburbs that surround the three largest cities – Toronto, Vancouver and, to a lesser extent, Montreal.

But the country is also shedding some of the religious affiliations that served to divide previous generations.

The voluntary survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census, is not expected to be as accurate as its predecessors but should accurately reflect broad shifts in the makeup of the population.

For more than 30 years, the majority of new Canadians have come from Asia and the Middle East – especially the Philippines and China. That was still true in 2011, but the survey suggests the trend is tapering off somewhat with larger percentages arriving from Africa, Caribbean and Central and South America.

The immigrant population is young. Their median age at the time of the survey was 31.7, compared to 47.4 for the total immigrant population and 37.3 for those who were born in Canada.

And it is concentrated. Although there was a slight shift to other provinces, Ontario still received 43 per cent of the newcomers over the past five years with British Columbia taking an additional 16 per cent.

More than six in 10 immigrants who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 opted to settle in one of Canada’s three big metropolitan areas.

That has created diverse boroughs like Markham, Ont., north of Toronto, where 72.3 per cent of the residents are members of a visible minority. In Brampton, west of the city, one in six people identified themselves that way. So did more than half of those living in Surrey, B.C.

And it means a Canada that is losing its largely homogeneous past – especially in the cities.

Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of people living in this country who considered themselves to be a member of a visible minority increased from 16.2 per cent to 19.1 per cent. As recently as 1981, they comprised less than five per cent of the population.

And nearly 96 per cent of the visible minority population lived in a large metropolitan area, compared to about 70 per cent of total population.

As might be expected, the influx of immigrants has created a mosaic of languages on city streets. Respondents to the survey claimed more than 200 different mother tongues. And 36 per cent of Canadians said they could speak more than just English or French.

The religious makeup of Canada is also changing. The Muslim population, for example, increased by 82 per cent over the past decade – from about 579,000 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2011.

And the traditional religions of the early immigrants from the British Isles and France are fading.

Although two thirds of the people in Canada still identify as Christians, 24 per cent of respondents said they had no religious affiliation at all – a number that was up significantly from 16.5 per cent a decade earlier.

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