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Immigrants should adopt Canadian values to settle here: survey

Wojtek Sawicki poses for a photograph at his home in Etobicoke on Tuesday, November 15, 2011.

Matthew Sherwood/matthew sherwood The Globe and Mail

Wojtek Sawicki, a Polish-born immigrant who now calls Toronto home, says he thinks newcomers should adopt Canadian values as a requirement of settling here, including the idea that men and women are fundamentally equal.

A new poll suggests the 31-year-old is far from alone. In fact, there's a solid consensus around the notion that immigrants should accept certain values as a precondition for joining Canadian society.

The survey, conducted by Environics and commissioned by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, found that both immigrants to Canada and those born here have almost identical opinions on the subject.

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The poll, being unveiled Wednesday, finds that 97 per cent of Canadians feel newcomers should embrace "gender equality" and "tolerance of others" as a condition of being admitted into this country.

The survey, which broke out the opinions of immigrant Canadians separately for comparison purposes, found that 96 per cent of this group agreed with the sentiment.

Mr. Sawicki, who arrived in Canada more than two decades ago, keeps in touch with family back in Poland through Skype or phone calls – and visits regularly. But, as much as he loves his Eastern European country, he can't see himself living there again.

"It would be too much of a culture shock for me," said Mr. Sawicki, who today works at a company that makes tunnel-boring machines.

The Toronto resident said new arrivals can't expect to put down roots in Canada without modifying their values.

"If they're expecting to move here and have the same exact cultural values and beliefs on everything as back home, I think that could cause a problem," he said.

Nearly nine in 10 Canadians told Environics that they believed this country's law should always take precedence over religious law for new arrivals. When it came to immigrants, 91 per cent of those surveyed concurred.

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Likewise, 88 per cent of Canadians polled agreed that newcomers should become familiar with Canada's history and culture. Eighty-seven per cent of immigrants agreed.

Nearly eight in 10 Canadians also backed the idea that immigrants should "raise their children as Canadians." A slightly lower percentage, 74 per cent, of new arrivals agreed.

The survey suggests newcomers adopting Canadian values is a much higher priority for the public than immigrants achieving financial self-sufficiency.

Fewer than six in 10 Canadians said they believed newcomers should become economically self-supporting within a year of arrival – and 60 per cent of immigrants shared this sentiment.

Mr. Sawicki said he thinks one year to self-sufficiency may be a challenge for newcomers.

"That's a tough one, especially in today's economy," he said.

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Haiyan Sun, a Chinese-born immigrant who arrived in 1998, said she made a conscious decision to settle in Canada based on what she thinks this country holds dear.

"Peacemaker is another key value … something I firmly believe in and am proud of as a Canadian," said Ms. Sun, 46, who runs a language training and placement business for international students in Halifax.

"For my son, I'd rather he be a peacemaker rather than a soldier."

She said a weak or nonexistent grasp of English or French can prevent some immigrants from absorbing "typical Canadian values," but acknowledged the second generation is much more readily integrated.

"Our son is more Canadian than Chinese, I'll tell you that."

The poll, conducted in collaboration with Dalhousie University, interviewed 2,000 adult Canadians between Oct. 11 and 22. Such a survey is accurate to within 2.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20. However, the error margin increases in population subgroups because of smaller sample sizes.

The Trudeau Foundation is a non-partisan charity set up in 2001 in memory of the former prime minister; it was given an endowment by the federal government in 2002 and promotes social science and humanities research.

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