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South Asian Canadians

South Asians trace their origins to South Asia, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Most South Asian Canadians are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries, but immigrants from South Asian communities established during British colonial times also include those from East and South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius. Others come from Britain, the US and Europe. In the 2016 census, 1, 963,330 Canadians reported South Asian origins (1,603,000 single and 360,330 multiple responses).

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Celebrating Asian Heritage in Canada

Many Canadians today see our diverse population as a source of pride and strength — for good reason. More than one in five Canadians were born elsewhere. That is the highest percentage of immigrants in the G7 group of large industrialized nations. Asia (including people born in the Middle East) has provided the greatest number of newcomers in recent years. Since the 1990s, Canadians — who once thought primarily of Europe when they considered events abroad — now define themselves, and the world, differently. As former prime minister Jean Chrétien said: “The Pacific is getting smaller and the Atlantic is becoming wider.”

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Indian Food in Canada

Indian food is a more recent addition to the culinary scene in Canada, having gained prominence primarily in the post-1960s era of immigration. It is characterized mainly by the Northern Indian approach to cuisine, which features breads and warm curries and the use of yogurt and cream in meat-based dishes. But it also bears the influence of South Indian cooking, which frequently plays with the combination of sour and spicy and the use of tamarind and chilies. However, many typical Indo-Canadian dishes, such as kedgeree and some chutneys, are a product of Anglo-Indian cuisine stemming from Britain’s colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent.

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Komagata Maru

The SS Komagata Maru was a chartered ship featured in a dramatic challenge to Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from India. This challenge took place in the spring and summer of 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It proved to be a bitter and tragic experience for the passengers, first in an unsuccessful and eventually physical confrontation with officials, police and the military at the Port of Vancouver, and then in a deadly encounter with police and troops near Kolkata on the passengers’ return to India.

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Canadian Response to the "Boat People" Refugee Crisis

The welcoming and resettlement of many thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia in the late 1970s and early 1980s represents a turning point in the history of immigration in Canada. It was the first time that the Canadian government applied its new program for private sponsorship of refugees — the only one if its kind in the world — through which more than half of the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who came to Canada during this period were admitted. In recognition of this unprecedented mobilization of private effort, the people of Canada were awarded the Nansen Medal, an honour bestowed by the United Nations for outstanding service to the cause of refugees. It was the first and remains the only time that the entire people of a country have been collectively honored with this award. But most importantly, this positive, humanitarian response by Canadians reflected a change in their attitude toward refugees. Never before in its history had Canada welcomed so many refugees in so little time.

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Murder of Reena Virk

Reena Virk, a 14-year-old of South Asian origin, was savagely beaten and murdered by teenaged attackers in November 1997 in a suburb of Victoria, British Columbia. The crime horrified Canadians and attracted international media attention because of the brutality of the killing as well as the youth of Virk and those who attacked her. It prompted a national conversation about teenaged bullying and racism, led in part by Virk’s parents, who became anti-bullying campaigners in the wake of their daughter’s murder.

This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.

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Bollywood in Canada

Bollywood, a playful word derived from Hollywood and the city of Bombay, refers specifically to the Hindi-language films produced in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, the city known as the heart of the South Asian film industry.

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Asian Canadian Theatre

Asian Canadian theatre started early in the 20th century with lavish performances of traditional Cantonese operas. Today, Asian Canadian playwrights like Ins Choi address the struggles of everyday life in Canada.

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Right to Vote in Canada

The term franchise denotes the right to vote in elections for members of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. The Canadian franchise dates from the mid-18th-century colonial period. At that time, restrictions effectively limited the right to vote to male property holders. Since then, voting qualifications and the categories of eligible voters have expanded according to jurisdiction. These changes reflect the evolution of Canada’s social values and constitutional requirements.

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Invasive Species in Canada: Animals

Invasive species are any species that have, primarily with human help, become established in a new ecosystem. While it’s impossible to say exactly how many invasive species are living in Canada, in 2002 researchers estimated that at least 1,442 invasive species — including fish, plants, insects and invertebrates — now live in the country’s farmlands, forests and waterways. The complex environmental impacts of so many invasive species is unknown and, maybe, unknowable. Typically, non-natives are feared for their ability to reproduce much faster than native species and outcompete natives for food, habitat and other resources. Economically, invasive species are estimated to cost Canadians billions of dollars each year in lost revenue from natural resources and impacts on ecosystem services.

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Immigration to Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Aside from Indigenous peoples, everyone living in Canada has ancestors who arrived in Canada during the past 400 years. The first Europeans to permanently settle in Canada were from France. Then, people from the United States, Britain and Ireland came to Canada. Black people also came from the United States to escape enslavement. After this, people from Continental Europe and China arrived. Now, people from all over the world come to Canada. (See Multiculturalism.) A large percentage of Canadians alive today are first-generation Canadians who immigrated. Many are second-generation Canadians — children of immigrants. Without immigration, Canada would not be what it is today.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Immigration to Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Immigration to Canada.)

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Ethnic Literature

In Canadian English, the term "ethnic" has been used to designate those immigrants who do not belong to Canada's founding European cultures: the Catholic French and the Protestant Anglo-Celtic.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

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Kim’s Convenience

Kim’s Convenience (2016–21) is a CBC TV sitcom about a Korean Canadian family that runs a convenience store in Toronto. Based on a 2011 play by Ins Choi, it was the first Canadian comedy series to star a primarily Asian Canadian cast. The acclaimed comedy explores the generational tension between immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children and was inspired by Choi’s experience growing up in a Korean family in Toronto. The show was an instant hit when it premiered on CBC in fall 2016; its first season averaged 933,000 viewers per episode. The series won eight Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Comedy Series in 2018. It also gained an international audience that year when it was made available on Netflix.

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Colombo Plan

Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia was established following a Jan 1950 meeting of COMMONWEALTH foreign ministers in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), to attack the poverty upon which communist political movements in Asia were thought to feed.

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Women's Suffrage in Canada

Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle to address fundamental issues of equity and justice. Women in Canada, particularly Asian and Indigenous women, met strong resistance as they struggled for basic human rights, including suffrage.

Representative of more than justice in politics, suffrage represented hopes for improvements in education, healthcare and employment as well as an end to violence against women. For non-white women, gaining the vote also meant fighting against racial injustices.

(See also Women’s Suffrage Timeline.)