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Canada Mixed Marriages Are On The Rise In The West

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Mixed marriages are on the rise in the West

November 21, 2011
Gillian Steward - The Toronto Star

A few years ago when I was teaching at the University of Regina, one of my students was a bright, gregarious young woman whose parents had emigrated from Pakistan. She had been raised in Calgary and had no trouble fitting in with the rest of the journalism students.

But one day she came to class completely despondent. Her parents had told her they would be arranging a marriage for her in the not-too-distant future. This is not what she wanted; she loved her parents and didn’t want to disappoint them but she also wanted to be able to choose her own husband, just like all the other Canadian young women she knew.

I don’t know if she eventually sorted out her dilemma with her parents. I hope she was able to convince them that in Canada she has the right to choose her own husband, or not get married at all.

As the immigrant population swells, these questions become more and more urgent. We need no more evidence than the ongoing trial in Kingston in which a mother and father and their son are accused of killing four other female family members allegedly because of their association with young men outside their ethnic community.

But while these sorts of murders (wrongly referred to as honour killings because there is no honour involved at all, they are all about control and revenge) get lots of media attention, as they should, it’s clear that there is a strong trend in the other direction.

An increasing number of children of immigrants are marrying outside their ethnic communities, particularly in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, and even more are expected to do so in the future.

According to figures compiled by Statistics Canada from the 2006 Census, almost 4 per cent of couples in Canada were mixed marriages. In comparison, mixed marriages represented 3.1 per cent of all couples in 2001 and 2.6 per cent in 1991. Between 2001 and 2006, mixed unions grew at a rapid pace (33 per cent), more than five times the growth for all couples.

While these national numbers may seem small, the rate of mixed marriages in the large cities is proportionally much higher.

Vancouver had the highest proportion of mixed marriages at 8.5 per cent, followed by Toronto at 7.1 per cent and Calgary at 6.1 per cent (twice as high as the national average). While Vancouver and Toronto have long had large visible minority populations, Calgary had the fourth highest proportion of visible minorities aged 15 and older in 2006 (21 per cent) after Toronto (41 per cent).

Most of those mixed marriages are between people who could be classified as white, Euro-Canadians and people belonging to a visible minority. The census data also made it clear that Canadian-born visible minorities are much more likely to marry outside their ethnic group than those born in their home country.

None of this census data takes into account young people who are simply fraternizing with or dating people from different ethnic groups.

One doesn’t have to spend much time on a university or college campus in Vancouver or Calgary to notice that young people seem colour-blind when it comes to making friends or dating. Parents may not agree but by the time their kids hit their late teenage years they are deciding who they want to hang out with and who they will date.

And before we get too righteous about narrow-minded parents let’s not forget that it was only a few decades ago that Catholics were not allowed to marry Protestants; Jews only married other Jews; and no one except another Hindu would consider marrying a Hindu.

But in a country like Canada, which has such a long history of immigration, it’s not surprising that it’s the young people who break all the old taboos as they strive for freedom and equality.

And may they continue to do so.

Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer and journalist, and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald. Her column appears every other week.

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