Ethnic or National Origin

Everyone belongs to an ethnic group

Confusion surrounds the meaning of the expressions “ethnic origin” and “national origin”.

The concept of ethnicity is often used indiscriminately, whether in the media or in everyday conversation. For example, it is often used to describe something different or exotic that makes one think of travel: "ethnic restaurants," "ethnic" music.

Formerly, the term "ethnic group" had a pejorative connotation, as it was associated with people said to be "primitive" or inferior. Fortunately, through research in genetics and humanities, we have come to the conclusion that no people on earth is inferior to another and that we cannot declare that some are nations, while others are merely tribes or ethnic groups.

That being the case, we may define an ethnicity as a group of human beings with a common socio-cultural heritage, especially a history, a common origin, language or religion.

Ethnic origin means an individual belongs to an ethnic group, either because that is his background (ancestry, lineage) or because he identifies with it (identity).

"Cultural" or "people" are synonyms of "ethnic." Therefore we may refer to a person’s “ethnic origin” or “cultural origin.”

Thus, Québécois, Irish, Berber, Inuit, Abenaki, Albanian, Basque, Scots are distinct ethnicities among thousands of others.

Quebecers are both an ethnic group, such as the Cree, and a nation with its own territory, language and culture that is distinct from English or Aboriginal culture in the rest of Canada.

Nationality: a legal tie or a strong sense of attachment?

Nationality is the legal and political bond between an individual and a sovereign state. In legal terms, it refers to citizenship, the belonging to a country which recognizes an individual as a citizen and grants him or her rights (to vote, work, hold a passport, etc.)

But you can be a Canadian citizen without being born in Canada, and be a Canadian citizen even if your parents are not. In other words, you can have a nationality of origin and become naturalized or become a citizen of another country.

The term nation should not be confused with citizenship, because a country can include multiple nations or national minorities. The word nation is more an ideological construct than a concrete reality, so the word’s definition is subject to nuance, particularly of a historical and geopolitical nature.

A nation may be homogeneous (which is rare) or composed of people from diverse backgrounds who share a territorial heritage, history, language and shared values.

Thus, the Cree of Quebec are regarded as one of the ten First Nations communities of Quebec. They have their own culture and once occupied a territory of their own. They are also a national minority within Canada, as are Quebecers.

Canada is therefore a multiethnic and multinational country composed of francophones, anglophones, Aboriginal, Chinese, Irish, Jews, Ukrainians, etc.

“Ethnic communities” or “cultural communities”?

Owing to recent immigration, certain official names have come into existence to designate the newcomers: "ethnic communities " or "cultural communities."

Quebec society includes more than a hundred cultural communities from all over the world. For example, Italians in Montreal, Quebec Haitians, Ukrainians in Alberta and Toronto Jews are ethnic or cultural communities.

They are fractions of larger ethnic groups, sometimes from countries that are also multiethnic. For example, Italians in Canada can be from ethnic communities in Sardinia, Calabria, Sicily, etc.

Like languages, ethnic groups are also threatened with extinction (ethnocide), faced with stronger or hegemonic nations. The first sign that an ethnic group is disappearing is the loss of its language. Many francophones in Canada and the United States have been assimilated into anglophone culture.

Discrimination based on ethnic or national origin

Ethnic discrimination is often linked to an individual’s physical appearance or family name. It occurs particularly in the workplace, in housing situations and sometimes in relation to the police.

In Quebec and in Canada, immigrants (whether first or second generation) often have trouble getting job interviews and are therefore more subject to unemployment than the majority of the population.

Despite anti-discrimination laws, few cases are prosecuted due to the difficulty of establishing proof of discrimination.

However, in 2007 the Quebec human rights and youth rights Commission condemned a Quebec company for discrimination. The company had rejected a CV because of the applicant’s Arabic-sounding name, and then accepted the same CV re-submitted with a French name. The claimant had performed this manoeuvre to check whether he was being discriminated against.

It is still easy for employers to fail to comply with the law and discriminate in hiring. Many employers fear diversity in their company. They do not trust the newcomers’ skills or fear that certain cultural attitudes of employees will be disturbed in working with people who are different from themselves.

This kind of discrimination has resulted in increased unemployment among youths and adults from immigrant families, who generally have high levels of education.

To combat this ethnic, national or racial discrimination, the government has passed equal access measures and equity policies. In some sense, these require employers to hire members of ethnic or national minorities.