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Variations On The Dominant Pattern

Immigrant families. In the years following Confederation, wave upon wave of immigrants arrived in Canada, often "imported" into particular regions to carry out specific economic tasks: from China to construct the railroad, from Eastern Europe to settle the prairie wheatlands, from Southern Europe to build the central cities. Yet government legislation at the time effectively prevented the development of certain ethnic communities, especially among Asian and black immigrants (Das Gupta 2000). For instance, in the early twentieth century, Chinese immigrants had to pay a "head tax" to gain entrance to Canada. Since most men could not afford to bring their wife and children into the country, this law systematically prevented the creation of Chinese Canadian families.

Before the mid-twentieth century, Canadian immigration policy favored European settlement in hopes of maintaining a predominantly Anglo-Saxon society (Richard 1991). Immigration from non-European countries was severely restricted. This changed as popular opinion in the early 1960s turned against restrictions on nonwhite immigration. In 1968 a new immigration policy was set up that based admission eligibility not on ethnicity or race, but on broader criteria such as education and training, skills, personal attributes (such as adaptability, motivation, and initiative), demand for the applicant's occupation in Canada, arranged employment, and knowledge of English or French. In the decades that followed, the numbers of British and American immigrants to Canada decreased, and immigration from Asian countries increased substantially.

Many immigrants came from cultures in which men subordinate women, and their elders subordinate young people. Migration creates profound changes in the relationship between men and women, as well as between generations; it disrupts traditional expectations and supports the possibility of individuation (Shahidian 1999).

Women's experience of cultural displacement through immigration may be more positive than that of men because women may be less inclined to resist the women-friendlier dominant culture. For example, more Iranian men retained the socially conservative nature of their patriarchal home culture after immigration than did Iranian women, and they also experienced more problems in adjusting to Western social and economic trends, and to changes in gender roles that augment women's notions of self and female sexuality (Moghissi and Goodman 1999). On the other hand, institutional racism may counterbalance women's positive experiences (Moghissi 1999).

Migration can lead to generational conflict as young people attempt to embrace North American society (Tirone and Pedlar 2000). Young immigrants, or the children of immigrants, may have problems adjusting to school life, have strained family relationships, and experience issues of ethnic identity and minority status. Often community organizations help young people—especially women—develop an awareness of their condition, a new identity, and a measure of control over their lives (Ralston 1998).

In the new cultural environment, families become more nuclear, with the result that extended families loosen their grip, and a cultural distance builds up between members of the diaspora and members of the homeland (Chan and Dorais 1998). Some communities, such as the Asian Indians in Toronto, modify traditional patterns of arranged marriage to give the young more freedom while at the same time enforcing traditional group expectations.

The post-1960s amendments to the Immigration Act have led to greater ethnic diversity in Canada, especially among nonwhite groups. While one might expect this to have increased inmarriage (or endogamy) among newly enlarged minority groups, paradoxically, the opposite has occurred. The postwar "merit-point system" created a stream of affluent and highly educated new entrants. People with higher levels of education are more exogamous: that is, they show a greater tendency to marry outside their group (Richard 1991). It is therefore not surprising that ethnic exogamy has been increasing.

However, Canadians have always practiced ethnic intermarriage, and this trend has been on the rise since the time of Confederation. In 1991 Canada-born husbands and wives were more exogamous than their foreign-born counterparts, and higher proportions of males married out of their ethnic group than females. Groups who have had high rates of immigration—such as Asian Indians and Chinese—showed the lowest rates of exogamy. Canadians of French and English descent also have low levels of ethnic out-marriage, probably because their large numbers in the Canadian population make it easier to find a spouse of the same ethnic group. Overall, members of the British and French "charter groups" are a popular choice of mate. Both men and women tend to marry members of these groups, if they do not marry people of their own ethnic background (Kalbach 2000).

Same-sex unions. Although fewer social barriers prevent marriage between people of different ethnic groups, the same is not true for same-sex partners. Although Canadians are more liberal in their views on homosexuality than Americans or Mexicans (Tepperman and Curtis 2002)—religious ideas continue to fuel discrimination against homosexuals and their right to form families. In Canada, as in most nations, gays and lesbians are unable to legally marry because marriage continues to be defined as a union between a man and a woman. Gays and lesbians are often portrayed as being outside of and excluded from family social relations. In reality, many are deeply embedded in familial structures as partners, parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandchildren.

At the start of the twenty-first century, same-sex couples had gained some of the recognition and benefits automatically granted to heterosexual couples. In February 1998 the province of British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in North America to redefine the term "spouse" in its Family Relations Act to include same-sex couples. The amendment gave gay and lesbian partners the same privileges and obligations held by those in heterosexual unions, including: custody of children, access, and child support (O'Brian and Goldberg 2000). In 1999 and 2000 Quebec, Ontario, and the federal government adopted omnibus bills granting same-sex common-law spouses almost all the same rights as heterosexual couples under the tax system, social security programs, and family law (Rose 2000). Additionally, in 2001 Statistics Canada included questions about same-sex unions for the first time in the national census.

These changes showed the growing acceptance of gay and lesbian couples in Canadian society. Public opinion polls confirmed that Canadians are becoming more accepting of same-sex unions. In a 2001 Leger Marketing poll, 65.4 percent of those surveyed agreed that Canada should grant same-sex couples the right to legally marry and 75.7 percent felt that Canada should give homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals.

However, these tolerant attitudes do not extend to the issue of childcare. For example, only 53.1 percent of those surveyed agreed that Canada should permit homosexuals to adopt children. This disapproval of adoption by gays and lesbians likely reflects the belief that homosexual parenting will have a harmful influence on the child's sexual development. By contrast, research on the topic shows that children raised by gays and lesbians exhibit neither a greater tendency toward homosexuality nor significant differences in gender identity or gender behaviors than children raised by heterosexual parents (O'Brien and Goldberg 2000).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsCanada - Defining Families, Trends In Marriage, Cohabitation Versus Marriage, Divorce, Variations On The Dominant Pattern