Welcome to the third post in an ongoing series, A GLOBAL LOOK AT RACIAL EQUITY. This series takes an in-depth look at social justice and equity issues on a country-by-country basis, with insight from Aperian Global’s experts.
Our fourth entry focuses on Canada. For the full Featured Insight, visit this page.
Although it is part of the same North American continent as the United States and Mexico, and aspects of its history and economy overlap with the other two countries, it is also important to understand how Canada is distinctive. Key factors such as demographics, history, and culture help to explain the range of issues faced by Canadians today. Second worldwide only to Russia in terms of landmass, Canada is larger than China, the U.S., or the entire continent of Australia.
Much of the country’s national identity and development has been linked with its northern location and climate, with average winter temperatures in many parts of the country remaining below freezing for months. In spite of its enormous size, Canada’s population of just over 38 million is about 11% of the number of U.S. citizens. The 5,525-mile border between the two countries (to Canada’s south and to the west with the U.S. state of Alaska) is the longest international border in the world. This close proximity to the U.S., further underlined by the fact that 90% of Canada’s population lives within 100 miles of the border, was famously described by Canada’s former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, as like “sleeping with an elephant.”1
As close as Canada and the U.S. are geographically speaking, in order to understand the current state of race and ethnicity in Canada, those unfamiliar with the country may be surprised by terminology that is either new or has a particular significance based on the country’s own historical experience: for example, visible minorities, New Canadians, multiculturalism, First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginals, Métis, Black Canadians. The classic intercultural mistake of “assumed similarity,” or projecting one’s own expectations onto the residents of another country, has plagued U.S. approaches to Canada for centuries while becoming a common irritant and occasional source of amusement for many Canadians.
Foreign companies doing business in Canada should avoid committing the fundamental error of “assumed similarity” when comparing it with the U.S. or with its colonial parents the U.K. and France. Although there are shared business practices, the country’s bilingual, multicultural identity is distinctive, and employers in major cities such as Toronto need to learn how to accept and leverage the capabilities of New Canadian immigrants from many countries.
For organizations that work in regions with Indigenous Canadians, particularly in the more northern and western parts of the country, cultivating mutually beneficial partnerships with these communities for employment, workforce development, access to resources, and so on is essential. Companies in federally regulated industries need to take into account affirmative action requirements to provide preferential treatment to individuals from four designated groups: women, persons with disabilities, aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.
Where there are populations of Black Canadians, employers should also take steps to broaden inclusivity in hiring, promotion, and corporate governance, while contributing to important community causes such as equity in education and health care. (2)
Sodexo, a U.S.-based provider of food and facilities management services, has a large presence in Canada, with 10,000 employees. It has invested decades of effort in working with Canada’s Indigenous population, and now has 84 Indigenous-owned enterprises in its Canadian supply chain, while also providing a broad range of skills and management training initiatives to advance Indigenous entrepreneurs.
The company also works with more than two dozen Indigenous partners located near First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.3 Sodexo Canada recently celebrated two decades of certification at the highest level for “Progressive Aboriginal Relations” by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. A recent president of Sodexo Canada commented regarding the certification, “To the Aboriginal community, it represents that your company is a good business partner, a good place for members of the community to work, and that you’re committed to prosperity in Aboriginal communities.”4
Canada and the United States continue to have strong social and commercial ties. The United States is by far the largest trading partner for Canada. In turn, along with China and Mexico, Canada is among the top three trading partners for the U.S. The change from NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) to USMCA (the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) incorporated measures such as stronger environmental and labor regulations to ensure greater cost parity, incentives to encourage U.S-based manufacturing, intellectual property protections for the tech industry, and a higher duty-free limit for Canadians who buy U.S. goods online.
In spite of intensive and sometimes rancorous negotiations, the fundamental integration of Canada with the other two major North American economies remains intact and is likely to deepen, a trend applauded by some and deplored by others with a more nationalistic point of view. Whatever one’s political stance, it is critical to understand Canada’s own history and culture as well as issues related to race and ethnicity.
1 In fact, because the Canada/U.S. border runs through Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, which lie well to the south of Lake Huron, half of the Canadian population actually lives within the same latitudes as U.S. states such as Michigan and New York.
“Sleeping With a Very Cranky Elephant: The History of Canada-U.S. Tensions,” CBC Radio, June 15, 2018; https://www.cbc.ca/radio/sunday/the-sunday- edition-june-17-2018-1.4692469/sleeping-with-a-very-cranky-elephant-the-history-of-canada-u-s-tensions1.4699017.
2 The BlackNorth Initiative is one such collaborative effort among corporate leaders that seeks commitments to “specific actions and targets designed to end anti-Black systemic racism.” https://centreforglobalinclusion.org/blacknorth-tackles-anti-black-racism/
3 “Indigenous participation in economy strengthens Canada’s social fabric: Sodexo survey,” GlobalNewsWire, June 17, 2021; https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/06/17/2249092/0/en/Indigenous-participation-in-economy-strengthens-Canada-s-social-fabric-Sodexo-survey.html
4 “Honouring Two Decades of Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR),” Sodexo; https://ca.sodexo.com/inspired-thinking/all-insights/honouring-two- decades-par.html