South Asian Canadian

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South Asian Canadians
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Total population

South Asian Canadians
1,660,931[1] (4.9% of the Canadian population)

National Household Survey & Government Of Canada
Regions with significant populations
Southern Ontario  · Lower Mainland British Columbia  · Most urban areas
Canadian English  · Canadian French  · South Asian languages
Hinduism  · Islam  · Sikhism  · Christianity  · Jainism
Related ethnic groups
Asian Canadian  · British Asian  · South Asian people

South Asian Canadians refers to Canadians who were either born in or can trace all or part of their ancestry to South Asia. This includes nations such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. In Canadian English usage, the term 'Asian' alone usually refers to people descending from East Asia and Southeast Asia.[2] The term South Asian Canadian is a subgroup of Asian Canadian and, according to Statistics Canada, can further be divided by nationality, such as Indo-Canadian (referred to by StatCan as "East Indian Canadian), Bangladeshi Canadian and Pakistani Canadian, or by ethnicity, such as Tamil Canadian and Gujarati Canadian.[3] Indo-Canadians are Canadian-born persons with Indian subcontinent ancestry.[4] There are also Anglo-Indian Canadians.

As of 2011, 1,615,145 Canadians had South Asian origins, constituting 4.9% of the Canadian population and 32% of Canada's Asian Canadian population. This makes them the largest visible minority group in Canada, followed by Chinese and Black Canadians respectively.[5] The following year of 2012, 45,000 migrants from South Asia emigrated to Canada, this brings the total South Asian population to 1,660,931.[6] A quarter of the visible minority population in Canada is South Asian. The largest South Asian communities are found in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Metropolitan areas with large South Asian communities include the Toronto (834,000), Vancouver (252,000), Calgary (85,000), Montréal (79,000) and Edmonton (61,000).[7]

South Asian Canadians are significantly more likely than the Canadian average to have a university degree - South Asians are socio-economically diverse with a large presence in Canada's upper class, middle class and working class populations, although a majority are members of the middle class.[8]


The term 'Asian' in Canadian English generally refers to people from East and Southeast Asia. This differs from the British English definition of Asian which includes South Asia but excludes East and Southeast Asians terming them as Oriental or East Asian instead. Thus the term South Asian has come into common use to refer to Asians hailing from the Indian subcontinent.[9] This includes countries like India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. It does not include nations such as Afghanistan or Myanmar which have been considered to be South Asian in some other definitions of the term.

South Asian Canadians may also be identified by their country of origin such as Indian or Pakistani. They may also be identified by their specific ethnic background, for example Punjabi or Tamil. The term "East Indian" is a term in some parts of Canada, particularly the Prairie regions, to refer to Asian Indians as opposed to Aboriginal peoples who are also sometimes referred to as "Indian". This terms is less common in areas with significant Indian Canadian populations like Toronto. Brown people and Desi are also sometimes used to refer to South Asians in Canada as well. However these terms are avoided in more formal contexts due to their ambiguity.

Census Canada lists both ethnic backgrounds like Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil and Goan in addition to nationalities like East Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Pakistani. As a result many South Asians who listed their ethnic origin will be counted separate from their country of origin.


Early 20th Century[edit]

Sikh settlers on board the Komogata Maru in Vancouver.

The first known record of South Asians in Canada dated back to 1903, when Punjabi Sikhs arrived in British Columbia after hearing stories about the high wages being paid there from British Indian soldiers stationed in Hong Kong. Attracted mainly by these wages more Sikh men began immigrating to British Columbia, working mainly in industries such as mining, lumber and railroads. Many of these men, who arrived without their families, settled in what is now Abbotsford, British Columbia. By the end of 1908 there were 5209 South Asians living in Canada, nearly all of whom were Sikhs settled in British Columbia. As the Sikh community in Canada South Asians began to face discrimination and xenophobia similar to what Japanese and Chinese were enduring at the time. European settlers viewed Asian migrants, including the Sikhs, as a threat to the European nature of Canada. In addition, many Asian migrants were willing to work for lower wages which threatened the job security of the European majority at the time. In 1907 the government in British Columbia enacted laws which limited the rights and privileges South Asians. These prevented South Asians from voting and denied them access to holding political office, public sector jobs and other professions. On January 8, 1908 Continuous journey regulation was enacted in an effort to prevent Sikhs from immigrated to Canada. The law required that South Asian immigrants arriving in Canada must "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and or through tickets purchased before leaving their country of their birth or nationality." This prevented Sikh soldiers stationed in Hong Kong and Japan from immigrating to Canada.

A notable example of early anti-South Asian sentiments as a result of Continuous journey regulation in Canada was the Komagata Maru incident. A successful Sikh fisherman living in British Columbia attempting to circumnavigate the Continuous journey regulation chartered a Japanese steamship known as the Komagata Maru to travel from Kolkata, India to Vancouver, Canada. The ship made stops in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama where it picked up more South Asian settlers. In total the ship carried 376 passengers of which 300 were Sikh, 24 were Muslim and 12 were Hindu. All passengers were registered as British subjects though. Upon arriving in Vancouver though the ship was not permitted to dock with several British Columbian politicians such as Conservative MP H.H. Stevens campaigning against their right to dock. Some South Asians already settled in Canada began launching 'shore committees' which were led by Hassam Rashim and Sohan Lal Pathak. These were to protest against the decision not to allow the settlers on the Komagata Maru no to enter Canada. Passengers threatened to start a rebellion, or ghadar, if they were forced back to India. The shore committee raised $22,000 and launched a test case legal battle in the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Only July 6, the court unanimously decided they has no authority to interfere with the Department of Immigration and Colonization and had ordered the harbor tug Sea Lion to pull the ship out to sea in July 19. This resulted in rioting between the settlers on board and police officers. The ship was ultimately forced back to India on July 23, with only 20 of the settlers being allowed to stay in Canada.

The continuous journey regulation provision remained in effect until 1947, as did most other anti-South Asian laws. However pressure from the South Asian community resulted in the Canadian government allowing the wives and children of South Asian men already living in Canada to immigrate. Despite this by the mid-1920s the South Asian population in Canada had dropped to 1300. Despite their declining numbers the South Asian community which was still primarily Sikh and settled around Abbotsford grew wealthier. South Asians had begun to quire their own lumber mills which they used to produce wood and sawdust for consumer purchase. During the Great Depression the tight-knit nature of the South Asian community mitigated many of the economic effects the depression had on other communities. As a result of the recent independence of several South Asian nations such as India, Pakistan and Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, the Canadian government created annual immigration quotas which were to allow 150 Indians, 100 Pakistanis and 50 Sri Lankans the right to immigrate to Canada each year.

Late 20th Century[edit]

Gerrard Street in Toronto was one of the first enclaves formed by the South Asian community. The area features many South Asian run restaurants and businesses.

Beginning in the 1960s racial and national restrictions were removed from Canada's immigration policies resulting in the explosive growth of South Asian community. The South Asian Canadian community grew from just 6,774 in 1961 to 67,925 just ten years later in 1971. Many of the South Asians arriving during the 60s, 70s were not directly from South Asia but instead from Southeast Africa. Discrimination in many African Great Lakes nations like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania against Indians was growing as a result of their status as a market-dominant minority. This is when a minority group controls a disproportionately large segment of the economy due to their over representation in business and above average education. One notable incident of this was Ugandan dictator Idi Amins expulsion of 80,000 Ugandan Indians as part of his economic war to allow indigenous Ugandans to regain control of the countries economy. As a result nearly 20,000 Indians fled to Canada, some directly others after temperately settling in other nations in Africa. They eventually grew to be the first sizable non-Sikh South Asian community in Canada. Shenaaz Nanjis Governor General's Award nominated novel Child of Dandelions deals with the expulsion of Indians from Uganda and their immigration to Canada.

Around this time the Caribbean, mainly from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, and Indo-Fijians began immigrating to Canada as well, settling mainly in Toronto, Ontario. Many of these South Asians were the descendants of indentured laborers were brought by the colonial British government to replace the slaves on plantations. After completing their work terms the majority remained in these countries. Many of the immigrants who arrived from the Caribbean, the African Great Lakes and Fiji were educated professionals who upon arriving in Canada worked in the service sector or began their own businesses. As opposed to the industrial sector which mainly early Sikhs worked in.

Starting in the 1980s South Asians arriving directly from the Indian subcontinent began to increase noticeably as well. In 1985 around 15,000 immigrants arrived from South Asia annually in 2012 that number was at 46,000 annually. In addition to the South Asians still arriving from other parts of the world like the Gulf of Arabia[disambiguation needed], Caribbean, the African Great Lakes and Fiji. As a result, the South Asian community began forming growing enclaves particularly in the Vancouver and Toronto area. Some notable areas are Gerrard Street, Brampton and several neighborhoods in Mississauga, Scarborough, Markham and Etobicoke in the Greater Toronto Area. In British Columbia notable South Asian districts include Surrey and Abbotsford.

The rise of the Khalistan movement, the secessionist movement that sought to make the Indian state of Punjab a separate nation for Sikhs. As a result during the 1980s many Sikhs living in Canada began to involve themselves in the Khalistan movement by organizing protests in Canada and sending money to fund separatist groups back in India. These protests reached their peak in 1984 when the Indian army raided the Golden Temple which were followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards and finally anti-Sikh riots throughout North India. Several major anti-Indian protests occurred in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto with angry protesters forcing their way into the Indian embassy in Toronto carrying knives and smashing photos of Indira Gandhi. On June 23, 1985, several Canadian Sikhs led by Talwinder Singh Parmar were arrested for the Air India Flight 182 bombing, which killed 329 people. It is considered the worst terrorist attack to ever be carried out by Canadians.

With the outbreak of the Sri Lankan civil war in 1983 many Sri Lankan Tamils were forced to flee persecution and violence and see refuge in Canada. This made Sri Lankan Canadians the fifth largest source of immigrants during the 1990s. It also made Canada home to the largest Tamil Canadian population in the Western World with 140,000 Tamils living in Canada, primarily Toronto and Montreal. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, though officially recognized as terrorist group in Canada still receives widespread support among the Sri Lankan Tamil Canadian community.

21st Century[edit]

Beginning in the 21st century the makeup of the South Asian community had changed greatly. Sikhs had gone from making up nearly 90% of the South Asian population during much of the early 20th century to just 28% in 2001. This is as a result of a more diverse background of South Asians immigrating to Canada as opposed to the primarily Sikh and Punjabi immigrants of the early 20th century. In 2006 South Asian Canadians went on to overtake Chinese Canadians as the largest visible minority group in Canada with 25% of visible minorities in Canada being South Asian and 21% being Chinese. On February 24, 2000 Ujjal Dosanjh went on to become the first South Asian premier of British Columbia, representing the New Democratic Party.

During the first decade of the 21 century India remained the second largest source of immigrants behind China but ahead of the Philippines. Pakistan was also among the top ten sources of immigrants to Canada. In addition India is also the second largest source of foreign students in Canada with 28,939 Indian students studying in Canada in 2012 compared to just 1,747 in 2000. In 2007 BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto opened in Toronto making it the largest Hindu temple in Canada. The Aga Khan Museum is also currently under construction by Ismaili Muslims hailing from Pakistan. Several other notable places of worship have been built by South Asians as well including the Khalsa Darbar Gurdwara and Baitul Islam mosque.

South Asian Canadian culture also began to move into the Canadian mainstream in the 21st century. Bhangra music, a South Asian genre of music that combines traditional Punjabi music with pop and hip hop and other Western musical styles has grown increasingly popular throughout Canada. Canadians of all backgrounds are also familiar with Bollywood. In 2011 the 12th International Indian Film Academy Awards were hosted in Toronto, Canada which was home to nearly 832,000 South Asians, one of the largest in the Western World. How to Be Indie a Canadian children's television program produced by YTV revolves around the daughter of Hindu Indian immigrants living in Toronto, and has since been syndicated in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Latin America and elsewhere. The Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters has used his South Asian Canadian heritage as material for many of his jokes as well.



Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1951 2,148 —    
1961 6,774 +215.4%
1971 67,925 +902.7%
1981 121,445 +78.8%
1991 417,000 +243.4%
2001 917,075 +119.9%
2011 1,615,145 +76.1%

The first confirmed reports on the South Asian population in Canada were in 1908 which put the South Asian Canadian population at 5,209. The overwhelming majority of whom were Sikh, male, and settled in British Columbia. However as a result of laws which restricted the immigration of South Asians the community had declined to only 1,300 by the mid 1920s. By 1961, right before racial restriction were removed from Canada's immigration policy, the South Asian community had again risen to 6,774. With racial quotas being removed during the 1960s the number of South Asians immigrating to Canada caused the South Asian Canadian population to drastically increase continuing on into the present day.

Brampton, Ontario is home to the highest percentage of South Asians in Canada with 202,000 South Asians or 38.7% of the population.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey 1,615,920 Canadians had South Asian origins and 1,567,400 Canadians were classified as belonging to the visible minority group South Asian. The rapid growth of the South Asian population is attributed to sustained immigration from South Asian nations and fertility rates higher than the Canadian average. According to a 2006 study conducted by Statistics Canada the South Asian population will grow to between 3.1 and 4.1 million by 2031 or 8.1% to 9.2% of the Canadian population overall. As of 2011 Ontario followed by British Columbia had the largest South Asian communities with Alberta and Quebec being home to significant communities as well. Metropolitan areas with large South Asian communities include the Toronto (834,000), Vancouver (252,000), Calgary (85,000), Montréal (79,000) and Edmonton (61,000). Municipalities with large South Asian communities include Brampton, Ontario (38.7%), Surrey, British Columbia (29.5%), Abbotsford, British Columbia (22.7%), Mississauga, Ontario (22.0%) and Markham, Ontario (19.4%). From 2001 to 2006 Milton, Ontario saw the greatest increase in its South Asian population growing by 1378.6% with many other towns seeing their South Asian population double or triple.

Canadian provinces and territories by their South Asian population in 2011.

Province South Asians 2001 % 2001 South Asians 2011 % 2011
Flag of Ontario.svg Ontario 554,870 4.9% 1,003,180 7.9%
Flag of British Columbia.svg British Columbia 210,295 5.4% 311,265 7.2%
Flag of Alberta.svg Alberta 69,580 2.4% 159,055 4.4%
Flag of Quebec.svg Quebec 59,510 0.8% 91,400 1.2%
Flag of Manitoba.svg Manitoba 12,875 1.2% 26,220 2.2%
Flag of Saskatchewan.svg Saskatchewan 4,090 0.4% 12,620 1.3%
Flag of Nova Scotia.svg Nova Scotia 2,895 0.3% 5,935 0.7%
Flag of New Brunswick.svg New Brunswick 1,415 0.2% 3,090 0.4%
Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador.svg Newfoundland and Labrador 1,010 0.2% 2,005 0.4%
Flag of Prince Edward Island.svg Prince Edward Island 115 0.1% 500 0.4%
Flag of Yukon.svg Yukon 205 0.7% 340 1.0%
Flag of the Northwest Territories.svg Northwest Territories 190 0.5% 200 0.5%
Flag of Nunavut.svg Nunavut 30 0.1% 115 0.4%
Flag of Canada.svg Canada 917,075 3.1% 1,615,145 4.9%

Canadian metropolitan areas with large South Asian populations:

City Province South Asians Percentage
Toronto Ontario 834,000 15.1%
Vancouver British Columbia 252,000 11.0%
Calgary Alberta 85,000 7.1%
Montréal Quebec 79,000 2.1%
Edmonton Alberta 61,000 5.3%
Ottawa Ontario 38,000 3.1%
Abbotsford British Columbia 32,000 19.1%
Hamilton Ontario 25,000 3.5%
Winnipeg Manitoba 24,000 3.3%

Subdivisions with notable South Asian populations[edit]

Source: Canada 2011 Census National Average: 4.9%


British Columbia[edit]




Religions of South Asian Canadians Aged 15 years and Above (2001)[3]
Religion Percent
No religion

South Asian Canadians tend to be significantly more religious than Canadians as a whole, with only 4% of South Asians claiming to have no religion compared in 17% of Canadians in 2001. In addition 28% of South Asians were Sikh, 28% Hindu, 22% Muslim and 16% Christian. Religious affiliation can vary greatly based on nationality as well. The majority of Pakistani Canadians and Bangladeshi Canadians profess to follow Islam, while the majority of Sri Lankan Canadians are Hindu with a significant minority following Christianity. Indian Canadians are split between Sikhs and Hindus with large minorities being Christian and Muslim as well. There are also a sizable communities of South Asians adhering to religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism.

Religion is found to play an important part in the lives of many South Asians and serves as defining point in their identity. Religious institutions such as gurdwaras, mosques, mandirs and churchs have often serve as meeting points for the community. Religion can also play an important role in the marriage of young South Asians. Many families believe that the couple must share the same religious heritage, which may also include caste. In recent years, South Asians have opened private schools in order to preserve their religious heritage, though the majority of South Asian youth still attend government run schools.

In 1990 Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh of South Asian background challenged the traditional dress code of the RCMP in order to accommodate his turban, a mandatory article of clothing worn by many Sikh men. The caused controversy throughout Canada with opponents arguing that the uniform of the RCMP was a national icon to be preserved, while proponents pointed out that Sikh soldiers served in the British army during World War I and World War II and also served in many Canadian police forces. On March 16, 1990 the policy was amended to allow Sikhs to serve while wearing a turban. More recently in 2013 the Quebec Soccer Federation had banned Sikh players in turbans from participating in matches, citing that turbans were a health hazard. This move created controversy among the Sikh community in Canada and condemned by FIFA


For much of the early 20th century restrictions such as the continuous journey regulation and quotas were placed on South Asians to prevent them from immigrating to Canada. When these restrictions were removed in the 1960s South Asian immigration from the Indian subcontinent and other places like the African Great Lakes, the Caribbean and Fiji increased dramatically. As of 2012, India was the third largest source of immigrants for Canada behind the Philippines and China respectively. Pakistan was the fourth, Sri Lanka the seventeenth, Bangladesh the nineteenth and Nepal the thirty-eighth. In addition to this a large number of South Asian immigrants to Canada arrive from regions such as the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, the Caribbean and the African Great Lakes. Historically, British Columbia was the traditional destination for South Asian, especially Punjabi, migrants. Beginning in the 1970s however Ontario grew to become the top destination for South Asian migrants due to its already large South Asian community and job availability. In recent years migration to Alberta has increased noticeably due to its comparatively stronger economy and better job market.

Year Indians admitted Pakistanis admitted Sri Lankans admitted Bangladeshis admitted Nepalis admitted
2000 26,122 14,201 5,849 2,715 247
2001 27,901 15,353 5,520 3,393 273
2002 28,838 14,173 4,968 2,615 418
2003 24,595 12,351 4,448 1,896 440
2004 25,573 12,793 4,134 3,374 594
2005 22,141 13,575 4,690 3,940 714
2006 30,746 12,329 4,490 3,838 640
2007 26,047 9,545 3,934 2,735 564
2008 24,548 8,051 4,508 2,716 639
2009 26,117 6,213 4,270 4,270 627
2010 30,252 4,986 4,181 4,364 1,502
2011 24,965 6,073 3,104 2,449 1,249
2012 28,943 9,931 3,152 2,449 1,311
Total 346,788 139,574 57,248 35,856 9,218

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goverment, Canada. "Immigration to Canada 2012". Stats Canada. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  2. ^ "South Asian Canadians". Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Lindsay, Colin (2001). "The South Asian Community". Profiles of Ethnic Communities in Canada (Ottawa: Statistics Canada). Retrieved 9 November 2014.  (Archive)
  4. ^ Nayar, Kamala Elizabeth. The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver: Three Generations Amid Tradition, Modernity, and Multiculturalism. University of Toronto Press, 2004. ISBN 0802086314, 9780802086310. p. 236. See: "9 The term 'Indo-Canadians' came into use in the 1980s as a result of the Canadian government's policy and ideology of multiculturalism. It refers to Canadian-born people whose origins are on the Indian subcontinent."
  5. ^ "NHS Profile, Canada, 2011 ." Statistics Canada.
  6. ^ Government, Canada. "Facts and Figures 2012". 
  7. ^ "2011 National Household Survey: Data tables." Statistics Canada.
  8. ^ "". Statistics Canada. Retrieved on November 10, 2014.
  9. ^

Further reading[edit]