TORONTO - The proportion of visible minorities in Canada, already one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, is set to explode in the coming decades and account for one-third of the population, Statistics Canada says.
In a projection released Tuesday, Statistics Canada says that by 2031 up to 14.4 million people in Canada could be a visible minority - with so-called minorities becoming the majority in two major cities.
Driven largely by immigration, but also birth rates and younger median ages among visible minorities, the projection suggests the face of Canada will have changed dramatically over half a century.
In 1981 there were about one million Canadians - five per cent of the population - who identified themselves as visible minorities. The projection for 2031 is more than double the 5.3 million visible minorities counted in the 2006 census.
As the upward trend continues Canadians will have to start thinking about races in a different way - not just visible minorities as compared to the Caucasian population, said a Queen's University sociology professor.
"The idea of a visible minority is going to have to shift or it's going to start getting more and more ridiculous to talk about a minority of people who in fact are the majority," Richard Day said.
But by 2031, Day doesn't expect the fundamental demographic change in Canada's complexion to be reflected in the workplace, or in government.
"Probably in terms of powers, in terms of who's in charge, I think that might not change so much," he said.
The largest visible minority group is projected to be South Asian, which includes people from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Statistics Canada projects the South Asian population could double in 2031 to 4.1 million from roughly 1.3 million in 2006.
That doesn't surprise Sunil Rao, the editor of South Asian Focus, a weekly newspaper based in Brampton, Ont., in the Greater Toronto Area.
Rao, originally from India, moved to Canada 3 1/2 years ago to provide better opportunities for his children.
"Your kids impel you to look for something better than what we enjoyed as kids, to better their fortunes," he said.
The Greater Toronto Area, already home to 718,000 South Asians according to the 2006 census, has seen some South Asians elected to various levels of government, but having positions of power more accurately reflect the country's makeup won't happen overnight, Rao said.
"It takes time to permeate through all the layers of bureaucracy or various facets of civil life, but it's happening and as time goes on there will be more," he said.
The second largest visible minority group is projected to be Chinese, but while both groups will see large increases, the rate at which the Chinese population grows will be lower, Statistics Canada said.
Chinese women have one of the lowest fertility rates among all the groups in Canada, said analyst Eric Caron Malenfant.
"The growth within the South Asian population would be higher essentially due to higher fertility compared to the Chinese," he said.
South Asians would make up 28 per cent of Canada's visible minority population in 2031, up from 25 per cent in 2006, according to the projection.
The Chinese population, while also projected to double, could be 21 per cent of the population in 2031, down slightly from 24 per cent in 2006.
Statistics Canada takes its definition of a visible minority from the federal Employment Equity Act, which is "persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour."
The percentage of foreign-born people in Canada is projected to grow about four times faster than the rest of the population between now and 2031. That would mean the total proportion of foreign-born people would account for between 25 and 28 per cent of Canada's population, or up to 12.5 million people.
By 2031, most visible minorities - 71 per cent - are projected to live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, building on a trend that has seen immigrants move to urban centres in large numbers.
The largest proportion by far is projected to live in Toronto, where Statistics Canada projects white people would be a visible minority by 2031. The agency says 63 per cent of the population could be a non-white visible minority in two decades, up from 43 per cent counted in the 2006 census.
In Vancouver, the population of visible minorities is projected to reach 59 per cent, up from 42 per cent in 2006.
By 2031 one-quarter of Torontonians will be South Asians and one-quarter of Vancouverites will identify themselves as Chinese, Statistics Canada projects.
In Montreal visible minority groups would represent 31 per cent of the population, with the increase in that area driven by blacks and Arabs.
But increases in visible minority populations won't be limited to the biggest cities, Caron Malenfant said.
"According to our projections the diversity would increase in every metropolitan area, even if the diversity is lower than average at the beginning of the projection," he said.
The numbers may seem insignificant compared with Toronto and Vancouver, but the visible minority population will double in many other areas, even if it is from five to 10 per cent in Brantford, Ont., or one to two per cent in Saguenay, Que.
Those communities likely won't notice a visible difference, said Day, who called it going "from one kind of relative insignificance to another."
"Not to be someone who belongs will still be obvious," he said.
"It will still be obvious in Moncton. It will still be obvious in Greater Sudbury," both of which are projected to go from two to five per cent.
Still, the projections confirm that smaller centres and rural communities will look nothing like Canada's largest cities in the years to come.
Newcomers settle in urban areas because the sheer size of the cities means more job opportunities, which then leads to the creation of ethnic communities, said University of Toronto professor Jeffrey Reitz.
"(They) become kind of magnets in themselves for people of similar backgrounds," the ethnic and immigration studies professor said.
"The existence of the communities in the cities sort of tends to become a self-perpetuating process."
That big city-small town immigrant settlement gap may narrow one day, with foreign-born Canadians moving to all corners of the country, but not just yet, Reitz predicted.
"It's already the case for immigration over the last five or six years that it has begun to become a little bit less concentrated," he said.
"But I think it certainly will be the case that immigration will continue to be a largely urban phenomenon for the foreseeable future."
An Egyptian-born woman expelled from a French class after refusing to remove her face-covering niqab has filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Two Nova Scotia brothers, aged 19 and 20, have been charged with hate crimes after a cross was burned in the yard of an interracial couple.
There was a rash of attacks on anglers of Asian background in Ontario in recent years. They had complained of being hassled while fishing in various lakes. A 26-year-old man was sentenced to two years in jail.