Vanessa Kirunda is the last person you’d expect to be looked down upon.

Poised, articulate, educated and confident, Kirunda can dissect and analyze why Canadians treat her differently because she is black. But all bets were off when schoolmates called her 10-year-old son Sean a n------. Three times. Three different backgrounds.

Kirunda and her son, Canadian citizens who emigrated from Kenya six years ago, face exactly the sort of walls a major study of multiculturalism and society pinpoints.

Crunching thousands of numbers from 41,666 people interviewed in nine languages, the just-published study found skin colour — not religion, not income — was the biggest barrier to immigrants feeling they belonged here. And the darker the skin, the bigger the alienation.

“We were surprised that religion didn’t have more effect,” said lead author Jeffrey Reitz. “It came down to race, with Asian people reporting some, and with young black males the most stigmatized. The data is consistent with that.

“We tend to believe racism is a minor problem in Canada, of little consequence. Someone looked at them funny. Or that many immigrants are doing well, so it must be their fault if they aren’t. There is a reluctance to investigate the issue,” said Reitz.

The University of Toronto professor of ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies added that a lack of trust was also higher among the successful, Canadian-born, Canadian-educated children of visible minority immigrants.

The study used data from Statistics Canada’s 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey.

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