Anti-immigrant sentiment is rippling through much of the Western world – but not, it seems, in Canada.

Eight in 10 Canadians still believe that immigration is good for the country’s economy, a level that hasn’t budged from the previous year, a national survey to be released Tuesday shows. It also finds that most Canadians disagree that immigration levels are too high, while a growing share are confident that immigration controls are effective in keeping out criminals.

The findings come as Canada has accepted a record number of newcomers in the past year, including more than 32,000 Syrian refugees. In the past year to July, 320,932 immigrants landed in the country, the largest annual number since modern record-keeping began. “Public opinions on immigration and citizenship are either stable or have improved over past 15 months,” said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute, which conducted the survey in partnership with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

The survey sought to answer whether growing xenophobia globally is altering attitudes in this country. The answer, the authors say, is no.

At least three-quarters of respondents in every group in Canada believe immigration has a positive effect on the economy, with support the strongest in Toronto, and among those with a university degree.

Most Canadians “continue to believe that immigration is good for the economy, and there is growing confidence in the country’s ability to manage refugees and potential criminal elements,” said the survey, which was conducted this month and has tracked trends dating to the 1980s. Elsewhere, tensions are rising. In Europe, waves of migrants have prompted some countries to implement stricter border controls, while attacks against immigrants are growing. In the United States, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, and has called for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country.

In Canada, most people don’t think immigration increases crime rates. And a dwindling share believe refugee claimants are not legitimate.

Opinions differ on refugee levels. Nearly half, or 48 per cent of respondents, believe Canada is accepting the right number of refugees; 36 per cent think that’s too many, while 10 per cent say it’s too few. The people who believe the country is taking in too many “are concerned primarily about the capacity to support this many refugees or how it may divert resources from other priorities, rather than discomfort about these newcomers not fitting in or posing a security threat,” the report said.

Fewer Canadians are worried about immigrants not adopting “Canadian values.” In fact, the share expressing this view is now the lowest in more than 20 years, the paper said. Nine in 10 respondents say that someone born elsewhere is just as likely to be a good citizen as someone born in the country.

It’s a hot-button issue. Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has proposed would-be immigrants be screened for “anti-Canadian values,” a plan others in the party have rejected.

The findings come as Immigration Minister John McCallum is set to announce new immigration targets in the coming week. The minister said last month that most Canadians he has heard from in consultations are advocating for more immigrants, amid concern over looming labour shortages as the population ages. An economic advisory panel to the federal government recently recommended a boost in immigration – to 450,000 people a year – though Mr. McCallum has indicated that increase is too sharp.

Attitudes differ across the country. Negative opinions about immigration are most pervasive in the Prairies, while people in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia tend to be the most positive, the report said. Perspectives also vary across generations, with greater concern about immigration and integration among older Canadians. When asked which attributes are most important to being a good citizen in Canada, the vast majority – 95 per cent – put “treating men and women equally” at the top of their list.

The survey is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,000 Canadians between Oct. 3 and Oct. 16, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.

The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 6:00AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 6:00AM EDT