TORONTO (May. 18)
Newly released population statistics show that Canada’s Jewish community is growing, mainly due to immigration.
According to tabulations from Canada’s 2001 census, the number of people who identify themselves as Jewish in Canada increased by 3.7 percent during the 1990s, to nearly 330,000.
The census also found that the country’s Muslim population has more than doubled in the past decade.
More than half of Canada’s Jews — 190,800 — live in the province of Ontario, the census figures show. Of those, about 175,000 live in the Toronto area.
The census also shows that nearly one-third of Canada’s Jews were born outside Canada and that they are a relatively older population, with a median age of 41.5 years, compared to 37 years for the general Canadian population.
Jewish communal officials acknowledge that the latest statistics reflect high rates of intermarriage, assimilation and non-affiliation among young Jewish adults, problems they have been contending with for years.
But many see the glass as half-full.
“I think it’s a good sign that we are one of the few Jewish communities in the world that is growing from year to year,” said Professor Martin Lockshin, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Toronto’s York University.
Jewish populations are rising in “Israel, Canada and only a few other places in the world,” according to Lockshin. The largest source of Jewish immigration to Canada has been the former Soviet Union, though that flow has lessened in recent years.
“My understanding is that the reason we have some growth is because there is still more immigration of Jews into Canada than emigration out,” he said.
That also happens in other countries, such as the United States.
“But the drop-out rate in the United States is so high that the number of Jews that self-identify as Jews in the United States is going down precipitously,” Lockshin said. “It’s not going down in the same way in Canada.”
The data shows that the number of Muslims in Canada was 579,600 in 2001, more than double the total a decade earlier.
According to the latest figures, Muslims represent 2 percent of the total population, while Jews represent 1.1 percent.
There is a disagreement among analysts as to whether the substantial growth of the Muslim community explains the emergence of an increasingly strong anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian political lobby in Canada since the mid-1990s.
“I understand the concern that people have, but I’m not certain that it’s justified,” Lockshin said. “Many people have pointed out that a very significant percentage of the Muslim immigrants here are not from Arab countries; they’re from Indonesia and other Muslim countries. It’s not certain that all people that come from Muslim countries are going to be against the interests of the State of Israel.”
The latest numbers show that Canada is still predominantly Roman Catholic and Protestant, with seven out of 10 Canadians indicating an affiliation with one of the two major Christian denominations.
Statistics Canada released the figures in mid-May as part of a package of new data derived from the 2001 census.
Lockshin and others involved in Canadian Jewish studies are awaiting the release of more detailed data from Statistics Canada, which is expected to provide information on the number of people that speak Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as the number of homes in which people profess more than one religion.
“I’m just delighted that the government of Canada asks questions that have to do with religion and ethnicity, which allows us to get a better picture of the Jewish communities of Canada than we have for many other countries of the world,” he said.