A visible minority (French: minorité visible) is defined by the Canadian government as "persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour". The term is used primarily as a demographic category by Statistics Canada, in connection with that country's Employment Equity policies. The qualifier "visible" was chosen by the Canadian authorities as a way to single out newer immigrant minorities from both Aboriginal Canadians and other "older" minorities distinguishable by language (French vs. English) and religion (Catholics vs. Protestants), which are "invisible" traits (cf. the categories "WASP" and "white ethnic" in a US context).
The term visible minority is sometimes used as a euphemism for "non-white". This is incorrect, in that the government definitions differ: Aboriginal people are not considered to be visible minorities, but are not necessarily white either. Also, some groups that are defined as "white" in the United States census, such as Middle Eastern Americans, are defined as "visible minorities" in the official Canadian definition. In some cases, members of "visible minorities" may be visually indistinguishable from the majority population and/or may form a majority minority population locally (as is the case in some parts of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal).
Since the reform of Canada's immigration laws in the 1960s, immigration has been primarily of peoples from areas other than Europe, many of whom are visible minorities within Canada. Legally, members of visible minorities are defined by the Canadian Employment Equity Act as "persons, other than Aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour". The United States' equivalent classification—"people of color"—is similar, but also includes Indigenous Americans. Historically, it specifically referred to persons of mixed race, particularly of African and European ancestry.
Over seven million Canadians identified as a member of a visible minority group in the 2016 Census, accounting for 22.3% of the total population. This was an increase from the 2011 Census, when visible minorities accounted for 19.1% of the total population; from the 2006 Census, when visible minorities accounted for 16.2% of the total population; from 2001, when visible minorities accounted for 13.4% of the total population; from 1996 when the proportion was 11.2%; and over 1991 (9.4%) and 1981 (4.7%). In 1961, the visible minority population was less than 1%. The increase represents a significant shift in Canada's demographics related to increased immigration since the advent of its multiculturalism policies.
More than 68.8% of Canadian visible minority population are foreign-born, 27.7% are children of immigrants. Less than 4% are third-generation or beyond. Less than 3,000 Canadians are third-generation and visible minority and over 75 years old, there are mainly Black Nova Scotians.
Based upon the annual immigration intake into Canada since the last census in 2006, accompanied by the steady increase in the visible minority population within Canada due to the higher fertility levels of minority females when compared to Canadian women of European origin, researchers estimate that by 2012, approximately 19.56% of the population in Canada will be individuals of non-European (visible minority) origin. The Aboriginal population within Canada, based upon projections for the same year (i.e. 2012), is estimated to be 4.24%. Hence, at least 23.8% of Canada's population in 2012 were individuals of visible minority and Aboriginal heritage. Projections also indicate that by 2031, the visible minority population in Canada will make up about 33% of the nation's population, given the steady increase in the non-European component of the Canadian population.
Of the provinces, British Columbia had the highest proportion of visible minorities, representing 30.3% of its population, followed by Ontario at 29.3%, Alberta at 23.5% and Manitoba at 17.5%. In the 2006 census, South Asian Canadians superseded ethnic Chinese as Canada's largest visible minority group. In 2006, Statistics Canada estimated that there were 1.3 million South Asian people in Canada, compared with 1.2 million Chinese. In 2016, there were approximately 1.9 million South Asian Canadians, representing 5.6% of the country's population, followed by Chinese Canadians (4.6%) and Black Canadians (3.5%).
According to the Employment Equity Act of 1995, the definition of visible minority is:
"members of visible minorities" means persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour;
This definition can be traced back to the 1984 Report of the Abella Commission on Equality in Employment,. The Commission described the term visible minority as an "ambiguous categorization", but for practical purposes interpreted it to mean "visibly non-white". The Canadian government uses an operational definition by which it identifies the following groups as visible minorities: "Chinese, South Asian, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Southeast Asian, Arab, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, Visible minority, n.i.e. ('n.i.e.' means 'not included elsewhere'), and Multiple visible minority". However, a few exceptions are applied to some groups. According to the Visible Minority Population and Population Group Reference Guide of the 2006 Census, the exception is:
"In contrast, in accordance with employment equity definitions, persons who reported 'Latin American' and 'White,' 'Arab' and 'White,' or 'West Asian' and 'White' have been excluded from the visible minority population. Likewise, persons who reported 'Latin American,' 'Arab' or 'West Asian' and who provided a European write-in response such as 'French' have been excluded from the visible minority population as well. These persons are included in the 'Not a visible minority' category. However, persons who reported 'Latin American,' 'Arab' or 'West Asian' and a non-European write-in response are included in the visible minority population."
The term "non-white" is used in the wording of the Employment Equity Act and in employment equity questionnaires distributed to applicants and employees. This is intended as a shorthand phrase for those who are in the Aboriginal and/or visible minority groups.
The classification "visible minorities" has attracted controversy, both nationally and from abroad. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stated that they have doubts regarding the use of this term since this term may be considered objectionable by certain minorities and recommended an evaluation of this term. In response, the Canadian government made efforts to evaluate how this term is used in Canadian society through commissioning of scholars and open workshops.
Another criticism stems from the semantic applicability of the classification. In some cases, members of "visible minorities" may be neither "visually" discernible from the majority population nor form a "minority", at least locally. For instance, many Latin Americans living in Canada self-identify as White Latin Americans and are visually indistinguishable from White Canadians. Moreover, some members of "visible minorities" may form a majority minority population locally (as is the case in most parts of Vancouver and Toronto). Since 2008, census data and media reports have suggested that the "visible minorities" label no longer makes sense in some large Canadian cities, due to immigration trends in recent decades. For example, "visible minorities" comprise the majority of the population in Toronto, Vancouver, Markham, Coquitlam, Richmond, Ajax, Burnaby, Greater Vancouver A, Mississauga, Surrey, Richmond Hill and Brampton. In the United States, such cities or districts are described as majority-minority. But, the term "visible minority" is used for the administration of the Employment Equity Act, and refers to its statistical basis in Canada as a whole and not any particular region.
Yet another criticism of the label concerns the composition of "visible minorities". Critics have noted that the groups comprising "visible minorities" have little in common with each other, as they include both disadvantaged groups and groups who are not economically disadvantaged. The concept of visible minority has been cited in demography research as an example of a statistext, meaning a census category that has been contrived for a particular public policy purpose.