Scouts Canada helping young immigrants

December 8, 1999

Preliminary results of ongoing research at McGill University into multiculturalism in Canadian youth activities has shown that young immigrants who enroll in youth organizations like Scouts Canada have better opportunities for more effective integration into Canadian society. The research is being conducted by Dr Joan Marshall, Adjunct Professor of Social and Cultural Geography attached to the Department of Agricultural Economics at McGill’s Macdonald Campus.

The research is being carried out in five major Canadian cities involving all scouting sections that include youth members aged five to twenty-five. According to Professor Marshall, the purpose of the study is to examine ways in which Scouts Canada offers opportunities for young immigrants to successfully integrate into Canadian society by comparing the experiences of what she calls ethnospecific groups i.e. groups of a particular ethnic origin, with mixed groups comprising young people of different ethnic origins in each city. "In Calgary, for example, we focused on a Chinese ethnospecific group, in which it was quite clear, almost without exception, that young immigrants were attracted to the group because of what they could learn about the Canadian way of life within the context of meetings amongst their own cultural group," says Marshall. Five ethnospecific groups are represented in the study including, Lebanese, Armenian, Chinese, Ismaili and Greek.

"In some cases, we found that parents offered to become volunteers for the group because their children were already members and they wanted to share in the child’s learning experience in the new culture," says Dr Marshall, herself a longtime Scouts volunteer. Another significant finding revealed by the study was the observation that immigrant membership of each group reflected the length of time an individual had been in the country. New arrivals tend to be drawn to an ethnospecific group, even when it is located some distance from their places of residence. Young people born in Canada, however, usually joined a mixed group located in their community.

"Interestingly, those Canadian-born children who had joined an ethnospecific group usually did so because their parents wished to maintain religious or linguistic ties to their communities," says Dr Marshall. "In other words, the needs of youth who are new arrivals changed with their degree of integration into the mainstream society. Initially, they looked for a level of comfort that allowed them to explore the many new challenges of Canadian society from within the relative security of their own group. As children adapt to the Canadian lifestyle, it may be that their growing sense of security allows them to join a mixed group where they meet a broad cross-section of their new home."

Marshall’s study also suggests that the leadership in ethnically mixed Scouts groups does not adequately reflect the membership composition or the communities in which they’re located. "This may pose a problem for the continued growth of Scouts Canada as a youth organization," explains Dr Marshall. "It must adapt to the reality of the immigrant experience and the changing landscape of Canadian society."