Sociology 211

November 19, 2004


NOTE:  For the section on discrimination, I will be using the article “Are Muslims Discriminated Against in Canada Since September 2001?” by Denise Helly, published in  Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2004, pp. 24-48.  FC104 C36.  A copy of the journal is on two-hour reserve at the University Library.  This reading is not required but if you wish to obtain more background on this issue, read this article.


4.  Discrimination.  Isajiw deals primarily with discrimination in employment, although he extends this to other situations.  He defines discrimination as resulting “when any one group or set of groups is continuously excluded from these vacancies” (p. 112).  This may be a rather narrow definition of discrimination.  Fleras and Kunz adopt a more general definition, one that can be applied to a wider variety of circumstances – “any action that has the intent or effect of denying or excluding someone from equitable treatment because of membership in a particular racial or ethnic group.”  (p. 190).  As noted earlier, this is equivalent to racism – intent (prejudice), exclusion (discrimination), and effective action (power).  Included is the possibility of exclusion, even though there may not be an intent to do so – this is the systemic or institutional form of discrimination.


Forms of discrimination.  Many of the following notes come from Helly, 2004.


a.  Direct or indirect


Direct discrimination is the deliberate exclusion of some on basis of race, ethnicity, etc. by an individual; denial of a right or freedom (Helly, p. 25).  This may be individual, group, or institutional, depending on the source of the denial.


Indirect discrimination “occurs when an action produces an uneven effect on a group or person” (Helly, p. 25) identified by race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or some other similar criterion.  Indirect discrimination may be also be termed structural or systemic discrimination.  Helly gives the example of weight or size requirements to become a police officer or firefighter – these are not necessarily aimed at excluding some types of people but, in practice, they can exclude females or members of ethnic groups not meeting the necessary weight or height requirements. 


As Isajiw notes, direct discrimination is often difficult to prove, although he cites figures demonstrating that many members of minority groups report being discriminated against (pp. 112-113).  A recent update on such reports comes from Statistics Canada’s “Ethnic Diversity Survey,” conducted in 2002 and released in 2003.  (See the web site  Most respondents (93%) to this cross-sectional survey of Canadian adults reported no discriminatory treatment related to their ethnicity, culture, race, skin colour, language, accent, or religion.  But one in five (20%) of visible minority respondents (and one in three blacks) indicated they had encountered discrimination on these grounds sometimes or often.  And one in four (24%) of visible minority members reported they felt uncomfortable or out of place because of their ethno-cultural characteristics most or some of the time.  Of those who reported discrimination, the forms of discrimination reported most often were in jobs or in applying for a job or promotion (56%), at a store, bank, or restaurant (35%), or on the street (26%).  This demonstrates that personal, direct discrimination is still a problem in Canada, or is perceived to be a problem by many members of visible minorities.


Few of the refugees we interviewed in Regina reported discrimination, although several indicated ways that they felt they had been denied opportunities.  Some of these may be indirect or systemic. 


b.  Source – personal or institutional.  Personal discrimination is likely to be fairly direct, while institutional discrimination is more likely to be indirect or systemic.  The great bulk of discrimination that matters most in terms of economic opportunities is likely institutional, since most people in contemporary Canada work in an institutional setting or must deal with institutions such as financial institutions, government agencies, or educational organizations.  While the discrimination is mostly systemic, there may be situations where laws deliberately exclude members of an ethnic group, so these are institutionalized in practice.  The internment of the Japanese in World War II, the Chinese exclusion laws in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the laws restricting African-Americans in the United States South are examples of institutional discrimination that is direct.  Given the commitment to equality and human rights in much of North America, such regulations and laws are less common today.  At the same time, there may be many direct discriminatory practices in institutions and much personal discrimination.


c.  Systemic and structural – these are more likely to be the indirect forms of discrimination.  For Isajiw, it is established practices and procedures that may not be intended to be discriminatory but, in fact, do act to systemically exclude some from particular jobs or other opportunities (p. 114).  Or these may be discriminatory practices that some of those in power have been aware of but choose to maintain, since it gives them greater managerial discretion and the possibility of exercising favouritism.  As Isajiw notes, these can be exacerbated by prejudice and stereotypes, so that negative attitudes of individuals in power add to the more structural forms of discrimination. 


Helly refers to these as systemic discrimination, where inequalities between groups of people do not seem to be a product of identifiable factors.  In the case of labour markets, economic models of the labour force have demonstrated that education, credentials, knowledge of language, experience, and seniority are the factors that explain most differences in job opportunities, earnings, and career development.  Where inequalities among groups exist that cannot be explained by these factors, then there is suspicion or proof of discrimination.  Since it is often difficult to detect this form of discrimination, it may become noticed when there is under-representation of a group in a particular institution.  The discrimination may not be conscious or personal, but it may still exist because of hiring and promotion practices.  Thus attention is focussed on under-representation of certain groups in an occupation or under-representation of the group at different levels of an institution or occupation, usually at the higher ranks.  At the University of Regina though, it may be that visible minorities are under-represented at the lower, rather than higher levels, since there are many visible minority faculty members. 


Example of discrimination by sex.  One of the first studies I assisted with at the University of Regina in the late 1970s was a study of male and female faculty members that showed few female faculty members at the middle and higher ranks, and more female than male faculty members at lower salaries.  Education, degrees, and other factors did not seem to explain the gap but it appeared that the rank at which faculty members were hired and their rate of promotion were two key factors holding women faculty back.  Some of this appeared to be systemic and a correction in salary for some women occurred.  Several years later the same problem recurred and another correction was made.  Some inequities of this sort remain at the University of Regina and at other universities. 


It is sometimes difficult to determine the exact cause of the systemic discrimination against women – some seems related to expectations concerning research and publication and taking time away from employment to have children.  However, these are not always the explanation, and it appears that favouritism has sometimes led to promotion of male faculty members, while female faculty members are more reluctant to actively seek promotion and some have been discouraged from seeking promotion (usually by their male counterparts).  Some of this comes from anecdotal information, so it is difficult to sort out all the factors responsible for the differential progress of male and female faculty members.


For immigrants, some of the main forms of systemic job discrimination are the questioning or non-recognition of the credentials they obtained in other countries, devaluation of their job experiences and other types of work experience, lack of Canadian experience (which they cannot have at time of admission), and limited ability in the English language. 


Aboriginal – downgrading of credentials (First Nations University), questioning experience working at non-governmental or community organizations, devaluation of other work experiences, wrong networks (i.e. wrong social capital – see Isajiw, p. 115, where he notes that ethnocentric tendencies and information channels within an organization were main method of hiring and promotion – aboriginal people often not connected to these).


d.  Veiled, voluntary, usual (Helly, p. 26 and p. 34).  Helly refers to veiled and voluntary discrimination as “attitudes or actions which … lead to the exclusion of people from spheres of daily social life” (p. 26).  She states that these are difficult to prove and some would not consider these discriminatory, but these are situations such as “under representation of members of some ethno-cultural groups in particular neighbourhoods, associations, clubs, and social networks (i.e., of colleagues, neighbours, friends; intermarriages).” (p. 26).   By “usual discrimination” Helly is referring to attitudes, stereotypes, media coverage, and educational programs.  In each of these, there may be an unthinking but stereotypical view of an ethno-cultural group that stereotypes them, is prejudicial to them, and could have a negative influence of actions individuals take toward members of the ethno-cultural group.


Last edited November 22, 2004