Welcoming Communities

Credit: South Asian Family Association

What is this issue about?

British Columbia is a diverse province with many different people from different countries. This diversity brings with it the need to create welcoming communities.

The Province of B.C.'s WelcomeBC website highlights three key aspects of welcoming communities, where all residents:

  • participate in the social, cultural, and economic life of the region without discrimination
  • embrace and celebrate the diversityi of the whole community
  • feel welcome, immigrants realize their full potential, racism is eliminated, and cultural diversity is valued

Why are welcoming communities important for health and well-being?

Welcoming communities are important for the health and well-being of everyone who lives in British Columbia. When racism, language barriers, a lack of cultural sensitivity, and a feeling of not belonging in the community prevents people of different backgrounds from accessing community services, their mental and physical health suffers. Being cognizant of the different cultural requirements around health required by different cultural groups can help local governments facilitate health services that can improve health outcomes.

Discrimination can lead to stress, difficulty finding a well-paying job, and housing discrimination, which are factors in poor physical and mental health. Local governments can take action against discrimination through policies, events, and programs, acting on knowledge about community demographics to create positive environments and positive health outcomes.

Welcoming communities are important in terms of building community. Celebrating and embracing diversity can encourage immigrants and minority groups to participate more fully in community life, which benefits the whole community. Working together, people from many different backgrounds can accomplish much more in terms of building healthy communities than they can accomplish working apart. This also increases their sense of community cohesiveness and belonging, makes communities safer and more secure, increases volunteerism, and creates good relationships between civic officials, local government staff, and area residents.

Did You Know?

  • According to the 2011 National Household Survey, British Columbia had 232,285 Aboriginal Peoples (5.4% of the total population), 185,115 recent immigrants (immigrated between 2006 and 2011; 4.3% of the total population), and 1,180,870 visible minorities (27.3% of the total population).
  • Aboriginal Peoples experience significantly worse health outcomes than the overall Canadian population, with life expectancies of 5 to 14 years less than the Canadian average.ii
  • By 2031, British Columbia could have as many as 373,000 Aboriginal Peoples, composing as much as 6.3% of the population.iii
  • By 2031, British Columbia could have as many as 2,620,000 visible minorities, composing as much as 40.8% of the total population.iv

Why do welcoming communities matter for local governments?

The level of ethnic and cultural diversity varies between different communities around the province, but all communities have peoples of different ethnic backgrounds. Many of the programs and policies designed for Aboriginal Peoples and immigrants are offered through federal government departments such as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). However, local governments also run many programs and processes (e.g. library programs, parks and recreation programs, community consultations) that affect Aboriginal Peoples and immigrants, so the needs of these groups should be considered. According to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, municipalities have several strengths and capacities that make them crucial actors in reducing racism and discrimination:

  • political clout
  • governance of essential service delivery
  • capacity to influence public opinion and bring together different interests
  • moral authority to influence other organizations and government

Take Action

Policy and Planning

Create a multicultural or welcoming community plan.

In 2011, partially funded by a grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the City of Coquitlam created the City of Coquitlam Multiculturalism Strategy and Action Plan. The plan contains themes (e.g. “communicating our diversity”), goals, objectives, and priorities.

The City of Surrey, through its Welcoming Communities Committee, has developed an action plan to “help ensure immigrants and refugees can successfully integrate into the social and economic life of Surrey.”

Create anti-discrimination policies and bylaws.

The City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan created a Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Policy which provides a vision statement around welcoming and valuing ethno-cultural diversity.

Outcome statements related to zero tolerance for racism, community representation of ethno-cultural diversity in decision making bodies, and the city’s role in methods such as employment equity and inclusive communication are also mentioned.


Form council committees dedicated to diversity, Aboriginal Peoples, and immigrants.

The City of Vancouver has committees representing the interests of many different cultural groups, including a LGBTQ Advisory Committee, a Multicultural Advisory Committee, a Trans and Gender-variant Working Group, and an Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee.

Research and produce literature and fact sheets to inform local residents and municipal staff about the diversity of their communities.

The City of Burnaby has produced City and Neighbourhood Profiles (based on census data) that contain information on diversity, such as places of origin for immigrants, immigrants by period of immigration, Aboriginal Population, and most common home languages.

Utilize other languages in addition to English in providing services to residents.

The City of Surrey offers free online and over-the-phone translation service to assist individuals with questions and inquiries that they would like to ask municipal staff. Translation is available in more than 170 languages.

Produce readily available welcome packages to help new residents learn more about the services in their communities.

The City of Richmond produces a Newcomer’s Guide with information on a variety of topics, some related to municipal functions such as garbage and recycling, and others related to services provided by other groups or businesses in the community, such as how to volunteer.

The Newcomer’s Guide is available in print at several non-profit organizations, as well as online on the City of Richmond's website, and is available in English, Chinese, and Tagalog.

Enact human resources practices within the local government to ensure that diversity and inclusion are considered.

The City of Vancouver works to ensure that diversity is considered in hiring practices through its City of Vancouver Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program. The City of Vancouver’s EEO office partners with community agencies serving diverse populations to assist with pre-employment programs, mock interviews, and work placements for their clients.

Partnerships and Programs

Host and support multicultural events.

Since 2013, the City of Surrey has held an annual Fusion Festival.  The event includes  performances from many different ethnic groups, including the Vancouver Korean Dance Society and Bollywood performances. The 2016 festival included cultural pavilions for 39 different cultural groups and countries, cooking demonstrations, dance lessons and many other activities.

Work with local First Nations communities to tackle joint projects and challenges.

On March 8, 2011, Squamish Nation's Chief Gibby Jacob and District of Squamish's Mayor Greg Gardner signed an Intergovernmental Cooperation Accord. It contains guiding principles related to land use and joint decision making, as well as agreements for the use and development of particular sites.

Provide grants to non-profit organizations and community groups that provide Aboriginal, multicultural, and immigrant-related services or festivals.

The City of Burnaby provides community grants for various festivals, many of which are multicultural or ethnic-related festivals, such as the European Festival, the Ethiopian Community Summer Festival, and the Nikkei Fall Harvest Fair. Information on the grant program and applications are available on the City of Burnaby’s grant website.

Partner with non-profit organizations and post-secondary institutions to study issues facing diverse groups.

The City of Abbotsford conducted a study about Indo-Canadian seniors’ social participation in services and programs. The study was conducted with the assistance of service providers such as PICS (Progressive Intercultural Community Services), Abbotsford Community Services, and Abbotsford Multicultural Working Group. The Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley acted as a consultant to undertake community consultation and research.

Work with Board of Trades and Chambers of Commerce to build more welcoming communities.

The Surrey Board of Trade organizes presentations, events, dialogues, and fact sheets related to the economic benefit of integrating newcomers into the community. It was also one of the many partners involved in Surrey’s Welcoming Communities Project.


Welcoming Communities Project Resources

Provide culturally sensitive and specific recreation programs based on community demographics.

The Town of Smithers Community Services Association in partnership with the Town's Recreation department offers a Newcomers Recreation and Healthy Eating Accessibility Project that promotes social inclusion by creating a safe space to understand the local culture and try new things.

The City of Regina, Saskatchewan, has created several specialized Aboriginal sport, culture, and recreation programs, including lifeguarding programs and Tomorrow's Y's Leaders (in partnership with the YMCA).

Become a Safe Harbour Municipality.

Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Services Agencies of BC (AMSSA) has created the Safe Harbour program, which helps to train businesses, agencies, and communities with serving diverse populations and also provides a recognizable logo to demarcate places that have been trained to serve diverse populations. There are nearly 1,000 Safe Harbour Certified locations listed on the AMSSA website.

Involve diverse groups in health-related initiatives.

During the process to establish the District of Kitimat and the Northern Health Authority’s Health Protocol Agreement, groups such as the Sikh Ladies and the Kitimaat Village provided input into the creation of the protocol, prompting inclusive changes to parks and recreation programming and health programming. The Kitimat and Northern Health Protocol Agreement was nominated for a 2010 UBCM Community Excellence Award for Best Practices.

On May 11, 2013, the City of Surrey, along with Options Community Services, DIVERSEcity, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society) and PICS (Progressive Intercultural Community Services), hosted its second annual Diversity Health Fair.