Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science



Collaborative Specialization

Migration and Ethnic Relations


Esses, Victoria M.


Arabs make up almost 2% of the population in Canada, and their numbers are growing rapidly. Yet, literature on Arabs in Canada is sparse, both from academic and governmental sources. Using ethnic identity and intersectionality frameworks, this study explores the meanings of Arab identity for youth in Ontario, Canada, and the interactions between their Arab identity and their other identities. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted in Arabic and English with 30 participants (ages 18-30) who are from, or whose background is from, the Arab world. Findings highlighted the diversity of the population, and the themes that emerged regarding self-identification with labels, the meanings of being Arab, the identity crises and conflicts that Arabs experience in the Canadian context, and their intersecting dimensions of identity. Results further our understanding of ethnic identity in Canada and have practical implications for Arabs in Canada.

Summary for Lay Audience

Canada has a long history of immigration, and it continues to welcome hundreds of thousands of immigrants per year (Statistics Canada, 2022b). Immigrants come from many different countries, and represent a range of cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious heritages (Statistics Canada, 2022b). Arabs are one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in Canada, making up almost 2% of the population, and their numbers are growing considerably faster than the overall population (Statistics Canada, 2007; 2022c). Arabs have been immigrating to Canada from the Middle East and North Africa since 1882 (Abu-Laban, 1980). Yet, despite their large presence and history in Canada, literature on Arabs is sparse, both from academic and governmental sources. Thus, the current study aimed to explore the meanings of Arab identity for youth in Canada. Thirty participants (18-30 years old) who resided in Ontario, and who were from, or whose background was from, the 22 countries of the Arab world were recruited to take part in the study. Participants were interviewed over Zoom and asked a series of open-ended questions about their identities and their experiences in Canada. Their responses were then recorded and analyzed to examine whether participants identified as Arab, what being Arab meant to them within the Canadian context, and how the different dimensions of their identity, such as their gender, sexual orientation, religion, and others, impacted their Arab identity and experiences in Canada. Our results indicated the identities and labels with which participants identified, the meanings of Arab identity for young Arabs in Ontario, the identity crises and conflicts that participants experience in Canada, and the interaction of their Arab identity with other dimensions of their identities. Our findings further demonstrated the diversity and heterogeneity of the Arab population in Canada. This thesis betters our understanding of the ethnic identity of Arabs in Canada and creates a launching pad for future studies that focus on this population. Our findings have implications for research in psychology as well as practical implications for policies and programs that impact diverse communities across Canada.