Final Report: Collective Efficacy and Cultural Capital: Building and Fostering Resilience in Different Ethnic Communities

Project Title

Collective Efficacy and Cultural Capital: Building and Fostering Resilience in Different Ethnic Communities

Lead / Author

Sara Thompson and Sandra Bucerius; Ryerson University and the University of Toronto

Relevant Dates

Report submitted March 2014. Fieldwork conducted in 2013.


This study is about what builds or inhibits forms of positive social integration that steer people away from crime, violence or even terrorism, and how factors that help build and foster community resilience might differ across ethnic groups. In drawing on ‘collective efficacy’ as the primary analytical lens, the authors focus on how social networks, trust, and other forms of community-level capacity combine with community members’ willingness to mobilize around particular notions of the common good.

The two cases are communities in the Greater Toronto Area, one being the Somali-Canadian diaspora, where authors note that levels of collective efficacy appear to be low and related to a lack of integration into Canadian society. The other is the Tamil-Canadian diaspora, portrayed as having high levels of capacity and willingness to mobilize.

The research highlights the circumstances and challenges faced by youth and young adults in these communities; describes their stances on al-Shabaab and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); and examines their experiences of counter-terrorism strategies employed by Canada. As well, the authors examine government policies related to integration and settlement, and the functioning of community institutions and local organizations. Data were collected principally through fieldwork, including interviews with 50 Tamil-Canadians and 118 Somali-Canadians aged between 16 and 30. The study presents findings about how governmental and non-governmental agencies and institutions could be more effective in working with each of the respective communities.

Select Findings

The authors note that at the time of the fieldwork, all Tamil-Canadian interviewees closely identified with the fate of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, having been deeply affected by the conflict. While the younger generation appeared to hold more critical perspectives of the LTTE than their parents, a strong majority believed that Canada and other such countries had a responsibility to intervene especially during the late stages of the conflict in 2009, and investigate wrong-doings of the Sri Lankan army. Even among those with significantly critical views of the LTTE (12 of 50 interviewees), none would label the organization as a terrorist group. Instead, viewing the LTTE as the only organization representing Tamils in the conflict, the decision to list the LTTE as a terrorist group was perceived as siding with the Sri Lankan government.

All Tamil-Canadian participants in the study reported having held strongly positive views of Canada prior to 2009, including gratitude for the support of Tamil refugees, and a deep connection to both Tamil and Canadian identities. The report notes, however, that context at the time of the fieldwork was characterized by widespread views of inaction and misunderstanding by Canada about the conflict, public stereotyping of the community as linked to terrorism, along with a lack of dialogue between government and the Tamil diaspora, especially with the younger generation. The authors argue that government engagement with the community needs to better take into consideration how deeply invested Tamil-Canadians are in the ongoing events in Sri Lanka, and how policy decisions can impact both community relations and public backlash against such communities. 

In contrast to the Tamil-Canadian interview participants, the researchers found that the concerns of Somali-Canadian participants were more local, such as about experiences of discrimination, including at school and by the police, and lack of economic opportunity. Violence was identified as one of the more significant issues facing Somali-Canadians, with respondents expressing concern that many young Somali-Canadian males had become victims of violence in both Alberta and Toronto, but that many of these cases remained unsolved.

The authors found that the addition of security concerns about Al Shabaab, on top of local community concerns, was exacerbating the difficulties experienced by regular Somali-Canadians. The research does suggest that many young Somali-Canadians – particularly males – have been exposed to recruitment and propaganda from violent radical groups. At the same time, the authors find the emergence of counter-narratives from within the community, that work against the efforts of groups like Al Shabaab. Participants in the study describe the group as akin to a cult using trickery or brainwashing tactics, while recruits are dismissed as weak or lacking knowledge. In this context, authors note the ‘resilient’ role of religion, as participants drew on their own religious knowledge to counter the claims and actions of Al Shabaab.

Based on feedback from Somali-Canadian participants, the study makes recommendations on a range of social policy areas, including how to remove barriers to hiring Somali-Canadian police officers and expand upon community policing models that are working well, including in context of national security. A point of emphasis is the identification of new voices and examples of grassroots entrepreneurship initiatives from within the Somali-Canadian community, often led by women and youth. These examples are shown as not only important to support broader community resilience, but as avenues for partnership between government and community.

Further Information

Sara Thompson

Sandra Bucerius

Related Initiatives

John Monahan, Rima Berns-McGown and Michael Morden, “The Perception & Reality of ‘Imported Conflict’ in Canada,” The Mosaic Institute, 2014.

Myrna Lashley et al., “Cultural Competence and Canada’s Security: Can being culturally competent assist police and security officers in ensuring Canada’s security?,” Environics, 2014.

Charlie Edwards, Calum Jeffray and Raffaello Pantucci, “Out of Reach? The Role of Community Policing in Preventing Terrorism in Canada,” RUSI, 2015.



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