Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry prison sentences of up to 10 years, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. Most victims of sexual assault were women.
The law provides protections against domestic violence for both men and women, although most victims were women. Although the criminal code does not define specific domestic violence offenses, assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault charges apply to acts of domestic violence. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Police received training in treating victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse.
Approximately 1,180 indigenous women disappeared or were killed from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 RCMP report. Indigenous advocates and a report issued in 2019 by the government-commissioned National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) stated the number was probably far higher, since many deaths had gone unreported. Indigenous women and girls make up an estimated 4 percent of the country’s women but represented 16 percent of the women killed, according to government statistics.
The NIMMIWG concluded in June 2019 that the government’s treatment of indigenous peoples amounted to “deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide,” continued and required immediate action. The government failed to release an expected national action plan for addressing the inquiry’s 231 recommendations, attributing delay to a number of factors including the pandemic. Critics noted the federal government took few steps during the year to implement the recommendations. On June 3, the national inquiry’s former commissioners called for the government to appoint an impartial international organization to oversee implementation of the recommendations, which they said was “essential to address Canada’s responsibility for the commission of genocide and for violations of fundamental human rights.”
The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and to advance women’s human rights. The government continued a national strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence, budgeting C$101 million ($77.8 million) over five years to create a center of excellence within Status of Women Canada for research, data collection, and programming. The 2018 federal budget allocated an additional C$86 million ($66 million) over five years, starting in 2018-19, and C$20 million ($15.4 million) per year thereafter, to expand the strategy with a focus on preventing teen-dating violence, bullying, and cyberbullying; health care for victims; investigative policing; police training; research; funding for rape crisis and sexual assault centers; and programs to prevent gender-based violence in postsecondary educational institutions. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and prosecutes the offense, including parents of minors, as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. FGM/C occurred on occasion, predominantly in diaspora communities. While internal government reports leaked to media asserted that FGM/C practitioners and victims often travelled to the country of the practitioners’ origin for the illegal procedure, officials also sought to prevent the entry of FGM/C practitioners into the country.
Sexual Harassment: The law offers protections from sexual harassment at the workplace but does not articulate a specific offense of “sexual harassment” outside of work; instead it criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions had internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provided public education and guidance.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No significant legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception; cost has been cited as the most important barrier to contraception access in the country, particularly for young and low-income women. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including through dedicated sexual assault care centers. Skilled health attendants were available during pregnancy and childbirth and were publicly funded, although women in rural and Arctic areas had more difficulty accessing care. The country’s adolescent birth rate varied widely by province. In Ontario, the most populous province which includes multiple urban centers, the birth rate was 4.3 per 1,000 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19, while in the rural northern territory of Nunavut, the rate was 97.3 per 1,000.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government during the year. In 2018 the Ministries of Indigenous Services and Health sent a letter to provincial and territorial ministers as well as to members of the medical community expressing concern over reports from indigenous women that they were involuntarily sterilized after giving birth. More than 100 women reported they had been sterilized without their proper and informed consent. At least 60 women joined a class action litigation against the province of Saskatchewan for their coerced sterilization between 1972 and 2017; the case was pending as of August.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men, and the government enforced these rights effectively.
In January the government released data regarding female representation on corporate boards. The government determined that in 2017 (the most recent year for which data was available), 18 percent of board seats were held by women. Solely men composed 61 percent of boards. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed to 87 cents for women for every dollar earned by men, except at the top of corporate structures.
First Nations women living on reservations (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or may enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately and are neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes violence and abuse against children, including assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography, abandonment, emotional maltreatment, and neglect. Provincial and territorial child welfare services investigate cases of suspected child abuse and may provide counseling and other support services to families, or place children in child welfare care, when warranted.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage with parental consent. Early marriages were not known to be a major problem.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and offering or procuring a child for child prostitution and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living from the proceeds of the prostitution of a child younger than age 18 face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to a child younger than age 18 engaging in prostitution face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than age 18 face between six months’ and 10 years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage girls, were exploited in sex trafficking. Children from indigenous communities, at-risk youth, runaway youth, and youth in the child welfare system were at high risk for trafficking.
The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish.
The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 2,207 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, the latest available figures and an 8 percent increase from 2018. Out of this total, there were 2,011 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 2019, up 11 percent from 2018. B’nai Brith also reported there were 11 cases of anti-Semitic violence and 221 reports of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2019.
In January a Quebec man appeared in court on charges of inciting hatred and advocating genocide for posting alleged racist and homophobic slurs on social media in 2019 and in January. The posts targeted Jews, Muslims, black persons, and homosexuals, and it promoted Aryan supremacy. In June he pled guilty to inciting hatred against an identifiable group through social networks. A court sentenced him to seven and one-half months in prison and released him with credit for time served in pretrial detention.
In June an Ontario man was arrested for allegedly painting swastikas and the names of Adolf Hitler, senior Nazi officials related to the Holocaust, and Anne Frank at nine different sites in Barrie, Ontario. The man was charged with nine counts of mischief for vandalism of property.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. Federal and provincial governments effectively implemented laws and programs mandating access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities, but regulation varies by jurisdiction. The federal Accessible Canada Act became law in June 2019 to “identify, remove, and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction.
Disability rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of job retention, and higher rates of poverty and economic marginalization than the broader population. Mental-disability advocates asserted the prison system was not sufficiently equipped or staffed to provide the care necessary for those in the criminal justice system, resulting in cases of segregation and self-harm.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The law prohibits discrimination because of race. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions investigated complaints and raised public awareness. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations.
In September, five indigenous persons attacked and stabbed a black man in a Manitoba park while yelling racial slurs. Police arrested three of the perpetrators charged them with assault and public incitement of hatred, and continued to search for the other two assailants.
Indigenous peoples constituted approximately 5 percent of the national population and much higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 52 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police brutality and harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous peoples remained underrepresented in the workforce, leadership positions, and politics; more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, and sexual violence; and overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations. In January the government announced the proportion of indigenous persons serving federal sentences had reached a record high: indigenous women constituted 42 percent of all incarcerated women, and more than 30 percent of all incarcerated individuals were indigenous. According to the government’s statistical agency, approximately 22 percent of all homicide victims in 2018 were indigenous, and the rate of homicide was five times higher for indigenous persons than nonindigenous persons.
The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and members of a recognized First Nation as Status Indians and eligible for a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or nonstatus indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition or who may have lost status through marriage to a nonindigenous person or other disenfranchisement. In 2016, according to the government’s statistical agency, 52 percent of children in foster care were indigenous, although indigenous children accounted for less than 8 percent of the child population. Approximately 14,970 of 28,665 foster children in private homes younger than age 15 were indigenous. In January a law came into effect that affirms and recognizes First Nations, Inuit, and Metis jurisdiction over child and family services with the goal of keeping indigenous children and youth connected to their families, communities, and culture. In July the government of Ontario announced reform of its child welfare system with a goal of reducing the number of indigenous children in provincial foster care by 25 percent and mandating that 85 percent of placements be made with caregivers related to a child’s family of origin to allow children to retain cultural, familial, and community connections.
The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges.
The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples on the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to indigenous land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights.
A Supreme Court decision affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only based on a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.
First Nations, Inuit, and Metis former students of federal and provincial government-funded day schools filed a national class-action lawsuit in 2018 for alleged physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and loss of culture and language, which they claimed they suffered in church-run schools they were legally compelled to attend since 1920. In May 2019 the federal court approved a settlement between the government and former students who suffered harm while attending the schools, whereby some former students would receive C$10,000 ($7,700) in individual compensation, and students who experienced physical and sexual abuse were eligible for additional compensation, ranging from C$50,000 ($38,500) to C$200,000 ($154,000). The claims period was scheduled to remain open until July 2022.
Contaminated drinking water was a problem in many indigenous communities. The 2018 budget provided C$172.6 million ($133 million) over three years for infrastructure projects to support high-risk water systems. The government committed to end all drinking water advisories on indigenous lands by March 2021.
In October, Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous woman, used her cellphone to record derogatory and discriminatory comments made to her by nurses at a Joliette, Quebec, hospital as she lay dying and asked for pain relief. The hospital fired a nurse and orderly when the recording became public. The prime minister publicly deplored the abuse as an example of systemic racism. The premier of Quebec, whose government has jurisdiction over health care, issued a public, formal apology to the Echaquan family and publicly committed to investigating complaints of racism and mistreatment of indigenous patients at the hospital and to introducing training on indigenous culture for physicians and nurses. At the request of the Quebec government, the provincial chief coroner ordered a public inquiry into Echaquan’s death that remained pending at year’s end.
Conversion therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation is lawful, and government data reflected that approximately 20 percent of sexual minority men had undergone some form of conversion therapy. The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, including health care, and the government enforced the law.
Police-reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation declined 15 percent in 2018 (the most recent data available) to 173 incidents.
In June a gay man camping in British Columbia was assaulted by seven strangers and suffered a concussion. The group reportedly yelled antigay slurs at the man while beating him. Police investigated the incident but as of October had made no arrests.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports of societal violence and discrimination against members of other minority, racial, and religious groups, but the government generally implemented effectively the law criminalizing such behavior.
There were reports of harassment of members of East Asian communities, especially ethnic Chinese, related to the coronavirus pandemic, including name-calling, negative social media posts, and intimidation. In March a white man shoved an elderly East Asian man with dementia out of a Vancouver convenience store and onto the ground while yelling racist slurs related to the coronavirus. Police charged the assailant with assault.