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 .