Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair multiparty federal election held on October 21, the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and formed a minority government.
National, provincial, and municipal police forces maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but in exceptional cases may exercise some domestic security responsibility at the formal request of civilian provincial authorities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reports to the Department of Public Safety, and the armed forces report to the Department of National Defense. Provincial and municipal police report to their respective provincial authorities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included reports of indigenous women sterilized without their proper and informed consent. In addition, indigenous women suffered high rates of deadly violence, which government authorities during the year stated amounted to “genocide.”
There was no impunity for officials who committed violations, and the government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish them.
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 sentences of up to 10 years in prison, 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 enforced the law effectively.
On June 3, the government-commissioned National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report. The volume concluded that the government’s treatment of indigenous people amounted to genocide, remained ongoing, and required immediate action. The report came after a nearly three-year inquiry into killed and missing indigenous women and girls, during which more than 1,500 families of victims and survivors testified at hearings across the country. The report stated the police and criminal justice system historically failed indigenous women by ignoring their concerns and viewing them “through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes.” The report stated the violence against women and girls amounted “to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.”
Approximately 1,180 indigenous women were killed or disappeared from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 RCMP report. Indigenous advocates and the report 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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated his government accepted the inquiry’s findings, “including that what happened amounts to genocide.”
Police received training in treating victims of domestic violence, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse. In May the public safety minister condemned the conduct of an RCMP officer who, in a recently released video from 2012, asked a young woman who reported she had been sexually assaulted whether she was “turned on” during the alleged attack.
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 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 2018-2019, 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 asserted that FGM/C practitioners and victims often travelled to the country from which they immigrated for the illegal procedure, officials also sought to prevent the entry of FGM/C practitioners into Canada.
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 advice.
Coercion in Population Control: In December 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 October.
The most recent allegation from a woman claiming that she was sterilized without proper and informed consent occurred in December 2018 at a hospital in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In April the Saskatchewan Health Authority confirmed it was investigating the complaint.
In January the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a press release on coerced sterilization of indigenous women and girls that called on the government to take specific measures, including investigating the allegations, collecting data on sterilizations, holding accountable those responsible, criminalizing coerced sterilization, and ensuring reparations for victims.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men, and the government enforced these rights effectively.
Federal securities regulations require publicly listed companies to report annually on their gender diversity policies for boards. A Toronto-Dominion Bank study in March found women accounted for 24 percent of directors on corporate boards of the 243 members of the S&P/TSX Composite Index as of 2018, up from 13 percent in 2014. Separately, 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. Of approximately 1,200 named corporate officers of public companies, women earned 68 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Indigenous women living on reservations (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or 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 not denied or not provided on a discriminatory basis. There were no reports of the government denying public services, such as education or health care, to those who failed to register.
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.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage. 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 18 engaging in prostitution face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than 18 face between six months’ and five years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage girls, were exploited in sex 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. In August the minister of public safety called the problem of child pornography “serious,” with an increase of 288 per cent from 2010 to 2017 in police-reported incidents of child pornography. The number had increased from five cases per 100,000 in the population in 2010 to 18 per 100,000 in 2017.
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 2,041 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, a 16-percent increase from 2017. There were 1,809 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 2018, up 28 percent from 2017. Quebec, for the first time, had the greatest number of anti-Semitic incidents: 709 of 2,041 total occurrences in the country, despite Ontario having the largest Jewish and largest population overall.
On June 25, the government announced its new antiracism strategy, in which it adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
On July 28, a Jewish man was allegedly assaulted by a taxi driver in Montreal and subjected to anti-Semitic slurs. The driver then allegedly threatened to kill the victim, who was visibly identifiable as a Jew because he wore a kippah, or Jewish head covering. The taxi company subsequently fired the driver, and Montreal police opened a hate-crime investigation.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and law prohibit 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 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. In March the Ontario Superior Court ordered Correctional Service Canada to pay millions in damages based on a class action lawsuit brought by more than 2,000 inmates with mental disabilities who were placed in solitary confinement. The court found the prison system violated the inmates’ constitutional rights by doing so.
In January the Supreme Court determined that persons with disabilities who are beneficiaries of discretionary trust accounts that they do not control should not have those assets taken into account when determining their eligibility for need-based social programs, including subsidized public housing and other benefits.
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.
According to the government’s statistical agency, 2,073 incidents were reported to police in 2018 that were motivated by hate, an increase of 47 percent over the previous year. The increase was largely attributable to an increase in police-reported complaints motivated by hatred of a religion or of a race or ethnicity. Hate crimes targeting the black population represented 16 percent of incidents.
In March the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission released an independent report indicating black persons in Halifax were six times more likely to be street checked than white residents. (Street checks allow police officers to document information about a person they believe could be of significance to a future investigation, and they record details such as ethnicity, gender, age, and location.) In April, in response to the report, the Nova Scotia government ordered a moratorium on the practice while the government worked toward regulating the practice.
In June the federal government announced an antiracism strategy to fight systemic discrimination through community programs, public education campaigns, and combating online hate.
During the federal election campaign in October, a man in Montreal told the leader of the federal New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh that he would “look like a Canadian” if he removed his turban.
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 harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous peoples remained underrepresented in the workforce, leadership positions, and politics; overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations; and more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, and sexual violence. According to the government’s statistical agency, the overall violent victimization rate (which includes sexual assault, assault, and robbery) for indigenous persons in 2014 was 163 incidents per 1,000 persons, more than double the rate of 74 incidents per 1,000 among nonindigenous persons.
On June 3, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report (see Women above).
The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and members of a recognized First Nation as Status Indians and thereby 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 June a new law affirmed and recognized First Nations 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 Assembly of First Nations, the country’s largest indigenous advocacy group, reported a study that found 47 percent of First Nations children lived in poverty, rising to 53 percent of First Nations children living on reservations.
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 land claims by First Nations. 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.
The Supreme Court has 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 from 1920. In May the crown-indigenous relations minister announced a proposed class-action settlement with students who suffered harm while attending the schools, offering C$10,000 ($7,700) in individual compensation. Those students who experienced physical and sexual abuse are eligible for additional compensation, ranging from C$50,000 ($38,500) to C$200,000 ($154,000). A court approved the settlement in August.
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 the premier of Quebec made an official apology to First Nations and Inuit people for historic discrimination against them by the Quebec government. The premier said Quebec had “failed in its duty” toward them and sought their forgiveness. The apology was a first step in fulfilling the recommendations of a provincially commissioned judicial inquiry that reported in September that indigenous persons were the victims of “systemic discrimination” in the province. The inquiry was called following reports of police abuse and discrimination against indigenous people.
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. The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and the criminal code provides penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. The federal government directed public servants to use gender-neutral terms, such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father,” when interacting with the public and committed to delete a requirement to provide a parent’s “maiden name” when completing government forms on behalf of their children to ensure terminology is inclusive and does not discriminate against same-sex parents. As of June citizens may identify as gender “X” on their passports.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, New Brunswick, and British Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Nunavut and Yukon Territories prohibit such discrimination implicitly based on “sex” or “gender.”
Provinces and territories have different requirements for persons to change their legal gender marker in documents such as birth certificates and identifications. Some provinces require one or more physicians to certify the applicant has completed sex reassignment surgery before an applicant may change their legal gender marker. The provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta allow residents to change their gender marker with a personal or physician’s declaration indicating the individual’s gender identity.
Police-reported hate crimes targeting sexual orientation rose 16 percent in 2017 (the most recent data available) to 204 incidents.
In March the British Columbia Human Rights tribunal ordered a man to pay C$55,000 ($42,300) to prominent Vancouver transgender activist and former British Columbia political candidate Morgane Oger for distributing flyers targeting her gender identity as a reason not to vote for her.
In 2017 the government issued a formal apology to, and reached an agreement in principle and a maximum C$110 million ($84.7 million) financial settlement with, former federal public servants, including members of the military and RCMP who were investigated and sometimes fired because of their sexual orientation over 30 years ending in the 1990s. A total of 718 persons sought compensation by the May 2019 deadline under a settlement finalized in 2018. Eligible individuals expected to receive between C$5,000 ($3,850) and C$175,000 ($134,800), depending on the gravity of their cases.
On August 23, three unknown men allegedly attacked a gay fashion designer and his partner in the Quebec town of La Malbaie, shouting homophobic insults while kicking and beating the couple. The victims eventually escaped and sought medical treatment for moderate injuries. Police launched an investigation into the attack, and politicians were quick to condemn the alleged aggression.
There were reports of societal violence and discrimination against members of other minority, racial, and religious groups, but the government generally implemented the law criminalizing such behavior effectively.