Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, 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. According to the government’s statistical agency, in 2015 police received approximately 21,500 reports of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, and aggravated sexual assault (up from 20,735 in 2014). Most victims were women. Government studies indicated victims of sexual assault reported approximately one in 20 incidents to police. The federal government does not publish statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, and punished.
The law prohibits domestic violence. Although the criminal code does not define specific domestic violence offenses, an abuser can be charged with an applicable offense, such as assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault. 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. Studies indicated that victims of domestic violence and spousal abuse underreported incidents, likely due to social stigma or fear of further violence or retribution.
According to the government’s statistical agency, indigenous women were three times more likely than nonindigenous women to experience violent abuse and, according to the RCMP, were four times more likely to be victims of homicide. In June 2015 the RCMP reported indigenous women were disproportionately represented as victims of homicide and in missing persons cases. The report found there were 204 unresolved cases involving the disappearance or homicide of indigenous women, a decrease from 225 in 2014. A 2014 RCMP report concluded 1,017 indigenous women had been killed between 1980 and 2012 and that another 164 were missing. Civil society representatives and government officials said the number of cases may be much higher and alleged there were irregularities in investigations of the disappearances and killings of indigenous women. Civil society groups also claimed the government failed to allocate adequate resources to address these cases.
In August the federal government launched a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Five independent commissioners were directed to investigate and produce a public report of their findings by the end of 2018. The government conducted preinquiry consultations with indigenous stakeholders throughout the country and defined the inquiry’s terms of reference. The government provided C$53.8 million ($41.3 million) to fund the inquiry.
In November the Quebec provincial government, citing insufficient evidence, announced it would not lay charges against nine provincial police officers related to allegations in 2015 by indigenous women in the northwestern Quebec community of Val d’Or that the officers sexually assaulted them, gave them money and drugs for sexual services, physically abused them, or drove them out of town in the winter and forced them to walk home in the cold. An independent observer appointed by the government concluded the investigation was fair and impartial but called for consultations between indigenous communities and the province.
The government’s statistical agency reported there were 627 shelters and transition homes providing services to abused women. Shelters provided emergency care, transition housing, counseling, and referrals to legal and social service agencies. Some shelters were located on reserves and served an exclusively indigenous population. Shelters in rural and remote areas generally offered a narrower range of services than urban facilities, and a greater proportion focused on short-stay crisis intervention. Reports indicated shortages of shelter spaces, trained staff, counseling, and access to affordable second-stage housing. These shortages impeded women from leaving abusive relationships.
Police received training in treating domestic violence victims, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse. 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. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society, including funding public education programs and services, hotlines, and shelters.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls and prosecutes the offense as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons committing or aiding another person to commit the offense may be charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm (maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment) or criminal negligence causing death (maximum penalty of life imprisonment). Persons convicted of removing or assisting the removal of a child who is ordinarily a resident in Canada for the purpose of having FGM/C performed on the child face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Refugee status may be granted on the grounds of threatened FGM/C that may be considered gender-related persecution. Provincial child protection authorities may intervene to remove children from their homes if they are suspected to be at risk of FGM/C.
Although reliable statistics were not available, anecdotal evidence suggested some families from immigrant communities in which FGM/C is culturally accepted send their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The criminal code does not specifically refer to “honor” killings, but it prosecutes such cases as murder. Murder convictions in the first or second degree carry minimum penalties of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole. The law limits the defense of “provocation” to prevent its application to cases of “honor” killing and cases of spousal homicide. The government enforced the law effectively. The government’s citizenship guide for new immigrants explicitly states “honor” killings and gender-based violence carry severe legal penalties. The government trains law enforcement officials on issues of “honor”-based violence and maintains an interdepartmental working group focusing on forced marriage and “honor”-based violence.
In February, British Columbia’s Supreme Court rejected the government’s request to extradite a man and woman wanted in India on charges they allegedly ordered the “honor” killing of the woman’s daughter there in 2000. The court found the relatives’ human rights could be abused in India and urged the government to consider trying the couple in Canada. In August the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear an appeal of the case.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not contain a specific offense of “sexual harassment” but 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. The government generally enforced these prohibitions. Federal and provincial labor standards laws provide some protection against harassment, and 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 have internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provide public education and advice.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men, and the government enforced the rights effectively. Women were well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. Credible sources reported women experienced some economic discrimination in terms of employment, credit, or pay equity for substantially similar work, or in owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. Labor groups reported women were underrepresented in executive positions in the private sector. A 2014 study by the Peterson Institute found women accounted for 7 percent of corporate board members, 14 percent of executives, 3 percent of chief executive officers, and 2 percent of board chairpersons at 2,074 Canadian companies surveyed. 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 over the past two decades.
Indigenous women living on reserves (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. Although these laws provide some legal protection, civil society organizations argued First Nations communities needed more resources for policing, shelters, family support, training, and capacity building to implement the laws effectively and enable better access to the justice system.
Indigenous women and men living on reserves are subject to the Indian Act, which defines status for the purposes of determining entitlement to a range of legislated rights and eligibility for federal programs and services. Indigenous women do not enjoy equal rights with indigenous men to transmit officially recognized status to their descendants.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately, and there were no reports of the government denying public services, such as education or health care, to those who failed to register.
Child Abuse: In 2014 (the latest available figures), the government’s statistical agency recorded that 53,600 children and youth were victims of police-reported violent crime. 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, where warranted. The federal Family Violence Initiative promotes awareness of family violence; works with research and community organizations to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice, housing, and health systems to respond to family violence; and supports data collection and research. Provincial and territorial governments also provide public education and prevention services, often in partnership with civil society.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage. Data on the rate of marriage for individuals younger than 18 were unavailable, but early marriages were not known to be a major problem. The law criminalizes the removal of a child from the country for the purpose of early and forced marriage and provides for court-ordered peace bonds, which may include surrendering of a passport, to disrupt an attempt to remove a child for that purpose.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See Women above.
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. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living off the proceeds of prostitution of a child younger than 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 females, 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.
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 report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish.
The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 1,277 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2015, down 22 percent from 2014. More than half of the reports (914) came from the province of Ontario. Reports in 2015 included harassment (1,123 incidents, a decrease); vandalism, including graffiti; attacks on synagogues, private homes, community centers and property and desecration of cemeteries (136 incidents, a decrease); and violence against persons (10 incidents, a decrease). Some university students reported anti-Semitic attacks on campus. For example, in March unknown vandals painted graffiti in a bathroom at York University’s Keele Campus.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. The federal minister of families, children, and social development, supported by the minister of persons with disabilities, provides federal leadership on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and provincial governments also have ministerial-level representation. 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, and there is no comprehensive federal legislation that protects the rights of persons with disabilities.
Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, and the majority attended classes with nondisabled peers or a combination of nondisabled and special education classes with parental consent. Disparities in educational access for students with disabilities existed between provinces and among school boards within provinces. Policy differences included types of services, criteria to determine eligibility, allocation of resources, access to inclusive versus segregated classes or facilities, and the number of teachers, teacher’s aides, and therapists.
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.
Federal and provincial human rights commissions protected and promoted respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. The government provided services and monetary benefits, but disability groups noted a lack of coordination among services. Facilities existed to provide support for persons with mental health disabilities, but mental disability advocates asserted that 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.
According to the government statistical agency, 1,295 incidents of hate crimes were reported to police in 2014, of which 611 were motivated by race or ethnic bias. Blacks constituted the most commonly targeted racial group, accounting for 238 incidents, and Jews 213. A detailed breakdown of victims of hate crime incidents by ethnic origin (except black and Jewish) was not available. The proportion of hate crimes involving violence, including assault and uttering threats, totaled 304 incidents.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions investigate complaints and raise 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.
Throughout the year activists led protests and sit-ins to denounce what they claimed was systemic racism by police forces. The protests followed police shootings of civilians and other events, including the July death in custody of a Somali Canadian in Ottawa. Police opened an investigation into the fatality.
Indigenous people constituted approximately 4 percent of the national population and 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 people remained underrepresented in the workforce; 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 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 people, more than double the rate of 74 incidents per 1,000 among nonindigenous persons. The rates of sexual assault and of spousal violence were almost three times higher than those of nonindigenous persons, and 51 percent of indigenous victims of spousal violence reported more severe forms of violence, compared with 23 percent of nonindigenous victims of spousal violence.
The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and membership in a recognized First Nation as Status Indians, which confers eligibility to a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or non-Status 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. According to the government statistical agency, indigenous children accounted for almost 50 percent of the approximately 30,000 children younger than 14 in foster care in 2011.
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. As of 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available, approximately 385 unresolved specific claims or grievances filed by indigenous people regarding the implementation of treaties remained under assessment or in negotiation (not including claims in litigation or before the Specific Claims Tribunal, which is a judicial panel), according to government reports. As of 2014 the government reported that negotiations for 100 self-government and comprehensive land claims were active. Indigenous groups who cannot settle specific claims through negotiation within three years may refer the claim to the Specific Claims Tribunal or the courts for a decision.
The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples in the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to 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.
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 on the basis of 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.
In 2015 the federally commissioned TRC on Indian Residential Schools released its full report and recommendations regarding allegations of abuse of indigenous children in residential schools. In May the federal government implemented one of the TRC’s recommendations and settled a lawsuit for C$50 million ($38.4 million) with students the government placed at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In January the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government discriminated against indigenous children when it failed to fund welfare services for children living on reserves at the same level of services for off-reserve populations. In September the tribunal issued its second of two subsequent rulings ordering the government to comply and to provide information on how it was implementing the ruling.
In April the Supreme Court ruled unanimously the Metis (descendants of historical unions between indigenous and European persons) and non-Status Indians are Indians under the Constitution Act and fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Nearly 600,000 Canadians identify as Metis. Lack of clarity in law as to whether federal or provincial governments had jurisdiction with regard to Metis persons had inhibited negotiations, but the ruling clears the way for Metis and non-Status Indians to negotiate with the federal government on issues that could include land claims, government services, and hunting and trapping rights.
In July the government committed C$9 million ($6.9 million) to support implementation of the country’s first national Inuit suicide-prevention strategy. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national advocacy organization, drafted the plan.
In August an Ontario judge heard plaintiffs’ arguments on a suit filed in 2009 by indigenous children involved in the “Sixties Scoop.” The Scoop involved an estimated 20,000 indigenous children, 16,000 of them in Ontario, whom child welfare services removed from their parents’ custody and placed with nonindigenous foster families in Canada and the United States. A separate group of plaintiffs filed a suit in Saskatchewan during the year on the same issue. Plaintiffs demanded compensation for emotional trauma and loss of culture. The government argued it acted in the best interests of the children and within social norms of the time. The trial on the Ontario suit was set to resume in December.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the criminal code provides penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and British Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. New Brunswick, Quebec, and the Nunavut and Yukon territories prohibit such discrimination implicitly on the basis of “sex” or “gender.”
Birth certificates issued by provinces and territories provide the basis of identification for legal documents, and procedures vary for changing legal gender markers to match an individual’s outward appearance or chosen gender expression.
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 gender reassignment surgery before an applicant may change the legal gender marker. The provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta allow residents to change their gender marker with a personal and/or physician’s declaration indicating the individual’s gender identity.
There were occasions of violence and abuse against individuals based on sexual orientation, but in general the government effectively implemented the law criminalizing such behavior. NGOs reported that stigma or intimidation was a known or likely factor in the underreporting of incidents of abuse. Some police forces employed liaison officers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex communities. In 2014, the last year for which data was available, the government’s statistical agency reported that 155 of 1,295 police-reported hate crime incidents nationally were motivated by sexual orientation.
In May an arsonist attempted to burn down Montreal’s Metropolitan Surgery Center, the only clinic in the country that offers surgery to create male or female genitals for transgendered patients. Montreal police were investigating the arson as a hate crime.
In June the government of Ontario announced it would no longer include gender designation on provincial health cards. The government also announced that in 2017 driver’s license holders would be allowed the option of displaying an “X” on their card if they do not exclusively identify as male or female.
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 the law criminalizing such behavior effectively.
In January an assailant attacked a group of Syrian refugees who had attended an event organized by an Islamic group in Vancouver. The assailant pepper-sprayed a group of migrants who were standing outside the venue. Police were investigating the incident as a hate crime.