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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Canada

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Canada, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa371c.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
CANADA

 

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary form of government and an independent judiciary. Citizens periodically choose their representatives in free and fair multiparty elections.

Elected civilian officials control the federal, provincial, and municipal police forces. The armed forces have no role in domestic law enforcement except in national emergencies. Laws requiring the security forces to respect human rights are strictly observed, and violators are punished by the courts.

Canada has a highly developed, market-based economic system. Laws extensively protect the well-being of workers and provide for workers' freedom of association.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were occasional complaints in some areas, primarily regarding discrimination against aboriginals, the disabled, and women. The Constitution and laws provide avenues for legal redress of such complaints. The Government and private organizations seek to ensure that human rights are respected in practice at all levels of society and take steps to convict and punish human rights abusers. The Government has taken serious and active steps to address violence against women.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

A civilian inquiry is continuing into the activities of a now disbanded regiment during its 1993 peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Several soldiers from this regiment were found guilty in 1995 of various charges in the 1993 killing of a Somali teenager in Canadian military custody.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices. However, there were isolated reports of excessive use of force by police. In July a

Montreal jury convicted four of five police officers for the December 1993 beating of taxi driver Richard Barnabe. The presiding judge imposed jail terms of 60 to 90 days, to be served on weekends, on three of the officers. The fourth officer received a suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 180 hours of community service. Media and human rights groups criticized the sentences as too lenient.

Prison conditions meet international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors. A Federal Inquiry Commission is investigating complaints by six female inmates that they were shackled and stripped by a male riot squad during the course of a riot and attempted escape in an Ontario women's prison in 1994.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process and vigorously enforces the right to a fair trial.

The court system is divided into federal and provincial courts, which handle both civil and criminal matters. The highest federal court is the Supreme Court, which exercises general appellate jurisdiction and advises on constitutional matters. The judicial system is based on English common law at the federal level as well as in most provinces; in the province of Quebec, it is based on the Napoleonic Code. Throughout Canada, judges are appointed. In criminal trials, the law provides for a presumption of the defendant's innocence and the right to a public trial, to counsel (free for indigents), and to appeal.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

Journalists are occasionally banned from reporting some specific details of court cases until a trial is concluded, and these restrictions, adopted to ensure the defendant a right to a fair trial, enjoy wide popular support. Some restrictions on the media are imposed by provincial-level film censorship, broadcasters' voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits repeated communications by telephone that expose a person or group to hatred or contempt. Human rights groups are exploring the possibility of extending this prohibition to the Internet.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

The official opposition in Parliament and the provincial government both support sovereignty for Quebec. A referendum on the question of Quebec's relations with Canada, postulating Quebec sovereignty combined with a substantially revised economic and political relationship to Canada, was narrowly rejected in Quebec on October 30.

All citizens have equal political rights, and these rights are respected in practice. There are no impediments to participation by women, minorities, or aboriginals at any level in politics or government. Women have headed major political parties and served as Prime Minister and Governor General. Although aboriginals are usually consulted on decisions affecting their interests, many bands continue to press the Government to grant them more autonomy.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are very cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for equal benefits and protection of the law regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. These rights are generally respected in practice, but there are occasional charges of discrimination reflecting Canada's multicultural society.

The new Ontario provincial government elected in June pledged to repeal employment equity (affirmative action) legislation introduced in 1994. The Ontario Premier said that the current legislation would be replaced by new regulations emphasizing equality of opportunity.

The Constitution protects the linguistic and cultural rights of minorities. Laws in the province of Quebec stipulate that French is the working language of most businesses and require most children to receive publicly funded education in French.

Despite Canada's policy of bilingualism, English speakers in Quebec and French speakers in other parts of Canada must generally live and work in the language of the majority. In Quebec, language laws restrict access to English-language public schooling to those whose parents were educated in English in Canada and to short-term residents. Despite the latter exception, the step-child of a short-term resident foreign businessman required a Ministerial-level "humanitarian" decision to permit attendance at an English-language public school because the child was neither the biological nor adopted child of the businessman. Other provinces often lack adequate French-language schooling, which is of concern to local Francophones, although French-language schools are reported to be thriving in all three prairie provinces.

Women

Canadian law prohibits violence against women, including spousal abuse. Statistics Canada reported that one-half of all women have experienced at least one incident of violence by a male since the age of 16. According to a 1995 government report, more than 200,000 women have been sexually abused by their husbands or common-law partners in the past year. In 1993 acquaintances or relatives were responsible for 72 percent of the violent attacks committed against women, compared with 37 percent of violent attacks against men.

A bill amending the criminal code to eliminate extreme drunkenness as a valid defense became law in July. The bill was stimulated by a Supreme Court ruling that a Montreal man could use intoxication as a defense against a sexual assault charge.

Prior to the United Nations Conference on Women, Status of Women Canada (a federal agency created in 1976 to coordinate government policy on issues affecting women) issued a federal plan for gender equality. This plan identified eight key objectives for improving the status of women, including the implementation of gender-based analysis in the Federal Government, improving women's economic situation, and reducing violence in society, particularly against women and children.

Women are well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the Government respects this provision. Statistics Canada reported that women as of 1993 represented 42 percent of managers and administrators, 56 percent of managers in social science and religion, and 18 percent of managers in the fields of natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. In the federal plan for gender equality, Status of Women Canada stated that women are underrepresented in senior management and overrepresented in clerical and service jobs. A 1993 study released in August showed that women earned an average of 72 cents for each dollar earned by men, an increase of 4 cents over 1990 figures.

In March 1,700 female public servants--primarily nurses, dieticians, and occupational therapists--won more than $55.5 million (74 million Canadian dollars) in back pay and salary increases in an out-of-court pay equity settlement.

Women enjoy marriage and property rights equal to those of men. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in May that it is not discriminatory to require custodial parents (usually mothers) to pay income tax on child support while permitting noncustodial parents (usually fathers) to deduct these payments from taxable income. The court argued that the regulation did not discriminate against women, but human rights groups disagreed and criticized the court's decision.

In June four aboriginal women were awarded damages after the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) determined native bands had discriminated against them 10 years ago, when the women regained their aboriginal status under changes to the Indian Act. The changes to the Act had entitled women who married white men to receive the same benefits as all other officially recognized aboriginals.

Children

The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. Federal and provincial regulations protect children from abuse, overwork, and discrimination and duly penalize perpetrators of such offenses. There is no pattern of societal abuse of children. A private member's bill calling for punishments of up to 5 years for performing female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, passed its second reading in the House of Commons in October and was then forwarded to the Justice Committee. The Minister of Justice argued that the Act is already covered by the Criminal Code under assault causing bodily harm. The Quebec Human Rights Commission warned that it will vigorously prosecute parents and doctors who subject girls to FGM. In 1994 a Montreal doctor said a dozen or more such operations are performed in that city each year.

People With Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. The law mandates access to buildings for people with disabilities, and for the most part the Government enforces these provisions. However, human rights groups report that a large percentage of their complaints come from those with disabilities. Disabled persons are underrepresented in the work force; for example, they comprise 2.6 percent of the federally regulated private sector work force, but those capable of working total 6.5 percent of the population.

A survey conducted for the CHRC showed that only 2 of 29 automated teller machines surveyed were accessible to people in wheelchairs. Access to such machines for the visually impaired showed slight improvement over the last 3 years. Another CHRC study criticized the Federal Government for not providing government publications in alternate formats, such as Braille and large print, for the visually impaired.

Indigenous People

Canada's treatment of its native peoples continued to be one of the most important human rights issues facing the country. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged harassment by police continued to be sources of tension on reserves.

Aboriginals remained underrepresented in the work force, overrepresented on welfare rolls, and more susceptible to suicide and poverty than other population groups. In February, prompted by a rash of suicides on a reservation, a government panel in Nova Scotia released a report warning that the suicide problem among native youths will worsen unless the Federal Government initiates a national campaign to address the problem. In a step towards aboriginal self-government, the Federal Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs signed a framework agreement with the First Nations of Manitoba at the end of 1994. The agreement calls for the transfer of the Department's regional operations to the First Nations. In New Brunswick, the Eel river First Nation protested fishing restrictions and in June and July set up blockades on the river. The impasse was resolved when government officials agreed to modify the existing agreement.

The British Columbia Treaty Commission is dealing with statements of intent from 43 First Nations to negotiate treaties. The treaty negotiations are expected to provide aboriginals with cash compensation or title to lands claimed by natives, a share in fishing and forestry revenues from those lands, and new powers for First Nation governments. In its second annual report, the Commission noted that "the status quo is unacceptable. The issues have been unresolved for over 140 years. The Commissioners firmly believe that the only viable solution is for the parties to come to the table and negotiate settlements." This result may be difficult to achieve, however, since to date the federal and provincial governments have been unable to agree on the details of a cost-sharing arrangement, resulting in a stalemate in treaty negotiations.

In Quebec, the Cree Nation strongly objected to the referendum on Quebec sovereignty, stating that the referendum was illegal and an affront to their rights. The Cree held a separate referendum rejecting Quebec sovereignty.

The Royal Aboriginal Commission, established in 1991, continued hearings to examine aboriginal concerns. The Commission is expected to publish a final report and recommendations by early 1996.

In September police killed one person during a clash at Ipperwash with an armed aboriginal group (see Section 1.a.).

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development then appointed a representative to investigate the overall situation at Ipperwash, including land claims, and make recommendations.

Religious Minorities

Religious minorities are protected by law and are generally free from discrimination in practice.

In March the B'nai Brith League for Human Rights reported the highest level of incidents of anti-Semitic harassment and vandalism in 13 years of monitoring. Such incidents increased to 290 from 256 the previous year. In Toronto hate messages were mailed to Jewish leaders and organizations, hate literature was left on vehicles parked outside a Kitchener theater during a showing of "Schindler's List," and cars in Jewish neighborhoods were smeared with swastikas.

The Quebec Human Rights Commission in February said that dress codes intended to ban the wearing of the hijab, an Islamic scarf, in public schools are discriminatory.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Discrimination is prohibited by federal law and violators are prosecuted. Nevertheless, there were isolated incidents of racist-inspired discrimination and violence.

In June a Nova Scotia provincial government report concluded that black Nova Scotians have been educationally marginalized over the past 200 years. Accordingly, the Government has thus far adopted 42 of the report's 46 recommendations that focused on improving education services for blacks.

On October 30, the Quebec sovereignty referendum secured a majority of the French speaking electorate's votes but was defeated by overwhelming opposition from non-French speakers combined with a minority of French speakers. The exceptionally narrow defeat (49.4 percent vs. 50.6 percent) produced some mutual recrimination and polarization between the two groups throughout the country as well as in Quebec. A referendum night statement by Quebec leader Parizeau, blaming the defeat on "money and the ethnic vote" has accentuated concerns of non-French speakers. Parizeau's remarks were widely criticized by French speakers and were associated with his decision to resign. Mainstream leaders have expressed concern over the disruptive and divisive potential of recently publicized organizations with radical or even terrorist agendas on both ends of the separatist-federal spectrum.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Except for members of the armed forces, workers in both the public and private sectors have the right to associate freely. The Labor Code protects these rights for all employees under federal jurisdiction, while provincial legislation protects all other organized workers.

Trade unions are independent of the Government. They are free to affiliate with international organizations. Of the civilian labor force, 29.2 percent is unionized.

All workers have the right to strike, except those in the public sector providing essential services.

In the first 7 months of 1995, there were a total of 245 work stoppages, 18 of which were illegal. As of July, there were 115 unresolved labor disputes; the remainder were settled through direct bargaining, mediation, or (as in the case of railway workers and west coast longshoremen) by government back-to-work orders.

The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers and union leaders, and the Government enforces this provision.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers in both the public (except for some police) and the private sector have the right to organize and bargain collectively. While the law protects collective bargaining, for some public sector workers providing essential services there are limitations, which vary from province to province.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. There are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints and obtaining redress.

All labor unions have full access to mediation, arbitration, and the judicial system.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is illegal, and there were no known violations.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Child labor legislation varies from province to province. The Federal Government does not employ youths under 17 years of age while school is in session. Most provinces prohibit those under age 15 or 16 from working without parental consent, or at night, or in any hazardous employment. These prohibitions are effectively enforced through inspections conducted by the federal and provincial Labor Ministries. The statutory school-leaving age in all provinces is 16.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The federal minimum wage, established by ministerial order and enforced by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, applies to employees in industries under federal jurisdiction (less than 10 percent of the total work force). Since 1986 it has remained at $2.99 (4.00 Canadian dollars). In all provinces, the minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum. Although it is common practice among most federal jurisdiction employers to use the provincial/territorial rates, the Government announced in September plans to align the federal rate with the provincial/territorial minimum wage for workers over 18 by mid-1996. For youths and students, Ontario, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories have a minimum wage lower than the respective standard minimum. A family whose only employed member earns the minimum wage would be considered below the poverty line.

Standard workhours vary from province to province, but in all the limit is 40 or 48 a week, with at least 24 hours of rest.

Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction, while provincial and territorial legislation provide for all other employees. Federal and provincial labor departments monitor and enforce these standards. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with "reasonable cause" to refuse dangerous work.

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