Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 07:09 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Canada

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Canada, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
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 is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary form of government. Representatives in the multiparty political system are elected by universal suffrage at local, provincial, and federal levels. An independent judiciary interprets the Constitution.

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. Canadians enjoy, in law and in practice, a wide range of freedoms and individual rights as provided for in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was appended to Canada's revised Constitution in 1982. Principal complaints concerning human rights issues have to do with discrimination against minorities, aboriginals, the disabled, and women. The Constitution and laws provide avenues for legal redress of such complaints, and the Government and private organizations seek to ensure that human rights are respected in practice at all levels of society.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated or other extrajudicial killings. Several members of a Canadian military unit faced or are currently facing courts-martial for torturing and killing a suspected thief in their custody during a peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1993. The primary suspect was found to be mentally unfit for trial. Several defendents were found guilty, including one who was convicted of torture.

In July the Federal Government amended the Criminal Code to further restrict use of deadly force by police officers against fleeing suspects.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment, and the authorities generally respect this. During 1994 there were isolated reports of excessive use of force by police. Such incidents often strained relations between minority communities and the police. In Toronto, police developed a cross-cultural course on race relations that is to start in 1995, and expanded other training. Minorities continued to be underrepresented on most police forces, although new hiring procedures seek to correct this.

In December a Quebec Court ruled that five officers from the Montreal Urban Constabulary (MUC) must stand trial on aggravated assault charges stemming from the alleged beating of a suspect in 1993. A provincial-level inquiry into this and previous incidents recommended various specific corrective measures after it found the MUC to be poorly supervised, insufficiently trained, inadequately equipped, and racist. The new police chief began to implement many of the recommendations. A multiracial independent committee on police ethics found that a 1991 MUC lethal shooting was a justifiable use of force.

Prisons in Canada are open to independent monitoring by human rights groups and the media.(See also the case cited in 1.a.)

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and is respected in practice. It requires arrests to be made under warrants issued by judicial authorities, except in cases involving violation of the Official Secrets Act. Suspects must be charged before a justice of the peace or a judge within 72 hours of arrest. During national emergencies, the Federal Government is authorized to take special measures, including the suspension of civil liberties, to ensure safety and security.

In September a Supreme Court decision strengthened the rights of individuals to receive immediate legal advice before questioning by authorities can begin.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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 rights to a public trial, to counsel (free for indigents), and to appeal. In 1994, judges occasionally exercised their power to close courtrooms to the media in order to protect victims (mainly, children) and to guarantee fair and impartial hearings. Such actions caused considerable controversy (see Section 2.a.). The overwhelming majority of trials, including military courts-martial, remain open to the public and the media.

Under the Official Secrets Act, which prohibits the private possession, distribution, or publication of information deemed prejudicial to the interests of the State, trials involving classified government information may be held in secret, with certain presumptions in favor of the State. Prosecutions under this statute are extremely rare, and convictions have proven hard to sustain on appeal. During 1994, federal authorities seized material from a television station in conjunction with an ongoing investigation of possible violations of the Act by a former government employee.

There are no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution affords Canadians strong legal protection from arbitrary interference, and federal and provincial governments generally do not interfere with an individual's basic rights without due process. Intrusive searches may be carried out only when there is a demonstrable, reasonable basis for presuming the affected person is involved in criminal activity. Police officials face judicial penalties for abuse of a person's privacy if they do not obtain a judicial search warrant in advance.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the authorities generally respect this. In 1993 an Ontario judge banned news reports about a trial concerning a grisly murder; in 1994 a group of media organizations unsuccessfully tried to have this ban declared unconstitutional, and in May a judge fined an individual for violating the ban. In December the Supreme Court ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives equal standing to the right of free speech and the right to a fair trial; it is unclear how this ruling will affect media restrictions already in place.

Some restrictions on free speech and press are imposed by provincial-level film censorship, broadcasters' voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography. In 1994 television stations canceled a show for children after complaints about its violent content.

Federal customs authorities confiscate sexually explicit material when inspecting imported material. During 1994 human rights and homosexual organizations protested such a seizure of books intended for a store in British Columbia. Toronto police confiscated paintings of children which they claimed were indecent under Federal statutes.

The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits repeated communications by telephone that expose a person or group to hatred or contempt. In 1994 federal courts jailed several individuals who violated this law.

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. In 1993 Quebec liberalized its law restricting public display of signs in languages other than French; in 1994 the province dropped charges against several individuals who had violated the old law while it was still in effect.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the authorities respect this. Permits are not required for meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is complete freedom of religion.

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

Citizens are free to travel within, from, or back to the country, and to emigrate or repatriate. Canada continues to be a haven for many refugees and asylum seekers. The Government cooperates with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There are no credible reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Canada recognizes refugee claims from applicants facing persecution because of gender. Although the guidelines on granting refugee status to women do not have the status of laws, they are based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other human rights legislation. In 1994, the first full year in which the guidelines were in effect, some two-thirds of such claimants were granted refugee status.

The Government's policy of deporting noncitizen immigrants who have a record of serious criminal convictions was challenged before the U.N. Human Rights Committee by a Toronto resident.

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

Federal and provincial governments are freely elected by secret ballot through universal suffrage. The Governor General represents Canada's Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II. In practice, power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, who usually are elected members of the 295-seat House of Commons. Legislative elections at both the federal and provincial levels must be held at least every 5 years.

The official opposition in Parliament, as well as the Quebec Provincial Government, supports independence for Quebec.

All citizens have equal political rights, and these rights are respected in practice. There are no impediments de jure or de facto to participation by women, minorities, and 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

The numerous private human rights organizations in the country operate freely. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and its provincial counterparts investigate and seek to resolve complaints of discrimination and abuses of civil rights. Canada has a long-standing record of cooperation with outside investigations of alleged human rights abuses.

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, sex, religion, mental or physical disability, national or ethnic origin, or age. The Government generally respects these rights, but there are occasional charges of violations by officials.

In September a new law in Ontario, the Employment Equity Act, required the vast majority of employers to begin removing discriminatory barriers against women, aboriginals, people with disabilities, and racial minorities. The Act covers about three-fourths of the work force in Ontario. It does not apply to employers in the private sector with under 50 employees, to employers in the public sector with under 10 employees, to police forces covered by the Police Services Act (which has its own equity regulations), or to federally-regulated employers such as banks. Ontario's public sector is also covered by earlier, similar legislation, which specifically designates French-speakers as one of the groups thus assisted. Despite Canada's policy of bilingualism, English-speakers in Quebec and French-speakers in other provinces generally use the majority language. In Quebec, language laws allow access to public English-language schools only for children whose parents received English-language education in Canada. While the other provinces do not have similar laws restricting access to public French-language schooling, many of their localities have inadequate facilities. The recent establishment of French-language school boards in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are intended to help alleviate such problems.


The law prohibits violence against women, including spousal abuse. Enforcement may be hindered, however, by a recent Supreme Court ruling which established extreme drunkenness as a valid defense. Defendants in a rape trial and in a spousal abuse trial used this defense and were acquitted. The Government is considering legislation to restrict this defense.

Federal and provincial governments and nongovernmental organizations are continuing to fund various educational and preventive programs dealing with family violence, largely focusing on violence against women. Many police forces now run courses that train officers to deal with family violence.

Women are well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions, but government reports show that women generally still earn considerably less than men in similar work, despite recent gains. Other surveys indicate there is little if any such disparity for women who are university graduates. Women enjoy the same marriage rights and property rights as do men.

The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the Government respects this provision. Official data released in December indicated that 23 percent of adult women had suffered sexual harassment in the workplace. Labor unions and other interest groups have been taking steps against such offenses; e.g., in the automobile industry, the most recent contracts between the union and major manufacturers provide for employer-funded assistance to women victimized by harassment on the job or abuse at home.


Federal and provincial regulations protect children from abuse, overwork, and discrimination, and duly penalize perpetrators of such offenses.

Indigenous People

Treatment of its native peoples continues to be one of the nation's most important human rights issues. Tensions are rife on many reserves, due to disputes over self-government, treaty rights, land claims, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged harassment by police. Aboriginals remain underrepresented in the work force, overrepresented on welfare rolls, and more susceptible to poverty and suicide than other groups. In 1994 the Royal Aboriginal Commission continued hearings on aboriginals' concerns.

The British Columbia Treaty Commission facilitated negotiations among aboriginal groups, the Provincial Government, and the Federal Government which are expected to provide aboriginals with considerable benefits: cash compensation for and/or title to lands claimed by them; a share in fishing and forestry revenues from those lands; and new powers of self-government. In its first annual report, this Commission noted that the federal and provincial governments "do not appear to have a consistent approach" to the treaty process.

The Federal Government decided to dismantle the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, a move welcomed by aboriginal groups. In December the Minister heading the Department signed an accord with native leaders transferring power from it in Manitoba to native governments. Also during 1994, Nova Scotia established a native police force and created a framework for native self-government and education.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial discrimination, and the authorities respect this provision. As before, nevertheless, there were isolated incidents of racially motivated discrimination, some involving violence.

Several hospitals in Ontario compensated employees affected by past discriminatory practices against racial minorities, and instituted measures to guard against such practices.

An Ontario commission reported overt and systemic racism in the province's prison system; the Solicitor General publicly declared his intention to follow up the commission's recommendations.

The Halifax City Police Force, continuing to address minority concerns, appointed its first race relations coordinator.

People with Disabilities

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Act explicitly prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Under Treasury Board guidelines, all facilities leased and owned by the Government were to be accessible to persons with disabilities by the end of the year. Progress toward this goal was noteworthy, but incomplete.

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 Labour 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. 37.5 percent of the nonagricultural work force is unionized.

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

The law prohibits 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 sector (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. In 1994 the federal and some provincial governments instituted a freeze on wages of civil servants, an action that the unions decried as interference with their right to collective bargaining.

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.

Canada has 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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The federal minimum wage, established by ministerial order and enforced by the Department of Labor, applies to employees in industries under federal jurisdiction (about 8 percent of the work force); since 1986 it has remained at $2.97 (4.00 Canadian dollars). In all the provinces, the minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum. For youths and students, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories have a minimum wage lower than the respective standard minimum, as does Nova Scotia for "inexperienced workers". 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 for safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction, while provincial and territorial legislation provide for all other employees. Labor departments monitor and enforce these standards.

Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with "reasonable cause" to refuse dangerous work.

Search Refworld