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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Canada

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Canada, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 25 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. The Constitution defines government responsibilities and is subject to interpretation by an independent judiciary.

Elected civilian officials control the federal, provincial, and municipal police forces which are responsible for national and local law enforcement, and the armed forces, which have no role in domestic law enforcement except in strictly defined national emergencies.

Canada has an open economic system which encourages private ownership, investment, and entrepreneurship. Workers benefit from laws regulating acceptable working conditions and, except for uniformed members of the armed forces, are guaranteed freedom of association.

Canadians enjoy, in law and in practice, a wide range of freedoms and individual rights as enumerated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was appended to Canada's revised Constitution in 1982. Principal complaints of human rights abuses arise in the areas of discrimination against nonwhite minorities, Aboriginals, and women. The Constitution and laws provide avenues for legal redress of such abuses, 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 politically motivated or other extrajudicial killings. See the report on Somalia for allegations of abuse by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia.

b. Disappearance

Secret arrest, clandestine detention, and politically motivated disappearance did not occur.

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

Torture and ill-treatment are prohibited by law, and are generally not practiced. Reports of the use of excessive force by police declined in 1993. Past incidents, which often (but not always) involved nonwhite minorities, continued to strain relations between minority communities and the police. In Montreal, a multiracial and independent police ethics committee (composed of one officer and two civilians) continued its investigation of a 1991 shooting, in which a previous inquiry determined that "a totally unacceptable level of racism" existed in the Montreal Urban Community Police (MUC). The committee had not reported its conclusions by year's end.

During 1993 several police departments took steps to redress the problem of violence against minorities. The MUC began mandatory cultural awareness seminars for its officers, Toronto police implemented a policy requiring a written use of force report for each time an officer draws a weapon in public, and the Halifax and Montreal police instituted affirmative action programs to increase minority representation on the force.

Native groups complained of cultural insensitivity and harassment by police officers. The Canadian Government instituted training programs for officers with a view to preventing future incidents. The British Columbia provincial government's Commission on Native Issues continued to study specific allegations of law enforcement abuses against natives of the Chilcotin Band.

Prisons are open to independent monitoring by human rights groups and the media.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and this prohibition is respected in practice. Arrest warrants are issued by judicial authorities, and suspects are charged before a justice of the peace (for minor offenses) or a judge within 72 hours of their arrest.

A 1988 law authorizes the Government to take special measures, including the suspension of civil liberties, to ensure safety and security during national emergencies. The 1939 Official Secrets Act prohibits the private possession, distribution, and publication of information deemed prejudicial to the interests of the State and provides that persons under suspicion may be arrested without a warrant. There were no such arrests in 1993.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is based on English common law at the federal level and in most provinces. In the Province of Quebec, the judicial system is based on the Napoleonic Code. Judges in Canada are appointed. In criminal trials, the law provides for a presumption of the defendant's innocence and the right to a public trial, counsel (free for indigents), and appeal. In 1993 judges made infrequent use of their power to close courtrooms to the media in order to protect victims (particularly children) and to guarantee fair and impartial hearings. One such effort, however, raised the issue of freedom of the press versus the right to a fair trial and caused considerable controversy (see Section 2.a.). The overwhelming majority of trials, including military courts-martial, remained open to the public and the media.

The Official Secrets Act provides that trials involving classified government information be held in secret, with certain presumptions in favor of the State. Prosecutions under this statute are extremely rare, and convictions are hard to sustain on appeal.

There are no political prisoners.

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

Canadians are afforded strong legal protection from arbitrary interference under the Constitution, 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 reasonable basis for presuming that the person is involved in criminal activity. Police officials face judicial penalties if they abuse a person's privacy without first obtaining a judicial search warrant. No such penalties were imposed in 1993.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press is provided for by the Constitution and generally respected in practice. A ruling by an Ontario judge banning news reports about a trial concerning a particularly grisly murder case prompted considerable debate about how to balance the right of a defendant to a fair trial with freedom of the press. The judge imposed the ban in an effort to ensure jury impartiality. Several Canadian organizations filed suit to overturn the ban, while other media have defended the ban.

Restrictive decisions by provincial film censorship boards and laws prohibiting certain forms of hate literature and pornography are exceptions to these freedoms. Canadian customs authorities have been known to confiscate sexually explicit material and items deemed to be hate propaganda. Some civil libertarians have criticized such actions on freedom of information grounds. Some feminist groups regard sexually explicit material as degrading to women and stimulating violence against women. The Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal to make repeated communications by telephone which expose a person or people to hatred or contempt. Minority language and cultural rights are protected by the Constitution.

Laws in the Province of Quebec restricting the public display of any non-French-language signs were amended in 1993. Bilingual commercial signs are now permitted, as long as the French version is "clearly predominant." The provincial government issued regulations on specific aspects of the sign laws in December.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly and freedom of association are guaranteed by the Constitution. 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

There are no restrictions on movement within or outside Canada, including the rights of emigration and repatriation. Canada continues to be a haven for many refugees and displaced persons. In 1992 Canada tightened its generous refugee law in an attempt to limit entry to the asylum system to legitimate applicants and to simplify dealings with persons whose claims have been determined to be unfounded. Concerns expressed by minority advocacy groups that the new process would systematically discriminate against nonwhite refugees proved unfounded, according to some prominent human rights groups.

Canada was praised by several women's groups after it granted refugee status to a woman on the grounds that she would face persecution in her own country because of her gender. The Immigration Review Board subsequently released new guidelines for such cases.

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

Canada is governed by federal and provincial governments which are freely elected by secret ballot through universal suffrage. The Governor General is the Queen of Canada's representative as Head of State. 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 the federal and provincial levels must be held at least every 5 years, and these often result in a transfer of power to opposition parties. Voter participation rates are high.

The most recent federal election, held on October 25, was contested by three national and several regional parties. Led by Jean Chretien, the opposition Liberal Party emerged victorious with a substantial parliamentary majority.

Debate on such fundamental matters as constitutional change and provincial secession from Canada are open and routine.

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

Canada has a wide variety of private human rights organizations which operate freely. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and its provincial counterparts investigate and seek to resolve complaints of discrimination and abuses of civil rights in public and private cases.

Canada has a good record of cooperation with outside investigations of alleged human rights abuses. In 1990 the Government allowed international monitoring of a standoff between police and natives near Montreal.

In 1993 the United Nations Human Rights Committee declared that Quebec's French-only sign law violated freedom of expression. The Government of Quebec altered the law to allow for the use of English on commercial signs (in conjunction with French).

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

Food, shelter, health care, and education are available to all inhabitants regardless of race, religion, sex, ethnic background, or political opinion. Article 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees 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 Canada's multicultural society continues to experience some problems of discrimination.

Non-French speakers in Quebec continued to face difficulties in 1993. With few exceptions, Quebec law still requires immigrants to educate their children in French. Law 86, which amended the Province's language law in 1993, did not significantly broaden access to English-language schooling. The Province argues that the education and sign laws protect French language and culture, but those who prefer English resent these restrictions. Because of the atmosphere engendered by the language laws and a perceived lack of economic opportunity in Quebec for those whose mother tongue is not French, many young English-speakers born there have left the Province.


Federal and provincial governments, the private sector, and women's groups have been effective in keeping the issue of family violence, and in particular, violence against women, in the forefront of Canada's social agenda. On July 29 the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women published an extensive study on the issue and a list of 494 recommendations, which were under review by the Government at year's end. The report's survey figures, which are the subject of dispute among social scientists, indicated that over 50 percent of women surveyed had experienced a rape or attempted rape.

Federal and provincial governments and nongovernmental organizations have attempted to address the problem of family violence by funding various educational and preventive programs. The press has given wide coverage to studies of spousal violence against women. Television advertisements and publicity campaigns have targeted the abuse of women and children within families. Police forces have taken a greater interest in the handling of incidents of conjugal violence.

Women are well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. Despite recent gains, government reports show that women generally earn less on average than men in the same occupational group. Ontario law now requires all employers (public and private) with more than 10 workers to provide equal pay to men and women for work requiring comparable skill. In the fall of 1993, the Ontario Government advertised a government job as being open only to members of designated disadvantaged groups. Public outrage forced the government to withdraw the advertisement. A December 1993 Gallup poll indicated that 74 percent of Canadians oppose such overt government employment equity programs, but the government of Ontario has reiterated its belief in the principles of employment equity. The municipality of Toronto recently provided significant compensation to government employees working in occupations traditionally staffed by women, acknowledging that such positions have in the past paid less than "traditionally male" occupations. Women enjoy marriage and property rights equal to men.


Federal and provincial regulations seek to protect children from abuse, overwork, and discrimination. Parents receive tax credits for their children.

Indigenous people

Canada's treatment of its native peoples is probably the most important human rights issue facing the country. Old disputes between the Canadian and provincial governments on the one hand and Aboriginals on the other once again led to civil disobedience and confrontation. Although there were no major incidents in 1993, unresolved land claims resulted in violence and credible allegations of human rights abuses in the past. Disputes over treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing rights, and alleged harassment by police added to tension on many reserves.

In 1993 Canada made some progress on resolving land-claim issues in sparsely populated regions. The most notable step taken was parliamentary approval for the Nunavut Land-Claims Agreement. This act settled a dispute with the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic and created a new territory (scheduled to be established by 1999) in which a majority of the population is to consist of Aboriginals.

Aboriginals remained underrepresented in the work force. Statistics Canada reported that 25 percent of all Aboriginals were unemployed, nearly 15 percentage points higher than the national average. Aboriginals also earned less on average than their non-Indian counterparts. Almost 42 percent of all Aboriginals living on reserves were dependent upon welfare.

In 1992 Canadians (including a majority of Aboriginals) rejected a constitutional reform package which, among other provisions, addressed outstanding native concerns and recognized an inherent Aboriginal right to self-government within Canada. Although the referendum debate increased awareness of native issues, there was little progress towards addressing native problems after the defeat of the constitutional reforms.

Canadians were shocked by film footage of substance abuse by native children in the town of Davis Inlet. Public reaction to this focused attention on the problems of Aboriginal children.

The Royal Aboriginal Commission, established in 1991, continued hearings to examine Aboriginal concerns, including self-government, land claims, and native justice. The Commission is expected to issue a report in 1994.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Racial discrimination is prohibited by federal law and offenders are prosecuted. Nevertheless, isolated incidents of racist-inspired discrimination and violence persisted.

People with Disabilities

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Act explicitly prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Recent attempts to provide better employment opportunities to the disabled have not been entirely successful; disabled persons remain underrepresented in the work force.

In the 1993 elections Canada made notable improvements in its services and facilities for voters with disabilities.

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 Canada Labour Code, which covers all employees under federal jurisdiction, protects these rights at the federal level, while provincial labor legislation protects all other organized workers. Trade unions are independent of the Government and may affiliate freely with international organizations. About 38 percent of Canada's nonagricultural work force is organized into trade unions. All worker rights protected in law are respected in practice. The Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), the largest of the country's labor federations, is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Slightly more than one-third of CLC member unions are also affiliates of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations unions.

Workers have the right to strike, with the exception of certain groups of essential public sector employees. In response to complaints by these workers, the International Labor Organization (ILO) asked the Government in 1992 to establish a procedure to resolve labor disputes when negotiations resulted in a deadlock. The Government reported developments in some of these cases to the ILO in 1993.

Laws and regulations prohibiting retribution against strikers and union leaders are effectively enforced.

In response to complaints from a group of professional employees of the Government, the ILO requested that the Government exercise care in defining employees as "managerial." The employees believed that they were being denied fair access to collective representation. At year's end, the Government was preparing a response on the issue.

In the first 11 months of 1993, there were 21 major work stoppages (involving 500 or more employees), only 2 of which were illegal work stoppages. As of November, there were four unresolved labor disputes; the remainder were settled through direct bargaining, mediation, or (in the case of British Columbia railway workers) by a government back-to-work order.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers in both the public (with some exceptions for police) and private sectors have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Collective bargaining is protected by law and freely practiced, though some essential public sector employees have limited collective bargaining rights which vary from province to province. Antiunion discrimination is banned by law, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints and seeking redress. Employers found to have practiced antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities.

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 not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Child labor legislation varies from province to province. The Government generally prohibits youth under 17 years of age from working for the Government while school is in session. In most cases, provinces prohibit those under age 15 or 16 from working without parental consent, working in any hazardous employment, or working at night. These prohibitions are effectively enforced through inspections conducted by the federal and provincial labor ministries.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are established in both federal and provincial jurisdictions. The federal minimum wage, which has remained at $3.04 (Canadian $4.00) since 1986, applies to employees in industries under federal jurisdiction (i.e., about 8 percent of the entire work force). All provinces and territories have minimum wage rates which are higher than those at the federal level. At the federal level, minimum wage rates are established by ministerial order and enforced by the Department of Labor. Provincially, the rates are enforced by the labor wage boards or other labor boards. Three provinces (Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia) and the Northwest Territories have lower minimum wage rates for youths and students, while Nova Scotia sets a lower wage for "inexperienced workers." In all other provinces and territories, youth and students are entitled to the same minimum wage as adults. Less than 1 percent of workers covered by the federal minimum wage are paid at the minimum rate, while approximately 5 percent of workers governed by provincial minimum wages receive the minimum rate. A family with only one member employed and working at minimum wages would be below the poverty level.

Labor standards vary from province to province, but all limit the standard workweek to 40 or 48 hours. The Employment Standards legislation provides at least 1 full day of rest per week.

The Government establishes health and safety standards for the approximately 8 percent of workers covered by federal labor legislation. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for health and safety standards for other workers. Federal, provincial, and territorial labor departments enforce these standards through inspections. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with "reasonable cause" to refuse dangerous work and to file complaints about such conditions.

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