U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Canada

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


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 took serious steps to address violence against women, including the strengthening of antistalking laws.


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. The controversy over the 1995 shooting death of an aboriginal activist at Ipperwash, Ontario continues. In April an Ontario provincial police officer was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death in the shooting and was sentenced to 2years? community service under the supervision of a parole officer (see Section 5). In July a civilian commission reported on its inquiry into allegations of abuses by troops deployed as part of the 1993 peacekeeping mission in Somalia. The commission reported evidence of an attempted cover-up of the shooting of two Somali civilians, one of whom died. One soldier was convicted of manslaughter and torture and sentenced to 5 years in prison, of which he served approximately 18 months. A second soldier was found guilty of negligence in the performance of his duty and sentenced to 90 days in prison. In addition, the careers of several senior officers were ruined.

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, and the Government observes the prohibition in practice. Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors. As a result of an inquiry into a 1994 incident at the women's prison at Kingston, Ontario, the federal government took steps to protect the privacy of female prisoners, including the appointment of a deputy commissioner of women's corrections and changing the policy for strip searches to ensure that no men are present at searches of female inmates. Although conditions at Toronto?s Don jail have improved, inmates continues to complain of overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and inhuman conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes these prohibitions.

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 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 generally prohibits such practices, government authorities scrupulously 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's 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 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and extends first asylum. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. Canada is a resettlement country, and the Government projected granting 22,600 claims for refugee status for 1997 (as of September 1). In 1997 mostly in August and September, almost 1,000 Czech Roma claimed refugee status in Canada. Most of the refugees are awaiting adjudication of their claims to asylum. In the wake of the huge influx, the Government reimposed visa requirements for citizens of the Czech Republic but has not forcibly deported any of the asylum claimants.

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. A significant body of opinion in the province of Quebec, represented by the party that governed the province throughout 1997, continues to maintain that Quebec has the right to withdraw from the confederation if that proves to be the democratically expressed will of the people of Quebec, and that it is only Quebeckers who have the right to make this decision. The federal Government has maintained that the decision of a province to separate and the conditions under which this may be accomplished are the shared responsibility of the Federal Government, the governments of all the provinces, and all the nation?s citizens. A case is pending before the Supreme Court in which the Court was asked to decide whether Quebec has a right to secede from Canada unilaterally under international and Canadian law. Women play a significant role in government and politics, although they are underrepresented numerically. In the new Parliament elected in June, 63 of 301 members in the House of Commons are women. Five women were appointed to the new 30-person Cabinet.

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, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability. These rights are generally respected in practice, but there are occasional charges of discrimination in this multicultural society. Affirmative action (employment equity) legislation is a topic of some national and provincial debate. Federal employment equity legislation was passed by Parliament in 1995, but the Ministry of Labor is still consulting on the regulations required by the act, and it has not yet entered into force. The legislation is designed to strengthen employment equity provisions for employees under federal jurisdiction.


The law prohibits violence against women, including spousal abuse. The health and economic costs of violence against women have been calculated at $3.15 billion (Can $4.2 billion) annually. Nevertheless, according to Statistics Canada, 3 in 10 women currently or previously married or living in a common-law relationship have experienced at least 1 incident of physical or sexual violence. The Criminal Code prohibits criminal harassment (stalking) and makes it punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years. In May a law came into force that strengthens criminal harassment (stalking) provisions. The new law also prohibits female genital mutilation and improves the tools available to the criminal justice system to deal with and prevent child prostitution. Women are well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the Government enforces this provision. Women enjoy marriage and property rights equal to those of men. Over 85 percent of single parent households are headed by women. Child support reforms in 1996 and 1997 include: amendments to the income tax act to eliminate child support from the custodial parent's taxable income and the tax deduction available to payers of child support; amendments to the divorce act to establish fairer and more consistent child support payments; new measures to strengthen enforcement; and an enhanced income supplement for lower-income families.


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 societal pattern of abuse of children.

People With Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. However, disabled persons are underrepresented in the work force: they make up 2.6 percent of the federally regulated private sector work force, but those capable of working total 6.5 percent of the population. The law mandates access to buildings for people with disabilities, and for the most part the Government enforces these provisions. In October the Supreme Court, in a case involving a deaf patient who had been denied sign-language interpretation, ruled that people with disabilities must be accommodated where it would not constitute an undue hardship to do so.

Indigenous People

The treatment of Canada's aboriginal people 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. Aboriginal people remain underrepresented in the work force, overrepresented on welfare rolls, and more susceptible to suicide and poverty than other population groups. In April on the 15th anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution, aboriginal groups staged a national Day of Action, including demonstrations at the Prime Minister's residence and Parliament Hill, prayer vigils, and other demonstrations. The goal of the demonstrations was to focus attention on aboriginal rights under the Constitution and the promise made at the time of patriation to define these rights through First Ministers meetings with aboriginal groups. The demonstrations were largely peaceful. In November 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its final report, proposing a 20-year strategy for rebuilding First Nations through restoring aboriginal communities and restructuring their relationship with the government. The Federal Government is continuing to study the recommendations of the report and has yet to issue its official response. Treaty rights for aboriginals are recognized in the Canadian Constitution, and the Federal Government is currently engaged in discussions with aboriginal groups on various treaty issues. The Federal Government continues to be involved in self- government negotiations with over 350 first nations, although no significant settlements were reached during the year. There were several violent deaths on the Stoney reserve west of Calgary amid charges of corruption and mismanagement. Six young aboriginals died (including by suicide, drug overdoses, and an alleged murder) since June 26, when provincial court Judge John Reilly ordered a Crown investigation into social conditions, allegations of political corruption, and financial mismanagement. A seventh death (attributed to prescription-drug overdose) occurred on September 26. Concern also emerged that federal authorities have been slow to respond to complaints that range from political and financial corruption on the reserve to alleged sexual assaults. Indian Affairs officials had been warned in a January letter of a "major crisis" in social services (at least four staff members from the Stoney band's social services department collected welfare while also receiving paychecks), but federal authorities did not advise the Royal Canadian Mounted Police until 8 months later. Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart has ordered an internal investigation. Health Canada had already suspended funding for a treatment center on the Stoney reserve, pending investigation of alleged sexual assaults on young clients. Other allegations of child sexual assault include recent charges against a school bus driver, charges that a former Stoney educational authority said he warned Indian Affairs about more than a year ago. The controversy over the 1995 shooting death of an aboriginal activist at Ipperwash, Ontario continues. In April an Ontario provincial police officer was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death in the shooting and sentenced to 2years? community service. The relatively light sentence and other aspects of the incident, including the role of provincial officials before and during the confrontation between police and Indian protesters, are the subject of ongoing controversy and court cases. The Indians still control Ipperwash provincial park, which they claim is on sacred burial ground. Quebec's Indian peoples remain overwhelmingly opposed to separation from Canada and deeply distrust the separatist government of the province. Despite the Quebec Prime Minister's recent overtures to the leaders of the Cree and Inuit nations, surveys indicate that most of Quebec's 60,000 Indians would favor partition of the province in the event of Quebec's separation from Canada. Indian leaders maintain that a sovereign Quebec would treat Indians simply as another ethnic minority instead of as sovereign nations within the territory of the province. They point out that Quebec maintained in court this year that aboriginal title to land in the province was extinguished during the French colonial regime and no longer applies. Distrust of the Quebec provincial government was recently highlighted by a proposal by Hydro-Quebec, the electrical utility owned by the province, to settle some 700 non-Indian families in the James Bay area as part of a plan to increase electrical generating capacity. Calling this "ethnic occupation" of their traditional lands, the Indians maintain that this proposal is a blatant attempt by the separatist government to "put a French face" on the area, to counter a possible future attempt at partition of the province. In November in a decision based on a 235-year-old treaty, a New Brunswick court ruled that aboriginals have the exclusive right to harvest any and all trees they wish on Crown land, and that the trees on Crown land are Indian trees. Some legal observers note that the decision, if upheld on appeal, could have repercussions throughout the country.

Religious Minorities

In March the League for Human Rights of B?nai Brith in Canada (headquartered in Toronto) reported that there were 244 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 1996--a decrease of 26.3 percent from 1995, which had the highest number of incidents since documentation began in 1982. The League attributed the decline to law enforcement actions taken against key hate movement leaders and to a successful, proactive antihate movement education program. The League noted, however, that the amount of anti-Semitic activity over the Internet continues to grow.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The narrow defeat of the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum left unresolved the concerns of French-speaking Quebeckers about their minority status in Canada, while sharpening the concerns of English-speaking Quebeckers about their minority status. The separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government of Quebec reiterated its intent, if reelected in 1998 or 1999, to hold another sovereignty referendum about the year 2000 and reasserted the right of Quebec voters to determine the future of the province. It charged the federal Government with charting an undemocratic course by signaling that it would treat a third Quebec sovereignty referendum differently than it treated the first two in 1980 and 1995. Some English-speaking and native groups in Quebec assert the right to keep parts of Quebec in Canada in the event Quebec declares independence. Despite personal meetings and other overtures by Quebec?s Prime Minister to Indians and the English-speaking community, both groups remain distrustful of the separatist Government of Quebec. Many members of these communities fear that their rights would be infringed by a sovereign Quebec. The Constitution protects the linguistic and cultural rights of minorities. Despite Canada's federal policy of bilingualism, English speakers in Quebec and French speakers in other parts of Canada generally must live and work in the language of the majority. In Quebec language laws restrict access to English-language publicly-funded schools through grade 11 to children whose parents were educated in English in Canada and to short-term residents. Local law stipulates that French is the working language of most businesses and must be predominant in bilingual commercial signage. The English-speaking minority of Quebec, comprising some 16percent of the population, has protested vociferously the closing of hospitals and other health care facilities providing service in English, as part of a general reorganization and downsizing of the health care system in Quebec. Members of this minority maintain that the cuts are part of a continuing assault on their community's rights by the provincial government. They maintain that the bilingual facilities that they are now required to use are reluctant to post signs with English language content due to fear of sanction by Quebec's Office of the French Language; they also claim that they are greeted coldly and grudgingly when requesting services in English at these facilities, or meet with outright refusals by reception personnel to speak English, a practice also noticed by English-speaking tourists. Representatives of the English-speaking minority point to recent statements by members of the health care community that provision of services in English conflicts with the right of Quebeckers to work in the French language, a right provided by Quebec's Charter of the French Language. Some English speakers have expressed concern that access to English-language health care could be further reduced by an ongoing provincial government review of bilingual staffing requirements in French-language hospitals. On the other hand, the only French-language hospital in Ontario was partially closed as a result of a restructuring of the provincial health care system, raising concerns among French speakers about access to health care in Ontario. Pressed by some English speakers to roll back the language laws, and by some French speakers to expand them, the Quebec provincial government reestablished a French language inspection office that had been abolished in 1993, and promised better enforcement of existing laws. Provinces outside of Quebec often lack adequate French-language schooling, which is of concern to local Francophones, although French-language schools and French immersion programs are reported to be thriving in all three prairie provinces. In October the Province of Nova Scotia and the Halifax school board announced that they would cooperate in implementing the 75recommendations mentioned in an August report on causes of racial violence at 2 high schools in the Cole Harbor area of Halifax. Authorities originally had hesitated to implement the suggestions but were forced to act when new violence erupted at the school on October 3. Parents and students became involved in shoving and pushing, and a teacher was struck in the face. Police had to break up the incident, but they did not press any charges. School officials immediately closed the school and did not fully reopen it until October 15 with new security measures in place and a zero tolerance policy on disruptive behavior.

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. Of the civilian labor force, 29.5 percent is unionized. All workers have the right to strike, except for those in the public sector who provide essential services. The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers and union leaders, and the Government enforces this provision. Postal workers staged a nationwide strike in November over wages and work rules. Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers in both the public (except for some police) and the private sectors 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. In Ontario the provincial government introduced legislation that would bar strikes by public-sector employees during a 2-year period. The measure accompanied a substantial downsizing by the Ontario government. Unions protested vigorously, arguing that their collective bargaining rights would be infringed. The provincial government subsequently withdrew the legislation. In October teachers in the province staged a massive strike to protest the provincial government?s reorganization plans for the school system. 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, including that performed by children, is illegal, and there were no known violations.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

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 children under age 15 or 16 from working without parental consent, at night, or in any hazardous employment. These prohibitions are effectively enforced through inspections conducted by the federal and provincial labor ministries. Education is compulsory through age 15 nationwide. The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively (see section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Standard work hours vary from province to province, but in all the limit is 40 or 48 a week, with at least 24 hours of rest. In 1996 the Federal Government passed legislation to align the federal minimum wage rates with the provincial/territorial rates. Minimum wage rates are set in each province and territory, currently ranging from $3.57 to 5.00 (Can $5 to 7) per hour. Ontario and Alberta have a minimum wage rate for youths lower than their respective minimums. In the Northwest Territories the minimum wage for youths is higher than the standard provincial minimum wage for adults. A family whose only employed member earns the minimum wage would be considered below the poverty line. Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction, while provincial and territorial legislation provides 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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