Canada has a strong history of respect for political rights and civil liberties, though in recent years citizens have been concerned about fair elections and transparent governance; humane treatment of prisoners; citizens’ right to privacy; and religious and journalistic freedom. While Indigenous peoples and other vulnerable populations still face discrimination and other economic, social, and political challenges, the federal government has acknowledged and made some moves to address these issues.
- Provincial elections were held in New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan in September and October, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Options for mail-in ballots and early voting were expanded and procedures were put in place at polling stations, such as physical distancing and sanitization protocols, to ensure that the coronavirus did not spread. There were over 572,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 15,000 deaths throughout the year, according to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO).
- In January, demonstrators blockaded construction roads, freight and passenger railways, and government buildings across the country in support of Indigenous peoples’s opposition to the development of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. In response, the Alberta government in May passed the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act that instituted fines of up to $25,000, six months in jail, or both, for blocking the construction of “essential infrastructure,” which included highways, pipelines, railways, and oil and gas rigs.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The British monarch is head of state, represented by a ceremonial governor general, currently Julie Payette, who is appointed on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister is the head of government and is invited to the post by the governor general after elections; the office is usually held by the leader of the majority party or governing coalition in parliament. Justin Trudeau resumed his position as prime minister after the Liberal Party maintained control of government in the October 2019 federal elections.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The parliament consists of an elected 338-member House of Commons, and an appointed 105-member Senate. Lower-house elections are held every four years on fixed dates; early elections may be called by the governor general if the government loses a parliamentary vote of no confidence, or on the advice of the prime minister.
The most recent federal election was held in October 2019, in which the center-left Liberal Party lost their majority government by losing 20 seats but maintained a plurality. The Conservative Party and Bloc Québécois gained 23 and 22 seats (131 and 34 in total), respectively, and the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) lost 15 (24 in total). The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) did a preliminary investigation in advance of the 2019 election and found “full stakeholder confidence in the overall integrity of the electoral process.”
New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan all held provincial elections in the fall of 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Options for mail-in ballots and early voting were expanded and procedures were put in place at polling stations, such as physical distancing and sanitization protocols, to ensure that the coronavirus did not spread. In New Brunswick and British Columbia, opposition parties complained that the premiers called for elections to take advantage of their parties’ increased popularity during the pandemic.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Electoral laws are generally fair and well enforced by the relevant bodies. However, some critics expressed concern about the 2014 Fair Elections Act, arguing that its stringent voter identification requirements placed Indigenous peoples (or First Nations peoples) at a disadvantage. In December 2018, the Liberal government passed a bill relaxing some of the criticized provisions. This 2018 law restricts spending by political parties and other actors during elections, gives voting rights to all Canadians living abroad, improves the privacy of voters’ information within the databases of political parties, and increases the power of the commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate violations of election rules. It further bans foreign donations for partisan campaigns and requires major online platforms, such as Facebook and Google, to create a registry of digital political advertisements.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Canadians are free to organize in different political parties, and the system is open to the rise and fall of competing groups. However, a small number of parties have traditionally dominated electorally. A total of 21 political parties were registered in the 2019 election.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. In 2015, the Conservatives lost power to a Liberal majority, and in 2019 the Liberals’ control of parliament diminished to a minority government.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by actors that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Members of religious minorities and Indigenous people are seated in the parliament, as are many women; Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet has full gender parity. However, the political interests of many groups are not always well represented. For example, critical issues facing Indigenous peoples, including clean drinking water, mental health and addiction services, and compensation for Indigenous children who were taken from their homes, received minimal attention during the 2019 electoral campaign.
The rights and interests of LGBT+ people are protected. A 2017 law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression, affording transgender individuals, among others, more protection against hate crimes.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
After some initial delays, federal and provincial governments in Canada were able to continue their legislative business during the COVID-19 pandemic by limiting the number of lawmakers allowed to meet in-person in Parliament and provincial assemblies and moving most legislative committees to online platforms. Emergency powers for the federal finance minister to spend money on pandemic-related measures without parliamentary approval were granted in March 2020, and were subsequently extended through the end of the year.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
Canada has a reputation for clean government and a record of vigorous prosecution of corruption cases. The governing Liberal Party faced accusations of corruption in August 2020, related to a government contract given to a charity to which Prime Minister Trudeau’s family has financial connections. Conservative Party ministers accused the Liberals of intentionally ending the August parliamentary session to avoid an inquiry into the scandal.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
Canadians may request public information under the provisions of the Access to Information Act, but they may face delays or excessive costs. In 2017, the Liberal government proposed a number of reforms to the act, but the measures have been criticized as inadequate. The information commissioner of Canada argued that the proposal would instead “result in a regression of existing rights,” creating new hurdles for requests and giving agencies additional grounds for refusal. The bill passed in Parliament in late 2017 and was passed unamended by the Senate in June 2019.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Canada’s media are generally free; journalists are mostly protected from violence and harassment in their work and are able to express diverse viewpoints. A law permitting journalists’ greater ability to protect their sources took effect in 2017. It stipulates that they cannot be required to disclose confidential sources unless a Superior Court judge is persuaded that the information cannot be obtained through other means, and that it is in the public interest for the source to be revealed. In September 2019, the Supreme Court applied this law and found that a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) journalist did not have to reveal her sources for information on political corruption in Quebec.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
The Canadian constitution and other legislation protect religious freedom. However, in June 2019, the Quebec provincial government passed Bill 21, leading to a reduction of religious freedom in the province, where over a quarter of Canadians live. The bill bans certain government employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab, crucifix, turban, or kippah while at work. The list of such persons includes judges, police officers, government lawyers, and teachers. The bill has a grandfather clause for government employees already wearing symbols—they can keep wearing them until they change institutions or take a promotion.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion in Canada is generally free and unrestrained. However, in 2015, the former Conservative government passed a controversial antiterrorism law granting the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) wider authority to conduct surveillance and share information about individuals with other agencies. Its passage elicited considerable condemnation from Canadian intellectuals and both domestic and foreign civil liberties watchdogs, who warned that it undermined the concept of privacy and could harm freedom of expression.
In 2017, the Liberal government introduced a bill that would reverse some of the law’s provisions and establish an independent review and complaints body as well as a parliamentary committee to monitor Canada’s intelligence-gathering agencies. However, the 2017 law has also been criticized for allowing Canada’s spy agencies excessive powers to perform surveillance on Canadians without their knowledge, and for failing to explicitly prohibit the use of intelligence gathered by foreign entities through torture. The bill was passed unamended by the Senate in June 2019.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. In January 2020, demonstrators blockaded construction roads, freight and passenger railways, and government buildings across the country in support of Indigenous peoples’ opposition to the development of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. In response, the Alberta government in May passed the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act that instituted fines of up to $25,000, six months in jail, or both for blocking the construction of “essential infrastructure” such as highways, pipelines, railways, and oil and gas rigs. Environmental and labor activists criticized the act, in effect since June, for its overly broad definition of “essential infrastructure,” which could limit people’s ability to protest, and excessively harsh penalties.
Protests occurred throughout the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, with widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations emerging in the summer of 2020.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely and frequently inform policy discussions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions and business associations enjoy high levels of membership and are well organized.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
Canada’s judiciary is generally independent.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
Constitutionally protected due process rights are generally upheld in practice. Canada’s criminal law is based on legislation enacted by parliament; its tort and contract laws are based on English common law, with the exception of those in Quebec, where they are based on the French civil code.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
The use of solitary confinement for extended periods of time in Canada’s prisons has been controversial. Many critics charge that the time that inmates are excluded from the general population of prisoners has become excessive, and that prisoners with mental health issues are harmed due to frequent placement in solitary confinement. The government’s 2018 legislation that responded to this criticism was further denounced by legal advocates for prisoners, who claimed the bill would have little practical effect. This bill passed the Senate and became law in June 2019 with the addition of some minor amendments, including increased judicial oversight on decisions to isolate prisoners, more support for inmates with mental illnesses, and community-based options for rehabilitating indigenous people and members of other vulnerable populations. An advisory panel report released in October 2020 found that the length of solidarity confinement and the frequency of its use has not substantially changed since the introduction of the new law.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The government has made increasing efforts to enforce equal rights and opportunities for minority groups, although some problems persist. First Nations people remain subject to widespread discrimination, struggle with food insecurity, and unequal access to education, health care, public services, and employment.
The government’s 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) called for the creation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in 2019. The Inquiry investigated the government’s complicity and involvement in the disappearance or murder of more than 4,000 Indigenous women and girls over the past 30 years. The authors concluded that the sum of historical and contemporary injustices, longstanding and extant state policy and indifference, and an epidemic of violence against Indigenous peoples amounted to genocide. The MMIWG also made recommendations to improve the lives of Canada’s First Nations populations. However, the release of the federal government’s action plan to implement the MMIWG’s 2019 recommendations was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an analysis published in December 2019 by the Yellowhead Institute found that only 9 out of 94 TRC calls to action had been completed since 2015.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is constitutionally protected and upheld in practice. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial and municipal governments at various times throughout the year limited people’s movements in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and roughly half of provinces mandated that all travelers self-isolate upon arrival. From July to November, the provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador created an interprovincial “bubble,” for residents within that zone; the federal government required individuals to self-isolate after international travel, but all residents of the four “bubble” provinces could move freely within the four provinces’ borders. The rules were enforced with monetary fines, though compliance was common and fines were given quite rarely.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Property rights are not constitutionally guaranteed but are generally well protected by law and through the enforcement of contracts.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. Domestic violence is a problem that disproportionately affects women, particularly indigenous women, and is underreported. There have been initiatives in recent years to better train police in handling domestic violence cases. Since the Liberal Party entered government in 2015, there has been a marked improvement in gender equality, according to the most recent United Nations (UN) Gender Inequality Index (2017).
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
There have been some reports of forced labor in the agricultural, food processing, construction, and other sectors, as well as among domestic workers. However, the government, aided by NGOs that work to reveal forced labor and sex trafficking, do attempt to hold perpetrators accountable and to provide aid to victims.
There is no national minimum wage, though provinces have set their own. Occupational safety standards are robust and generally well enforced. However, young workers, migrants, and new immigrants remain vulnerable to abuses in the workplace.
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Global Freedom Score98 100 free
Internet Freedom Score87 100 free