Canada has a strong history of respect for political rights and civil liberties, though in recent years citizens have been concerned about laws relating to the administration of elections, freedom of expression, government transparency, and personal privacy. While Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized Canadians still face discrimination and economic, social, and political challenges, the federal government has acknowledged and made some moves to address these issues.
- In August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for snap elections in September, during which there were almost no changes in the number of seats held by parties in Parliament. In the September polls, as well as in provincial elections in March and August, 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 allow these elections to proceed in a free and fair manner.
- The government took several steps to address the equal treatment of Indigenous Canadians during the year, including passing a law in June to enforce the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That same month, the government responded to the 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)—which concluded that the history of state discrimination and oppression of Indigenous people amounted to genocide—committing C$2.2 billion (US$1.8 billion) over five years to implement the Inquiry’s recommendations.
|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 Mary Simon, 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 remained prime minister after the Liberal Party maintained control of government in the September 2021 snap elections.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Canadian 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 no-confidence vote, or on the advice of the prime minister. In August 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau called for snap elections to be held the following month. There were almost no changes in the number of seats held by parties in Parliament in the September poll: the center-left Liberal Party won 160 seats in the House of Commons and maintained its minority government; the Conservative Party took 119 seats; the Bloc Québécois secured 32 seats; the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) won 25 seats; and the Green Party won 2.
In two provincial elections held in 2021—in Nova Scotia in August and in Newfoundland and Labrador in March—polling was conducted with public health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The polls were deemed free and fair, in line with most Canadian elections. Voting day in Newfoundland and Labrador was delayed due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the province’s capital. However, the use of mail-in ballots allowed the election to proceed.
|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. Some critics expressed concern about the 2014 Fair Elections Act, arguing that its stringent voter identification requirements placed Indigenous Canadians at a disadvantage. In 2018, the Liberal government passed legislation that relaxed some of the criticized provisions; restricted spending by political parties and other actors during elections; gave voting rights to all Canadians living abroad; improved the privacy of voters’ information within the databases of political parties; and increased 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.
The Liberal government proposed a law in 2021 that would allow voting on the weekend prior to election day, increase options for mail-in ballots, and create special procedures to facilitate voting for seniors in long-term care and for persons with disabilities. However, the early elections held in September prevented the bill from proceeding before year-end.
|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|
A small number of parties have historically dominated elections. However, Canadians are free to organize in different political parties, and the system is open to the rise and fall of competing groups. A total of 21 political parties were registered in the 2021 federal elections.
|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 government, and in 2019, the Liberal Party’s 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. 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 2020, and subsequently expired in 2021.
|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.
|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. A law amending the act to improve this situation was passed in 2019, but critics have charged that it has not been very effective.
|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 express diverse viewpoints.
In November 2021, authorities arrested journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano while they were covering land defenders’ demonstrations in the First Nation Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. Police arrested the two journalists for having been embedded with the protesters. However, Canadian legal precedent maintains journalists’ rights to embed with protest groups.
|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 2019, the Quebec provincial government passed Bill 21, which 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.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. However, tensions over the right to assemble at the Fairy Creek logging site in British Columbia have led to several court cases and the arrest of over 1,000 antilogging protesters as of December 2021.
|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.
|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. While there have been changes in recent years to solitary confinement laws, an advisory panel report released in May 2021 found that the length of solitary confinement and the frequency of its use had not substantially changed.
|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 problems persist. Black and Indigenous Canadians remain subject to widespread discrimination, struggle with food insecurity, and have unequal access to education, health care, public services, and employment. While there has been some recent progress on these issues, it has been slow.
The federal government’s 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and its 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) —which concluded that the history of state discrimination and oppression of Indigenous people amounted to genocide—made several recommendations to improve the lives of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. However, an analysis published in June 2021 found that only 13 out of 94 TRC calls to action had been completed. Though the government’s response to the MMIWG was delayed due the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2021 it committed C$2.2 billion (US$1.8 billion) over five years to implement the Inquiry’s recommendations and related programs. Parliament also passed a law that month to enforce the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How this new law will impact federal government policies relating to Indigenous people remains to be seen.
The federal government also introduced an antiracism strategy in 2019, which included substantial programs to combat anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism that are now operational. In December 2021, the government officially outlawed “conversion therapy”—an array of violent practices that falsely claim to change LGBT+ people’s sexual orientation—to take effect in early 2023.
|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 in 2020 and 2021 limited people’s movements over borders and enforced public health orders to self-isolate if they were infected with COVID-19. 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. In March 2021, the House of Commons passed amendments to Canada’s assisted suicide laws to remove the eligibility requirement for a person’s natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable,” among other changes.
Domestic violence is a problem that disproportionately affects women, particularly Indigenous women, and is underreported. However, there have been initiatives in recent years to better train police in handling domestic violence cases.
|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.
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Global Freedom Score98 100 free
Internet Freedom Score87 100 free