Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In May, the Canadian Federal Court ruled that electoral fraud had been committed in several districts during the 2011 federal elections, but determined that the fraud was not severe enough to overturn the results. In an effort to increase representation in provinces with the fastest growing populations, a bill was passed in December that adds 30 seats to the House of Commons.
Numerous corruption investigations that took place during the year resulted in the resignation of a senator and the chief of staff, as well as the suspension of three additional senators. An ongoing inquiry into corruption within Québec’s construction industry revealed that the largest labor federation was under the control of organized crime. Toronto mayor Rob Ford was also embroiled in scandal during the year after he admitted in November to having smoked crack cocaine. After he refused to resign, the Toronto Council voted to remove most of his authority by late November.
The proposed Charter of Québec Values, intended to restrict religious expression by public sector employees, was heavily debated throughout the year amongst political parties and the public.
Political Rights: 39 / 40 (-1) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
Canada is governed by a prime minister, a cabinet, and Parliament, which consists of an elected 308-member House of Commons and an appointed 105-member Senate. Senators may serve until age 75. Lower-house elections are held every four years, with early elections called only if the government loses a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The British monarch is head of state, represented by a ceremonial governor-general who is appointed on the advice of the prime minister.
In early elections held in 2011, the Conservative Party triumphed, securing 166 seats to form a majority government. Placing second with 103 seats was the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), which became the leading opposition party for the first time. The center-left Liberal Party won 34 seats, while the Bloc Québécois, which favors Québec separatism, suffered a devastating defeat, with just 4 members elected to Parliament. The Green Party captured 1 seat.
On May 23, 2013, the Canadian Federal Court ruled that electoral fraud had been committed in several electoral districts during the 2011 election, but that the fraud was not severe enough to overturn the voting results. The fraudulent activity involved voter suppression tactics used by someone who accessed the Conservative Party’s database to make misleading phone calls, or robocalls, to non-Conservative voters to misinform them that their polling stations had been relocated. The chief electoral officer released a report in March recommending that political parties be held liable for the misuse or loss of voter information; a second report to be released before the 2015 federal election will detail sanctions and penalties for such violations.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made significant changes to his cabinet in July, including the promotion of four female ministers from the backbenches. In December, the Fair Representation Act received royal assent to add 30 new seats to the House of Commons in an effort to increase effective representation of provinces with growing populations. The new seats will be distributed among Alberta, British Colombia, Ontario, and Québec, and will be in effect for the 2015 elections.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16
Canadians are free to organize in different political parties, and the political system is open to the rise and fall of competing parties. Both Conservative and Liberal governments have been elected to the House of Commons since the 1980s. A total of 18 political parties competed in the 2011 elections, as well as 61 independent candidates.
C. Functioning of Government: 11 / 12 (-1)
Canada has a reputation for clean government and a record of vigorous prosecution of corruption cases. However, the country has been criticized for failing to effectively combat bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. In January 2013, a Calgary-based oil company was fined US$10.35 million, the largest penalty to date, for bribing a government official from Chad. The government strengthened the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act in June with amendments that will allow the government to more easily prosecute Canadian individuals and companies that bribe foreign officials.
Efforts to address corruption in Québec continued during the year along with the ongoing inquiry led by France Charbonneau, a Québec Superior Court justice. The Charbonneau Commission, which has focused on corruption in the construction industry, led to the resignation of Montréal mayor Gérald Tremblay and neighboring Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt in 2012. Vaillancourt was arrested in May 2013, along with 36 others, on charges of gangsterism, fraud, corruption, and money laundering; no charges were brought against Tremblay. Michael Applebaum, who became interim mayor of Montréal following Tremblay’s resignation, was arrested on corruption charges in June. The commission’s public hearings and investigations throughout 2013 revealed that the construction branch of Québec’s largest labor federation was under the control of organized crime. The Charbonneau Commission is expected to release an interim report in January 2014 and a final report in 2015.
The Canadian Senate was also rocked by scandal in 2013, stemming from improper expense reports prepared by four senators. The controversy emerged over the manipulation of rules allowing senators to claim living expenses when working in the capital if they live more than 100 kilometers away. In May, the Senate and external auditors released a report that revealed the improperly claimed living allowances of senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb. News then surfaced that while Senator Duffy had voluntarily repaid US$90,000 of improperly claimed expenses, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written Duffy a personal check to reimburse him. Wright resigned in May and Senator Harb resigned in August. In September it was announced that Senator Pamela Wallin had also submitted false claims. The Senate voted in November to suspend Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin; however, no criminal charges were filed.
Canada was ranked 9 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 59 / 60 (+1)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16
Canada’s media is generally free; journalists are mostly protected from violence and harassment in their work and are able to express diverse views. However, defamation remains a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. No statutory laws protect confidential sources, and the courts often decide whether or not to respect source confidentiality on a case-by-case basis. A gag law was passed in Alberta in December, making it illegal to advocate for a strike by public employees. A 2012 bill designed to increase accountability by amending the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act continued to raise concerns as it moved through the House of Commons. Press freedom advocates claimed that the bill would undermine the journalistic and programming integrity of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s public broadcaster; however, the bill had yet to become law at year’s end. Despite the existence of Canada’s Access to Information Act, there are many challenges to obtaining information, including lengthy delays and excessive costs. Media ownership continues to become more concentrated.
While the Harper government vowed at the end of 2012 to permanently shelve proposed legislation that would have allowed them to monitor the digital activity of internet users via their service providers without a warrant, a similar bill was introduced in November with the intention of combatting cyberbullying. Press freedom critics have argued that the language that defines this crime is too vague, and like the previous proposed legislation, this bill allows Internet service providers and telecommunications companies to provide customer information to the government without a warrant. The bill would also allow police to remotely access personal computers and cellphones. The bill had yet to become law at year’s end.
Religious freedom is protected by the constitution and other legislation. However, there have been cases of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, including numerous acts of violence and vandalism against Canada’s Jewish and Muslim communities. There has also been controversy over the legality of wearing religious clothing and face coverings in public. In November 2013, the Charter of Québec Values bill was introduced in the province’s legislature, with the aim of restricting “overt” and “conspicuous” religious symbols, including headgear and the wearing of large crosses by public sector employees. The proposed charter caused significant debate, with public hearings on the bill scheduled for January 2014. Academic freedom is respected. However, a policy prohibiting federally-funded scientists from speaking to the media about their research, even after it has been published, continued to be enforced in 2013.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12 (+1)
Freedoms of association and assembly are generally respected. However, police conduct during the protests surrounding the 2010 meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) in Toronto included the use of excessive force and illegal imprisonment. During 2013, 31 police officers faced disciplinary charges related to their response to the G20 protest. One officer was convicted in September on criminal charges of assault with a weapon for striking a protester with a baton while he was held down by other officers.
The police response to the 2012 demonstrations in Québec staged by students and the general public occasionally turned violent; authorities arrested some 2,500 people, used tear gas against demonstrators, and resorted to the tactic of kettling. A Quebec government-appointed commission initiated an investigation into the police conduct around the demonstrations in June, and public hearings began in September; the commission’s report had yet to be released at year’s end. In October, at least 40 people were arrested in New Brunswick when a protest against shale gas extraction (fracking) near land belonging to the Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq Nation turned violent.
Trade unions and business associations enjoy high levels of membership and are well organized. However, the Conservative government has adopted a tough line with unions representing public workers and has interfered with the rights of workers to organize, strike, and bargain collectively.
F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16
The judiciary is independent. Canada’s criminal law is based on legislation enacted by Parliament; its tort and contract law is based on English common law, with the exception of Québec, where it is based on the French civil code. A 2012 anticrime law increased mandatory minimum sentences, provided for harsher sentences for young offenders, and eliminated conditional sentences such as house arrest or community service for some crimes. Critics argued that the new law would increase both the number of people in prison and detention costs, and inflict unconstitutional punishments on people. According to the Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (2012-2013), the country’s prison population was the highest ever. The number of visible minorities in prison has risen by 75 percent in the last decade; while the aboriginal population comprises about 4 percent of Canada’s population, they represent close to a quarter of all inmates.
According to human rights groups, a 2012 immigration law, which took effect in 2013, creates an unfair system by increasing detention time for refugees and granting sole discretion to the minister of citizenship and immigration to designate certain countries of origin as “safe.” The new law also imposes a waiting period of five years before refugees can apply for permanent residence. Significant cuts in funding for refugee health care also came into effect this year.
While authorities have taken important steps to protect the rights of the country’s indigenous population, they remain subject to multiple forms of discrimination and have unequal access to education, health care, and employment. There are frequent controversies over control of land in various provinces, including the building of gas and oil wells on traditional territories.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 16 / 16
Women’s rights are protected in law and in practice. Women hold approximately 25 percent of the seats in the lower house of Parliament, some 37 percent in the Senate, and about 31 percent in the cabinet. Women have made major economic gains and are well represented in the labor force, though they still earned 28 percent less than men for the same work in Ontario in 2012. Indigenous women and girls face racial and economic discrimination, as well as high rates of gender-based violence. In 2012, Canada enacted a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005; however, despite advances in legal equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Canadians continue to occasionally face discrimination and be the targets of hate crimes.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year