Freedom in the World
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Canada has a strong history of respect for political rights and civil liberties, and has espoused a broad conception of social welfare. While indigenous peoples still face discrimination and other social and political problems, the government has acknowledged and made some moves to address these issues.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government established a commission tasked with consulting with voters and issuing recommendations on reforming the country’s majoritarian electoral system. While Trudeau’s Liberal Party had campaigned on ushering in such reforms, the party appeared to step back from that pledge when the commission’s recommendations were issued.
- In March, a court upheld a police order that a Vice News reporter disclose information about their source for a story about a man suspected of harboring links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
- A new government body tasked with investigating cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls faced criticism for slow progress and a lack of transparency.
The Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Trudeau, has generally governed transparently and in consultation with the public since rising to power after winning 2015 federal elections. As part of his electoral campaign, Trudeau had promised to reform the oft-criticized first-past-the-post, or majoritarian, electoral system, before the next federal elections. In May 2016, Trudeau formed an all-party committee to consult with voters on alternatives to the current system—in which the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of whether they capture an absolute majority of 50 percent of votes cast. In December, the committee issued a recommendation that the Liberal Party design a proportional voting system, to be put to a national referendum. However, Liberal Party representatives on the committee—who were outnumbered by opposition representatives—backed away from Trudeau’s reform pledges in a dissenting statement calling the majority’s recommendation “too radical” to implement and stating that reforms should not be “rushed” ahead of the 2019 polls.
In 2014, the Fair Elections Act—a broad and controversial set of provisions meant to address voter fraud and update campaign finance laws—came into force. Critics have expressed concerns that the legislation, ushered in by the previous Conservative government, could place indigenous peoples at a disadvantage due to its stringent requirements about voter identification and addresses. The government in November 2016 introduced legislation that would relax those and other regulations if approved. Separately, Trudeau’s administration made little progress on pledges to roll back provisions of a controversial antiterrorism law granting the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) broad authority to conduct surveillance and share information about individuals with other agencies.
Canada’s media are 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, and no statutory laws protect confidential sources. In March 2016, the Ontario Superior Court upheld a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) order that Vice News hand over correspondence between its reporter and a former Canadian resident facing terrorism charges over alleged links to IS.
Indigenous women and girls face racial and economic discrimination, high rates of gender-based violence, and mistreatment by police. In August 2016, the government announced plans to establish a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, though the program has since faced criticism for slow progress and a lack of transparency. Separately, in October, the head of RCMP formally apologized to hundreds of women who had been sexually harassed or discriminated against while working for the force. The apology was part of a $100 million settlement of two class-actions lawsuits involving complaints dating back to the 1970s, when women were first permitted to become police officers.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Canada, see Freedom in the World 2016.