Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as CDA by Abbreviationfinder, Canada has a well-functioning democratic system, where political and civil rights are respected. However, there are a number of concerns, including increased surveillance of citizens and the risk that laws against terrorism can be exploited to limit freedom of expression. The country’s indigenous peoples have long been fighting against discrimination and for greater political rights.
Since 1982, citizens’ democratic rights have been guaranteed by a special constitution in the constitution, with the exception of the province of Québec, which has its own human rights statute adopted seven years earlier (see Political system). The latter made a controversial amendment in June 2019, Bill 21, when it was banned for certain public servants, including teachers, police and judges, in Quebec to wear religious symbols in the course of their professional practice. It was the first time an amendment to the Charter was passed without all the parties in the provincial Parliament agreeing (see Calendar).
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Political elections are conducted according to democratic rules of the game and citizens are free to form political parties.
Criticism has been directed at an election law, the Fair Elections Act, of 2014, for the limited voting rights of Canadians living abroad and containing strict rules on how to legitimize themselves when voting, which is considered to have struck extra hard against people belonging to indigenous peoples. Several of the sensitive parts were abandoned in 2018, at the same time as an upper limit was imposed on the amount of campaign contributions a party may receive and a ban on parties receiving money from other countries. Companies such as Facebook and Google were required to keep records of political ads that were published on their platforms (see Calendar).
Both women and representatives of the country’s indigenous peoples are under-represented in Parliament. However, the Liberal government that took office in 2015 consisted of as many women as men. Women are more vulnerable to violent crimes than men and those who have roots in the indigenous peoples are more vulnerable than other groups. Even today, indigenous peoples often have worse social and economic conditions than the rest of the population (see Social conditions).
From the 1960s onwards, the indigenous peoples demanded compensation for land losses and special political rights (see Indigenous peoples’ rights). In June 2019, a national investigation determined that thousands of women and girls from Canada’s indigenous peoples who have been murdered or disappeared since 1973 have been subjected to a genocide (see Calendar). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has on several occasions apologized for violations that the indigenous peoples have been exposed to (read more in the Calendar).
In 2017, Trudeau also apologized to the country’s LGBTQ people for the discrimination they had previously been subjected to by the Canadian state (see Calendar). Since 2005, people of the same sex have the right to marry each other. In 2017, it was forbidden to discriminate against people because of their gender identity.
Canada is considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption in 180 of the world’s countries (Canada will be ranked 12th in 2019, for a list see here). In recent years, however, several corruption deals in politics have been revealed (see Calendar). In Québec, disclosures of widespread corruption around public construction projects led to the establishment of the so-called Charbonneau Commission in 2011. Four years later, it presented some 60 recommendations on how similar problems could be avoided in the future. However, according to media reports, only part of the proposals have been implemented. Another scandal that erupted in early 2019 was about the Liberal government’s handling of a Canadian company accused of corruption in Libya before 2011, and led to two heavy ministers leaving the government (see Current Policy).
In 2017, a law was passed that gives the government the opportunity to impose sanctions on foreign citizens who have been involved in corruption or who have committed serious human rights violations.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution. However, several press freedom organizations have in recent years criticized Canada, among other things, for the police in several cases monitoring journalists to search for their sources. Concerns have been raised that the authorities are using the anti-terrorism legislation, C-51, to restrict freedom of expression.
In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2020 , Canada ranked 16th out of 180 countries, six positions higher than four years earlier (for list, see here).
In the fall of 2017, a law change was made that gives journalists the right to refuse to disclose information that can be used to identify a source that has requested anonymity. However, a judge may make exceptions if they consider that the authorities cannot obtain the information in another way, or if the investigation is considered more important than the source protection.
In 2016, it was revealed that a few years earlier, the Quebec police had tracked a reporter’s mobile phone for several months in order to search for his sources. Several other obscure journalists had also been monitored. The provincial government of Montreal promised after that a review of the legislation in order to secure freedom of the press. The deal has been investigated by the so-called Chamberland Commission, which at the end of 2017 required the authorities to legislate to protect journalists’ sources, but also to create guidelines for how contacts between police and politicians should work.
Another case concerns the federal police who ordered a journalist from VICE News to hand over their background material about a suspected terrorist to them. The journalist appealed against this but lost the case in the Supreme Court at the end of 2018.
Another journalist, Justin Brake, has been indicted for watching a protest against a powerhouse in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2016. He is accused of breaking into the power plant’s territory along with a group of activists. If convicted, he risks imprisonment for up to ten years. However, he was released in a civil case in April 2019. The Canadian Journalists’ Association requires all charges against Brake to be dropped.
In 2018, Marie-Maude Denis, a journalist working for Radio Canada by the Québec Supreme Court, was charged with stating who leaked classified information about corruption deals with links to the Liberal Party to her. She has appealed the decision to the Federal Supreme Court in Ottawa.
The Access to Information Act gives all Canadians the right to request and access information from federal institutions. Legislative reform is underway, but the proposal now being considered by Parliament has been criticized for making it more difficult than before for citizens and the media to gain access to public documents, not least for the government’s ability to refuse to submit out of them have been expanded, and that the processing of complaints should take longer than before (the number of complaints has increased by more than 200 percent between 2012 and 2017).
Lack of profitability has resulted in many smaller newspapers being closed or staff being laid off when newspaper editions have been merged. Advertising revenues for print media fell by almost a third during the period 2014-2015, and the number of subscribers to paper magazines has fallen rapidly. There is no state press support.
The media market is now dominated by a few large companies.
Ever since the 1970s, there has been a concern for the consequences of the strong concentration of power in the media market for democracy when news reporting, especially at the local level, disappears or falls into the hands of a few actors.
According to the law, the etheric media must work to strengthen national identity by broadcasting Canadian-produced programs.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary is independent. The rule of law is in principle good.
In 2012, the then Conservative government tightened the penalty for multiple crimes. It became mandatory to sentence prison sentences for certain drug offenses and for sexual abuse of children. Young people who have committed several violent crimes would also receive longer sentences than before. Critics argued that the new policy would probably make it more difficult to reintegrate criminals into society after serving punishments and that it would increase the cost of prison services, which would primarily affect the provinces. According to official statistics, crime has steadily declined since 1992. However, the number of crimes using firearms increased in the early 2010s.
The penal age is 12 years, but special laws exist for cases involving young people.
Canada has been criticized for keeping detainees isolated for long periods, and for those who have serious mental health problems. Several provincial courts have ruled that parts of the federal law that establish the rules violate the rights enshrined in the constitution. A new legislative proposal from 2017/2018, which aims to remedy the problems, has been criticized for only containing cosmetic improvements.
There is a ban on torture. The death penalty was abolished in 1998, but no one has been executed in Canada since 1962.
Laws against terrorism
Several new laws have been adopted since 2001 that give the police and other authorities greater powers to intervene against terror suspects. These have since been sharpened in turns. In 2013, it was forbidden for people to leave – or attempt to leave – Canada to participate in terrorist acts abroad. 2015 adopted broader anti-terror laws, C-51, including providing security and intelligence (Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS) the right to arrest persons for preventive purposes and to share personal information collected from 100 different authorities. Even the police can now arrest individuals and keep them in custody for seven days without prosecution being brought. Persons posted to a particular list may be prevented from boarding aircraft. It was also punishable for advocating terrorism, but it was unclear exactly what would be punishable, which has drawn criticism. Four former prime ministers and five Supreme Court judges wrote an open letter expressing concern about the consequences of the law change for freedom of expression.
The Liberal Party, which was then in opposition, voted for the law, but promised during the election campaign in the fall of 2015 to withdraw the most controversial parts. In June 2017, the Liberal government presented a proposal for a new law, C-59, which includes creating a new civilian body to review what CSIS does, and defining “terrorist propaganda” so that it does not violate citizens’ right to peaceful protests. CSE, the body responsible for cyber security, should be given the right to take offensive funds to prevent foreign actors’ attacks on Canada. The Conservative Party criticized the bill as saying it hampered the ability of security agencies to intervene on suspected terrorists. Others criticized the fact that it contained no restrictions on the exchange of information between Canada and countries that lack respect for human rights, or to protect Canadians from mass surveillance of digital media. The bill had not yet been approved by the Senate in May 2019.
One case where the authorities’ actions have been sharply criticized is the Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was arrested in the US in 2002 and accused of being a member of the al-Qaeda terrorist network . He was deported to Syria where he suffered torture before returning to Canada in 2003. A public inquiry in 2006 freed him from all suspicions of involvement in terrorist activities. It was stated that Canadian police forwarded information that was not accurate to US authorities. In 2007, the government apologized to Arar and he received damages of more than 10 million Canadian dollars.
Another notable case concerns Omar Khadr, who in 2010 was sentenced to 40 years in prison for, among other things, the murder of an American soldier and other war crimes. It was the first time since World War II that a person was prosecuted in a military court for acts he committed as a minor. He became the youngest prisoner in the American Guantánamo Prison in Cuba. Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was only 15 years old. As Khadr had acknowledged, he would only have to serve eight years of his sentence, the last seven of which are in a Canadian prison. In 2012, Khadr was brought to Canada, where he tried to get the sentence lifted. He was released on bail in May 2015. In 2017, the Canadian government entered into a settlement with Khadr, in connection with a civil case target, which meant he received just over $ 10 million in damages. The government also apologized for any mistakes that Canadian authorities may have made.
According to the government, in 2017, there were approximately 180 individuals connected to Canada who had traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization , as well as some 60 who had previously returned to Canada. There is an intense debate about how the country should protect itself from the threat that these people may pose if / when they return to Canada.