Freedom in the World 2017 - Canada

Freedom Status: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

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.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • 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.
Executive Summary: 

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.

Political Rights

Political Rights 40 / 40

A. Electoral Process 12 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 16 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 12 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 59 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 16 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 12 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 15 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 16 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

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.