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Canada 2023

 Systemic racism and discrimination of Black and racialized people persisted. Wet’suwet’en territory remained under threat from pipeline construction. Violence against Indigenous women continued and the fate of missing Indigenous children remained unresolved. The human rights of asylum seekers and migrants were violated and two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA+) people faced discrimination and violence. Canada did not meet emissions targets. Canadian corporations were linked to alleged human rights abuses abroad.


In March, a grievance by Black and racialized workers claiming systemic racism, discrimination and sexism against the Canadian Human Rights Commission was upheld.

In June, the Quebec government tabled Bill 32 requiring health and social services institutions to adopt a “cultural safety approach” towards Indigenous Peoples, but failed to recognize the existence of systemic racism and discrimination. The Quebec government had yet to adopt Joyce’s Principle to ensure Indigenous Peoples had access to healthcare and social services without discrimination.1

While the Quebec government adopted Bill 14 to combat racial profiling by police officers, the Quebec Minister of Public Security asserted that there was “no systemic racism”. An independent report revealed that racialized individuals were more likely to be stopped by police than White people.

A lawsuit filed by Black federal public service employees alleging systemic discrimination was ongoing.

In July, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal approved a CAD 23.3 billion settlement to compensate more than 300,000 First Nations children who had been subject to discrimination by the government.

LGBTI people’s rights

Violence against 2SLGBTQQIA+ people was pervasive. Alarming incidents of hate occurred, ranging from vandalism of Pride flags to protests at children’s drag story-time events. In September, large-scale protests took place aimed at eliminating sexual orientation and gender identity and expression curricula and policies from schools. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick passed legislation prohibiting 2SLGBTQQIA+ youth from having their gender and pronouns recognized without parental consent.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

The construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline continued without the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ free, prior, and informed consent. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and private security officers intimidated and harassed Wet’suwet’en land defenders.2 Several land defenders went on trial in May and October for protecting Wet’suwet’en territory against pipeline construction. One was found not guilty in November; the others were still awaiting decisions and could face prison sentences if found guilty.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples urged Canada to address the “epidemic” of violence against Indigenous women, noting the increase in missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the high rates of sexual assault and exploitation experienced by Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people near pipeline construction sites. Only two of 231 Calls for Justice had been implemented four years after the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Canada’s National Action Plan for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples did not include accountability mechanisms and free, prior, and informed consent.

The Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites recommended the creation of a legal framework to protect unmarked graves and support Indigenous-led search operations for missing children. Despite a legal agreement in April providing a framework for the search of burial sites, the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) experienced difficulties in accessing the necessary archives and a lack of collaboration from stakeholders.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) was expanded to the entire US and Canadian borders, including waterways. Asylum seekers crossing the border through non-official entry points are sent back to the USA unless they can avoid detection for 14 days. In June, the Supreme Court ruled not to overturn the STCA.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) continued to detain asylum seekers and migrants for indefinite periods on administrative grounds. In February, a coroner’s inquest recommended an end to the use of jails for immigration detention after a refugee with mental health disabilities died after years of incarceration in immigration detention. Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick announced an end to their immigration detention arrangements with CBSA. By July 2024, people will no longer be incarcerated in these provinces’ jails solely on immigration grounds.3

Migrants’ precarious migratory status exposed them to human rights violations. The Quebec government continued to exclude refugee claimant families from state-subsidized childcare and migrants with irregular status were denied healthcare.

Corporate accountability

Canadian corporations abroad were linked to alleged human rights abuses including forced labour, displacement, sexual assault, environmental damages, and killings. In July, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) launched investigations into Canadian corporations’ involvement in the alleged human rights violations against the Uyghur people in China.

The effectiveness of CORE remained concerning. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples identified several shortcomings of CORE, including a lack of protective mechanisms for individuals filing complaints and the inability to compel companies to provide witnesses and documents.

Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines was linked to human rights violations as a result of the expansion of copper mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.4

Bill S-211 became law in May, but failed to sufficiently tackle forced and child labour in supply chains.

Canada failed to introduce mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, which should apply to Canadian companies’ domestic and extraterritorial operations.

Irresponsible arms transfers

Canada continued to export weapons to countries where there was a substantial risk of them being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law. Arms worth USD 1.2 billion were exported to Saudi Arabia, representing 57% of total arms exports. Since February, approximately USD 1 million of military goods, including “riot control agents”, were approved for export to Peru amid repression of protests. Canada issued 315 export permits to Israel for weapons and military technology in 2022and approved over USD 21 million worth of military exports to Israel between October and December 2023. .

Right to a healthy environment

Canada was severely impacted by forest fires, which covered 18.4 million hectares. The fires had serious human rights impacts and displaced numerous Indigenous communities including the Fort Chipewyan community in Alberta and the Uashat mak Maniutenam community in Quebec.5

According to the Office of Auditor General, Canada will miss its target of 40-45% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, with the oil and gas sector continuing to be the highest emitter. Canada was one of five countries that will see an increase in fossil fuel production and subsidies for domestic and overseas projects in 2024. Canada was expected to reach record emissions levels in 2028 with plans to dig 8% more wells in the next year alone.

  1. Overview of Human Rights in Canada 2023, 25 September (French only)
  2. Canada: “Removed From Our Land for Defending it”: Criminalization, Intimidation and Harassment of Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders, 11 December
  3. “Quebec, New Brunswick to end immigration detention in provincial jails”, 13 June; “Ontario win a ‘tipping point’ in movement against immigration detention”, 16 June
  4. DRC: Powering Change or Business as Usual, 11 September
  5. “Health risks from Canadian wildfires an indictment of climate change failures”, 7 June