Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. According to the government’s statistical agency, in 2014 police received approximately 20,735 reports of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, and aggravated sexual assault (down from 21,300 in 2013). Most victims were women. Government studies indicated victims of sexual assault reported approximately one in 10 incidents to police. The federal government does not publish statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, and punished.
The law prohibits domestic violence. Although the criminal code does not define specific domestic violence offenses, an abuser can be charged with an applicable offense, such as assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government enforced the law effectively. Studies indicated that victims of domestic violence and spousal abuse underreported incidents, likely due to social stigma, fear of further violence, or retribution.
According to the government’s statistical agency, Aboriginal women were three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to experience violent abuse and, according to the RCMP, were four times more likely to be victims of homicide. In June the RCMP reported that in 2013 and 2014, there were 32 Aboriginal female homicide cases and 11 missing females; Aboriginal women continued to be disproportionately represented among the country’s homicide and missing persons cases. Following a 2014 report that the number of missing and allegedly murdered Aboriginal females exceeded previous estimates, the RCMP determined that there were 225 unresolved cases. As of September the RCMP resolved 21 cases by bringing charges (10 cases), confirming a suspect’s death (two cases), locating missing Aboriginal females (six cases), or reclassifying homicides as death by another cause (three cases). The RCMP maintained the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains to support law enforcement investigations, and it established projects with some municipal police forces to review outstanding files of missing women, including Aboriginal women. The RCMP conducted two awareness-raising campaigns during the year to prevent violence against Aboriginal women and girls.
In February the country’s premiers and territorial leaders, Aboriginal leaders, and the Status of Women and Aboriginal Affairs ministers participated in a national roundtable on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. In June the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women issued a report on local and international best practices to prevent violence against women. The report made 11 recommendations to the government based on expert testimony on local and international best practices. Aboriginal leaders called for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls.
In October, 12 Aboriginal individuals, mostly women, in the northwestern Quebec community of Val d’Or, alleged that nine members of the provincial police sexually assaulted them, gave them money and drugs for sexual services, physically abused them, or drove them out of town in the winter and forced them to walk back to their homes in the cold. The provincial government placed eight members of the force on administrative leave pending an investigation. The ninth member died earlier in the year.
The government’s statistical agency reported there were approximately 625 shelters and transition homes providing services to abused women. Shelters provided emergency care, transition housing, counseling, and referrals to legal and social service agencies. Some shelters were located on Aboriginal reserves and served an exclusively Aboriginal population. Shelters in rural and remote areas generally offered a narrower range of services than urban facilities, and a greater proportion focused on short-stay crisis intervention. Reports indicated shortages of shelter spaces, trained staff, counseling, and access to affordable second-stage housing. These shortages impeded women from leaving abusive relationships.
Police received training in treating domestic violence victims, and agencies provided abuse hotlines. The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked to eliminate violence against women and advance women’s human rights. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society, including funding public education programs and services, hotlines, and shelters.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls and prosecutes the offense as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons committing or aiding another person to commit the offense may be charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm (maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment) or criminal negligence causing death (maximum penalty of life imprisonment). Persons convicted of removing or assisting the removal of a child who is ordinarily a resident in Canada for the purpose of having FGM/C performed on the child face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Refugee status may be granted on the grounds of threatened FGM/C that may be considered gender-related persecution. Provincial child protection authorities may intervene to remove children suspected at risk of FGM/C from their homes.
Although reliable statistics were not available, there were a few reports that FGM/C occurred, particularly among immigrant communities. Anecdotal evidence also suggested some families from immigrant communities in which FGM/C is culturally accepted send their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The criminal code does not specifically refer to “honor” killings, but it prosecutes such cases as murder. Murder convictions in the first or second degree carry minimum penalties of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole. The government enforced the law effectively. The government’s citizenship guide for new immigrants explicitly states that “honor” killings and gender-based violence carry severe legal penalties. The government trains law enforcement officials on issues of “honor”-based violence and maintains an interdepartmental working group focusing on forced marriage and “honor”-based violence. In June the government passed legislation that limited the defense of “provocation” so that it would not apply in cases of “honor” killings and many cases of spousal homicide.
An appeal of an extradition order from the British Columbia Supreme Court by a mother and uncle of a female family member on charges they ordered the alleged “honor” killing of the woman and her husband in India in 2000 remained pending as of October.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not contain a specific offense of “sexual harassment” but criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for non-aggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. The government generally enforced these prohibitions. Federal and provincial labor standards laws provide some protection against harassment, and federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions have internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provide public education and advice.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals enjoy the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: Women have marriage, property, inheritance, and labor rights and enjoy the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men. They were well represented in the labor force, including in business and the professions. Nevertheless, women experienced some economic discrimination in terms of employment, credit, or pay equity for substantially similar work, or in owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. According to reliable nongovernmental sources, women represented 37 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers. Labor groups reported that women were underrepresented in executive positions in the private sector. Seven provinces and two territories require private sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed over the past two decades.
Aboriginal women living on reserves (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs. While these laws provide some legal protection, the Native Women’s Association of Canada stated First Nations communities needed more resources for policing, shelters, increased family support, training, and capacity building to implement them more effectively and enable better access to the justice system to enforce them.
Aboriginal women and men living on reserves are subject to the Indian Act, which defines status for the purposes of determining entitlement to a range of legislated rights and eligibility for federal programs and services. Aboriginal women do not enjoy full equality rights with Aboriginal men to transmit officially recognized status to their descendants.