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Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings

Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings

The courts of Canada have jurisdiction to determine whether there have been violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Violations of the Charter are often brought to the courts in criminal proceedings, where they can lead to a stay of charges, if found. Individuals may also bring civil actions for violations of the Charter. Many pieces of legislation relevant to the exercise of human rights provide for recourse to the courts, such as child protection legislation and, in Quebec, the Civil Code and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The courts also decide cases on the basis of common law and have jurisdiction over children and other persons unable to defend themselves on behalf of citizens, which is of particular importance in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Courts also play a role in reviewing decisions of panels and tribunals.

The primary means of enforcing human rights codes and legislation (relating principally to discrimination) are the human rights commissions or tribunals established under them. Human rights commissions have a role to play in identifying human rights problems and concerns. Many have varying degrees of responsibility for overseeing the implementation of human rights enshrined in their respective human rights laws. Individuals who allege a violation of their rights to equality may file a complaint with the relevant commission. These complaints are investigated and a conciliation procedure may be provided for. If necessary, a commission of inquiry or human rights tribunal decides on the merits of the complaint. Most provincial jurisdictions have established police commissions or similar bodies to deal with complaints against the police. Increasingly, these bodies operate independently of the police. The Independent Civilian Grievance and Complaints Commission for the RCMP handles complaints against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Canada's national police force), and the Office of Corrections Oversight handles complaints from inmates held in federal penitentiary facilities.

Federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments have undertaken broad initiatives to support victims of violence, especially women and children. These initiatives include funding for social and other programs that help support victims of violence, such as affordable housing and emergency shelters, as well as criminal justice reform measures to help police, social services and other professionals better protect and support victims.

At the federal level, Canada's strategy for preventing and addressing gender-based violence, "It's About Time", is a comprehensive, whole-of-government program that brings together the efforts of many federal departments and agencies to prevent and address gender-based violence. The strategy includes a range of activities under three main components: prevention; assistance to victims and their families; and a responsive judicial and legal system. The goals of the Strategy include the following:

  • Increasing efforts to combat online sexual exploitation of children;
  • Supporting cultural sensitivity and gender sensitivity training for federal law enforcement officials;
  • Supporting the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre to enhance the investigative capacity of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
  • Providing leave to protect the workplace for victims of domestic violence, or parents of a child who is a victim of domestic violence working in federally regulated workplaces;
  • Supporting sexual assault victim assistance centers in close proximity to Canadian Armed Forces bases to ensure that members of the armed forces are assisted in this area;
  • Expanding the gender-based violence program so that an increasing number of organizations, such as rape crisis centers, can provide support to those populations most at risk of violence.

An important challenge that Canada has successfully addressed is ensuring equal gender representation in law enforcement agencies. Although women make up approximately 48% of the workforce and nearly 51% of the population, they account for only 20.8% (14,332) of the Federal Police (Royal Canadian Mounted Police - RCMP). On a positive note, we are seeing a higher percentage of women in the higher ranks of the police services (13% of senior officers in 2016), a very significant increase from just 6% in 2006 and less than 1% in 1986. Again, the percentage of female officers at the rank of noncommissioned officer and senior officer has tripled. In retrospect, the trend of increasing female representation is increasing, while male representation is decreasing. We see the same positive trend, but to a lesser extent, with regard to LGBTQ recruitment into the police force. Research shows that more recently the RCMP has increasingly embraced broader (gender and other) diversity. Laws, institutions, and new practices (human rights legislation, positive laws, and workplace policies, such as the creation of hate crime and bias units in many police services) also contribute to this attitude.

Indigenous recruitment has been most successful. Through RCMP initiatives such as the Aboriginal Policing Program (APP), the national police have been able to build positive relationships across the country, as well as improve recruitment and retention rates. One of the most successful examples of the RCMP's workforce diversification has been the National Aboriginal Pre-Cadet Program (PAPA) offered to selected young Aboriginal men (ages 18 to 29) across Canada.

The police force continues to undertake various initiatives to address the existing problem of police distrust. To that end, Police Services Canada has undertaken various community-based initiatives to increase support for law enforcement, increase contact and build public confidence. For example, through initiatives such as Coffee with a Cop, front-line police officers make home visits to residents, participate in advisory committees and "get-to-know-you" sessions. In these instances, the RCMP seeks to break down attitudinal barriers and build positive community connections with diverse communities and minority groups. Another relevant aspect of anti-discrimination practice involves institutional-democratic "checks and balances" (i.e., oversight, internal and external audits, investigative mechanisms). There are Canadian reporting and investigative bodies that conduct annual audits and reviews of police forces in Canada across a wide range of activities, including recruitment. An example of such an oversight mechanism is the RCMP's Civilian Oversight and Complaints Commission, which is an agency of the federal government separate and independent from the police.

The number of criminal hate-motivated incidents reported to police increased by more than 60 percent in 2019-20 compared to the 2014-2017 period, when there were 2,073 such incidents. Of those, 38% were violent crimes, including assaults, threats and criminal harassment. And, according to Perry, most of the police-reported crimes are committed by individuals who are not currently affiliated with a particular hate group, suggesting that the problem is more prevalent than one might think. This police data is based on incidents that have been corroborated by investigations and relies heavily on victims' willingness to report the crime. Leading hate studies expert Barbara Perry believes that "police officers themselves have a relationship to homosexual and transgender violence, so [people from those communities] are less likely to report these incidents." Based on her research, she argues that 80 to 85 percent of hate crimes in Canada go unreported.

In an effort to address online threats, the Government of Canada has applied a multi-stakeholder approach to preventing and countering the terrorist use of the internet. This includes ongoing engagement with international allies and other international and domestic partners and is structured around three lines of effort:

  • Supporting research to understand how terrorist groups operate online and how best to counter their activities;
  • Working with technology companies and international partners to reduce the impact of terrorist content;
  • Supporting civil society groups to develop digital literacy guidelines and alternative narratives.

Canada's efforts focus on protecting the general public from terrorist narratives, preventing and countering terrorist material and activity online and helping ensure that alternative narratives provide points of view that counter those promoted by terrorists. Government support for research is focused on making these efforts more effective, while ensuring the protection of personally identifiable information.

The Government of Canada also engages with technology companies through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). GIFCT was established in 2017 by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube and structures how those companies and other members work together to address terrorist activity on their platforms. Engagement with GIFCT occurs bilaterally and through both the G7 and Five Country Ministerial. Within the G7 and Five Country Ministerial contexts, the Government of Canada has asked GIFCT and its members to increase transparency around their efforts to counter terrorist activity, support collaboration with researchers, develop and implement new technological solutions, and help improve the capacity of smaller companies.

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