Section 7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
Section 12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
Section 15. Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Section 28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Implementation
In Canada, between 1969 and 1988 abortion was legal only under certain circumstances affecting the health of the mother. In 1988 the Canadian government overturned the abortion law due to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms violation, Section 7, a woman’s “right to life, liberty and security of person”. Since 1988 there have been no federal restrictions of abortion and it is currently regulated by each province and territory. In 1989, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the abortion choice is solely based upon the woman’s decision and cannot be challenged by a man. For more details refer to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health.
Female Genital Cutting
Canada is a receiving country of female genital cutting (FGC) and there are concerns for women and girls from immigrant communities to be at risk. Under the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 268 it is a criminal offence to “excise, infibulate or mutilate, in whole or in part, the labia majora, labia minora or clitoris of a person” where not medically necessary. It is also illegal for individuals to remove a child from Canada to undergo FGC in their country of origin under the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 273. The Canadian government recognizes FGC as a violation of human rights and seeks to help women and girls at risk by granting refugee status (FGC Clinical Guidelines).
Rights of Sexual Minorities
In 2005, Canada legalized same sex marriage under the Civil Marriage Act “in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, access to marriage for civil purposes should be extended by legislation to couples of the same sex”. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 15 has been developed to implicitly include equality rights without discrimination based on sexual orientation (Library of Parliament).
Polygamy or “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time” is considered illegal under the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 293. The Civil Marriage Act, Section 2 states, “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others”. The law holds true for both who practice and/or assist in the plural relationship and can be imprisoned for up to 5 years, if found guilty. Polygamy is currently a controversial topic in Canada as there are conflicting values between religious beliefs and human rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 279 human trafficking is illegal and perpetrators may be subjected to imprisonment for life. Human trafficking is also noted in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), Section 118, “ No person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use of threat of force or coercion.” In 2012, the Canadian government developed the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. The National Action Plan builds upon current protocols and uses a four pillar approach to end human trafficking; prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and partnerships both nationally and internationally.
The Gender Identity Bill C-279 is currently in committee review and proposes to revise the Canadian Criminal Code, Section 318 to include gender identity protection from discrimination. Bill C-279 also proposes to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to assure transgender equality in Canada.
Violence Against Women
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the criminal code applies to all Canadians. In Canada, Provincial/Territorial Family Legislation supplements the Canadian Criminal Code to prevent violence against women and children. Violence against aboriginal women in Canada is a significant concern, as Statistics Canada reported a 3.5 increase in violence against aboriginal women compared to non-aboriginal women. A 2014 National Action Plan is being implemented for the next five years to address prevention, support, and protection for aboriginal women and girls in Canada.
Sexual and Reproductive Right Challenges
Population Diversity: Canada is a diverse population with over 20% of the population foreign-born (Statistics Canada, 2011). Balancing law and personal beliefs to protect Canadian’s sexual and reproductive rights remains a struggle due to the population diversity.
Aboriginal Population Protection: Violence against aboriginal women in Canada continues to be a sexual and reproductive rights challenge. Additional support and educational programs are needed to address and promote the rights of aboriginal women and girls.
Rural, Remote Geographical Regions: The Canada Health Act promotes universal healthcare to all Canadians, however women from rural and remote regions continue to have limited services and healthcare personnel. For more details please refer to Rural, Remote and Northern Women’s Health Summary Report.