Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

10 Biggest Human Rights Challenges in Canada

Despite being renowned as a multicultural democracy that celebrates its international reputation for upholding the human rights of its citizens, Canada has struggled to address several of its own human rights abuses within its own borders. Here are 10 human rights challenges that continue to plague Canada, ranging from the country’s longstanding discrimination against their Indigenous communities to the breaching of the rights of criminals and migrants in the nation.

Rights of Indigenous Canadians

First Nations communities in Canada have long lived in the shadows of their colonial oppressors, facing systemic discrimination as their rights as humans are breached. Indigenous Canadians live on lands called reserves that are equipped with inadequate water treatment systems, which have led to a health and sanitation crisis in First Nations communities. The lack of access to clean water has led to considerable mental, social and emotional crises for Indigenous communities, highlighting the lack of action the Canadian government has taken to protect the rights of First Nations.

Violence Against Indigenous Women and Children

Indigenous women and children face disproportionately higher levels of violence and are at higher risk of being murdered in Canada. Indigenous women and girls are twelve times more likely to be murdered or go missing that any other demographic group in Canada and are three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be assaulted. The violence against Indigenous women stems from systemic racism and deep colonial attitudes that perpetuate discrimination across Canada and are exacerbated by sexist and misogynistic perception of women in the country.

Immigration Detention

The Canadian federal government adopted new policy regulations in 2018 that require children to be held in immigration detention as a “last resort”. Although the number of detained children has decreased over the years, the average time they spent in detention facilities rose, highlighting the structural issues of immigration that continue to plague Canada. Furthermore, despite the introduction of the National Immigration Framework in 2016, Canada has seen a rising trend in immigration detainees in prisons – in 2019, the Canadian Border Services Agency detained 7212 people in immigration holding centres, compared to 6609 people in 2017.

Religious Freedom

In April 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to consider whether Quebec’s controversial ban on religious symbols should be suspended. Introduced in 2019, Bill 21 banned civil servants, teachers and police officers in Quebec from wearing religious symbols when providing or receiving government services. Religious symbols such as hijabs, kippahs and turbans are subject to the ban, underscoring the province’s racist and discriminatory attitude towards religious freedom.

Corporate Accountability

Canada has consistently failed to implement reforms to hold major mining corporations accountable for human rights abuses that occur behind closed doors. The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise currently do not hold the authority to investigate human rights abuses that occur within the mining industry, which prevents the association from exposing the exploitation by Canadian companies that work overseas in the oil and gas trades.

Women’s Rights

Women in Canada are disproportionately more likely to face financial insecurity, violence and workplace harassment compared to their male counterparts. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 10% of women in Canada live on low incomes and every six days, a Canadian woman is killed by her intimate partner. Such phenomena stem from systemic sexism and gender-based discrimination, alongside societal expectations for women to be the primary caretakers of the home, where they engage in unpaid work in childcare.


The Canadian government has failed to support and repatriate Canadians who are unlawfully detained in jails due to alleged connections with the Islamic State (ISIS). Approximately 47 Canadians have been detained in these prisons for over a year, living in overcrowded and inhumane conditions and none of these individuals have been charged with any crime. Human Rights Watch speculates that the Canadian government has deliberately withheld support for its citizens due to their suspected connections with ISIS, highlighting the discriminatory attitudes towards counterterrorism.

Unlawful transfer of weapons

Despite the militarized repression of demonstrators in Colombia, Canada has continued to support and transfer weapons to Saudi Arabia, arguing that there would be no “substantial risk” that the arms would be used to commit human rights abuses. This unlawful transfer of weapons breaches Canada’s international obligations to the Arms Trade Treaty and underscores the perpetuation of the violation of human rights conducted by the Canadian government.

Rights of Migrants

Migrants in Canada continue to exploited for their labor, living in “conditions of modern-day slavery”. According to a report released by The Migrant Rights Network, migrants live in destitute accommodation, characterized by a lack of privacy and cleanliness and are desperate for respect and dignity as people. Alongside testimonies of migrants, the report also cited concerns regarding the control employers have over migrant workers, particularly surveillance and control over their movement.

Solitary Confinement

Although solitary confinement was abolished in Canada in 2019, federal jails have continued to use solitary confinement as a way of punishing criminals in prisons. Some inmates have been cited to be kept alone in their cells for extended periods of time, to the extent where it meets the United Nation’s definition of torture. In fact, a Canadian study found that approximately 30 percent of prisoners did not get four hours outside their cells and 10 percent met the UN definition of torture.

About the author

Kaori Higa

Kaori Higa is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada. She has worked extensively in the human rights sector, public relations consulting and within state governments across three continents. As part of her work, Kaori has coordinated logistics for governmental press conferences and proposed strategies that encourage governmental and legal institutions to adopt human rights-based policies and legislation. Aside from her political endeavors and human rights advocacy, Kaori is an avid classical violinist, having been invited to perform a violin solo in Carnegie Hall.