What are my rights as a Canadian?

All Canadians enjoy certain rights based on Canada's tradition of democracy and respect for human dignity and freedom. These rights are found in Canada's human rights codes and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

All Canadians enjoy the following rights:

  • Equality rights: equal treatment before and under the low, and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination

  • Democratic rights: such as the right to participate in political activities, to vote and to be elected to political office

  • Legal rights: such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to retain a lawyer and to be informed of that right, and the right to an interpreter in court proceedings

  • Mobility rights: such as the right to enter and leave Canada, and to move to and take up residence in any province

  • Language rights: generally, the right to use either the English or French language in communications with Canada's federal government and some of Canada's provincial governments

  • Minority language education rights: in general, French and English minorities in every province and territory have the right to be educated in their own language

All Canadians also enjoy fundamental freedoms of religion, thought, expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

What are the rights and responsibilities of a citizen?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out the democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of all Canadians. Some rights are essential for Canadian citizens:

  • the right to vote or to be a candidate in federal and provincial elections;

  • the right to enter, remain in or leave Canada;

  • the right to earn a living and reside in any province or territory;

  • minority language education rights (English or French); and

  • the right to apply for a Canadian passport.

  • What is a "multicultural heritage"?

    Canadians are proud of their multicultural heritage. In Canada, many different cultural and ethnic groups live and work together in harmony and tolerance. Canada' diversity is encouraged by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. These laws say that all Canadians are free to promote and share their multicultural heritage.

    Another major component of Canada's multicultural heritage is the existence of Aboriginal people in Canada. Aboriginal people lived in Canada thousand of years before the first immigrants arrived, and they enjoy certain additional rights to protect their cultures and languages and to become self-governing.

    How do you enforce your rights?

    If your rights have been violated by the federal or provincial government, you can challenge that action in court.

    If your rights have been violated by a private individual, you can seek justice from a federal or provincial human rights commission or ombudsperson, whose job it is to hear, investigate and resolve human rights violations.

    If you require legal assistance to enforce your rights, but cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, you may be eligible for free or low-cost legal aid in your local community.

    Is it necessary to learn English or French?

    English and French are the two official languages of Canada, and they are an important part of Canadian identity. You must learn one of these two languages to become a Canadian citizen.

    What are my responsibilities as a Canadian?

    Canadians also share common responsibilities. Canadians should:

  • understand and obey Canadian laws

  • participate in Canada's democratic political system

  • vote in elections

  • allow other Canadians to enjoy their rights and freedoms

  • appreciate and help to preserve Canada's multicultural heritage

  • All Canadians are encouraged to become informed about political activities, and to help better their communities and the country.

    Canadian citizenship also implies the following responsibilities:

  • to obey Canada's laws;

  • to vote in the federal, provincial and municipal elections;

  • to discourage discrimination and injustice;

  • to respect the rights of others;

  • to respect public and private property; and

  • to support Canada's ideals in building the country we all share.


    As a permanent resident ("landed immigrant"), you have more rights and privileges than visitors to Canada have, but you do not have all the rights held by Canadian citizens. Here are some of the things you should know about being a permanent resident in Canada.

    Restrictions on democratic rights

    Permanent residents cannot:

  • live in Canada without risk of removal,

  • re-enter Canada after being out of the country for six months or more, unless they satisfy Immigration that they did not intend to abandon Canada as their place of permanent residence,

  • hold a Canadian passport,

  • vote in federal elections or some provincial or municipal elections, or

  • run for elected office in federal elections or some provincial or municipal elections.

  • Removal from Canada

    A permanent resident can be forced to leave Canada for several reasons. If an Immigration official has information showing that you should be removed from Canada, you may be ordered to attend an Immigration inquiry. The inquiry is held to decide whether you have violated the Immigration Act and should be removed from Canada.

    If you are a permanent resident, you can still lose your status. No matter how long you have lived here, you can be required to leave Canada if:

  • you used false documents when you applied for permanent residence;

  • you provided false or incomplete information when you applied for permanent residence or when you were landed;

  • there were conditions on your permanent resident status but you did not fulfill them; for example, you did not marry within 90 days of arriving in Canada after being sponsored by your fiance or fiancee;

  • you were convicted of or committed a crime outside Canada before or after you were landed (crimes committed after landing will result in removal only if they are more serious offences, based on the sentence that could have been imposed); exceptions will be made if at least five years have passed since you committed the crime, or since your sentence ended, and if you satisfy the Canadian authorities that you have been rehabilitated;

  • you were convicted of a crime in Canada before or after you were landed (crimes committed after landing will result in removal only if they are more serious offences, based on the sentence that was or could have been imposed);

  • Immigration believes that you have been, or will be, involved in espionage, subversion, terrorism, or organized crime, or that you are a security risk for some other reason; or

  • Immigration believes that you committed war crimes or crimes against humanity outside Canada, or that you were a senior member of or official in a government that was guilty of such acts or of terrorism or gross human rights violations.

  • If you are deported from Canada, dependent children who are not Canadian citizens may have to leave with you.


    Most permanent residents ordered to leave Canada at an Immigration inquiry can appeal this order at the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). This is not possible, however, if you were ordered removed because you were convicted of a serious crime and the Minister of Immigration sees you as a danger to the public or certifies that you are a security risk. If this happens, you should get legal help immediately. Written submissions may persuade the Minister not to declare you a danger to the public, or to let you remain in Canada regardless.

    If you have the right to appeal, humanitarian and compassionate factors can be considered at your appeal, unless you were ordered removed because an Immigration adjudicator determined that you are a security risk (a spy or terrorist, for example). If this is the case, a legal issue must be raised in your appeal. If your appeal is successful, you will be allowed to stay in Canada, even if you violated the Immigration Act.

    Travelling outside Canada

    If you travel outside Canada, you need proof of your permanent resident status when you return. If your original landing document has been lost or stolen, you must pay a fee to Canada Immigration and apply for a "certified true copy" of this document.

    Returning resident permits:

    Permanent residents can apply for a "returning resident permit' before they leave Canada, or while abroad. It is especially important to do this if you plan to be away for more than six months, or you have already been away that long. You will have to explain your absence from Canada.

    Permits are usually granted if:

  • you were sent to another country by your employer,

  • you went abroad to study, or

  • you left Canada with a family member who is a Canadian citizen or has a returning resident permit.

  • Permits are refused if Immigration believes that you intended or intend to abandon Canada as your home.

    Most returning resident permits are valid for less than 12 months, but under some circumstances permits may be given for up to 24 months. As long as your permit is valid, you can use it to leave and re-enter Canada repeatedly.

    Coming back to Canada:

    When you return to Canada, your status as a permanent resident may be challenged at the port of entry, and a formal inquiry may be held. If you have been absent from Canada for more than 183 days in the last 12 months and do not have a returning resident pen-nit, you will have to prove that you never intended to abandon Canada as your home.

    If you do have a returning resident permit, or you have been out of the country for less than 183 days in the last 12 months, your status can still be challenged. This is unlikely to happen, but if it does, it is up to Immigration to prove that you intended to abandon Canada as your home.

    If your status is being challenged, get legal advice.

    If an Immigration adjudicator decides that you did intend to abandon Canada as your home, you will lose your permanent resident status and be ordered to leave the country. You have the right to appeal this decision to the Immigration Appeal Division of the IRB.


    If you are a permanent resident in Canada, you have rights and privileges and are entitled to a variety of services. Each province handles services for immigrants in a different way and may call these services by different names. Look under the provincial government listings in the blue pages of your telephone book to see what's available.

    Most large cities have at least one immigrant aid agency that can help you adjust to Canadian life and give you information about local services. Ask Immigration about the immigrant aid agency in your area, or ask your religious or cultural centre for more information. A community information centre may also be able to answer your questions.

    Legal aid:

    Most provinces have some type of legal aid plan to help people who need a lawyer but can't afford one. Some provinces provide free legal help through community legal clinics. If you need legal advice, look under Legal Aid in the telephone book or call your provincial Attomey-General's office.

    Health insurance:

    All provinces have some type of health insurance plan. In some provinces, people pay into this plan on a regular basis, and the plan then pays for their medical care. Remember:

  • hospital and other medical bills can be very expensive, much more expensive than the cost of paying into a plan, and

  • there may be financial help if you cannot afford health insurance payments.

  • When you arrive in Canada, apply for health insurance right away: there's probably a waiting period before you become eligible for help. (Ontario note: Health insurance in Ontario is free, but you must apply for it.)

    Language classes:

    It is very important to learn English or French. Language skills in one or both languages will help you get a job. Many language classes are offered by boards of education. Community colleges and other schools also offer language classes, sometimes for free.

    In addition, if you register with a Human Resource Centre of Canada (HRCC) and are looking for work, you may be able to attend free language classes through the Centre.

    For more information, talk to a counsellor at an HRCC, or contact your local community information centre.


    There are publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools in every Canadian province. You do not have to pay a fee to attend one of these schools if you are a permanent resident and live in the same municipality as the school. There are also private schools that charge fees. Post-secondary schools such as community colleges and universities charge tuition and have entrance requirements. You may be able to get student loans or grants if you attend a post- secondary institution. Check with the registrar of the institution that interests you.

    Human rights:

    Every province has laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of their race, colour, citizenship, ethnic background, religion, handicap, and sex. These laws usually protect you from discrimination in employment, housing, and the services available to you. In Ontario, they protect you from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    If you believe you are the victim of discrimination, see a lawyer or community legal worker. Or call the government ministry responsible for human rights in your province. Get the telephone number by looking up Human Rights in the provincial government listing of your telephone book.

    Canada has a Charter of rights and Freedoms. The Charter protects your right to such things as freedom of religion, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.


    Each province has laws related to employment. These laws vary from province to province, but in no case does the government guarantee a job for every person who wants to work.

      Human Resource Centres of Canada (HRCCs):
      HRCCs are set up by the Canadian government to help people looking for work. Many employers advertise job openings at these centres. Each centre has counsellors who may be able to help with your job search skills and language training. In some situations, they may also be able to help with occupational training or upgrading.

      Employment standards:
      The provincial government is responsible for laws that set standards for working conditions. These laws usually guarantee such things as a minimum wage, normal working hours, overtime pay, holi- days and vacation, and termination notice.

      To find out more about employment standards in your province, call your provincial Ministry of Labour. If your employer has treated you unfairly, contact your union or Ministry of Labour, or see a lawyer.

      Health and safety:
      Some provinces have laws that protect workers from health and safety hazards in the workplace. These laws may give employees the right to refuse work if they think it is unsafe.

      Collective bargaining:
      Each province has laws that protect a worker's right to join or form a labour union. A union is an organization of workers that bargains with employers to set conditions of employment such as wages. This process is called "collective bargaining."

      Workers' compensation:
      Your province may have a programme that compensates workers who are injured on the job. This is a type of insurance system that can provide income or compensation to people temporarily or' permanently disabled because of a work-related injury.

      Employment insurance (El):
      Employment insurance is run by the federal government and provides benefits to people who have lost their jobs. There are rules to decide who qualifies for El and how long they can collect benefits.

      Your local HRCC can provide more information.

    Social services and income assistance:

    Provincial governments offer a range of social services, including income assistance programmes.

    HRCCs (federal government offices) may also help. HRCC staff may be able to refer you to a programme that-provides an allowance for basic living expenses.

    Other services available in Canada include subsidized housing, subsidized daycare services, and pension income supplements. Local governments or community organizations may also fund counselling services, community information centres, shelters for assaulted women and the homeless, and free food and clothing programmes.

    If you find it difficult to get the programmes, services, and benefits outlined above, a lawyer or your local community legal clinic may be able to help you.

    If you are arrested:

    Certain rights are guaranteed every person in Canada who is arrested or charged with an offence. These include:

  • the right to know the offence with which you are charged;

  • the right to legal advice and representation; and

  • the right to a full trial in a court of law; you are innocent until proven guilty.

  • If you are arrested, speak to a lawyer immediately. If you are a permanent resident, you may lose your status and be deported if you are found guilty of committing a criminal offence.


    Government & Justice System:

    Client Services & Information Unit, Social Services: 416-392-2956

    Government of Ontario, Information Service: 416-326-1234

    Government of Canada, Information Service: 1-800-622-6232

    Ministry of Community & Social Services: 1-800-622-5111

    Old Age Security & Canada Pension Plan: 1-800-277-9914

    Ombudsman Ontario: 416-586-3300, 1-800-263-1830

    Ontario Information & Privacy Commission: 416-326-3333, 1-800-387-0073

    Passport Office: 416-973-3251, 1-800-567-6868

    Reference Canada - Referral to Federal programs and Services: 1-800-667-3355

    Registrar General - Name Change, Birth and Marriage Certificates: 416-325-8305

    Social Assistance Review Board: 1-800-387-5655

    Human Rights:

    Canadian Human Rights Commission: 416-973-5527, 1-800-999-6899

    Ontario Human Rights Commission: 416-326-9511, 1-800-387-9080

    Bullying at Work Places: 416-535-9875

    Lawyers & Legal Organizations:

    Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC): 416-947-3300, 1-800-668-7380

    Lawyer Referral Service (LRS): 1-800-268-8326

    Legal Aid:

    Legal Aid Ontario: Ottawa: 613-238-7931

    Toronto: 416-598-0200

    Sudbury: 705-673-1887

    Windsor: 519-255-7822

    Seniors Law:

    Community Policing Support Unit: Elder Abuse: 416-808-7050

    Canada Pension Plan (CPP): 1-800-277-9914

    Old Age Security (OAS): 1-800-277-9914

    Housing Connections: 416-981-6111

    Small Claims Court:

    Ottawa: 613-239-1079

    Toronto: 416-325-8910

    St. Catharines: 905-988-6200

    Windsor: 519-973-6665

    Wills & Estates:

    Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee: 1-800-366-0335











    Migration to Canada
    I An Introduction I Health I Housing I Welfare Schemes I Your Rights & Duties