Your rights and responsibilities
This page discusses Canadian culture and social customs as well as your rights and responsibilities under the law.
Social standards and expectations
Some of Canada’s standards for public behaviour may be more conservative than you are used to, while others may seem more liberal. For example, Canadians may seem impersonal and cold to some newcomers; to others, we may seem overly friendly.
Social practices, not laws, govern many types of behaviour in Canada. Some traditions are well established and are politely but firmly enforced. For example:
- Lining up (queuing): People normally line up or queue according to the principle of “first-come, first-served.” They will be angry if you push ahead in a lineup instead of waiting your turn.
- Not smoking in private homes: Most Canadians do not smoke. When you are in people’s homes you should always ask their permission to smoke. If they do not smoke themselves, they may ask you to go outside to smoke.
- Being on time: You should always arrive on time – at school, at work and for any meeting. People who are often late may be fired from their jobs or suspended from school. Many Canadians will not wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for someone who has a business meeting. For social events, people expect that you will arrive within half an hour of the stated time.
- Respect for the environment: Canadians respect the natural environment and expect people to avoid littering (dropping waste paper and other garbage on the street or throwing it out of your car, spitting in public). They expect you to hold on to your garbage until you can find a proper garbage can.
- Bargaining: Bargaining for a better price is not common in Canada, but there are some exceptions. For example, almost everyone bargains for a better price when buying a car or a house, or other expensive items such as furniture. People who sell things privately may also bargain.
- Smart shopping: Stores compete with one another to attract customers so it is wise to check and compare prices at different stores before you buy. Note: The price marked on goods in stores does not usually include the federal and provincial sales taxes, which add from 7 per cent to 15 per cent to the cost of an item, depending on the province in which you buy it.
Interacting with officials
Knowing how to behave and what to expect can be very useful when you are dealing with public officials and people in authority. Usually, there is no need to worry about making mistakes. Except for matters of law, most Canadians do not insist on strict formality. Officials who know that you are a newcomer will make allowances for your inexperience with Canadian ways.
Tip: If you have questions about social standards or customs, you can ask your local immigrant-serving organization for advice.
People in authority
In Canada, a person’s authority is related to his or her position and responsibility. Women hold the same kinds of positions as men and have the same kinds of authority. People do not have authority just because of their name, status, social class or sex.
Public officials will normally treat you in a polite but impersonal way. Public officials follow set procedures. They do not make the rules. They may not want to or be able to become involved with your situation. Do not respond to them in a personal or emotional way. Never try to bribe a public official. Bribery and other forms of corruption are illegal and will offend most Canadians.
Your rights and obligations
As a newcomer you should be aware of your rights and obligations. Having the right to participate in Canadian society also means that you have a responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to obey Canada’s laws.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes the basic principles and values by which Canadians live. The Charter is part of Canada’s Constitution. The Charter protects you from the moment you arrive on Canadian soil. It gives everyone in Canada the following fundamental rights and freedoms:
- the right to life, liberty and personal security
- freedom of conscience and religion
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication
- freedom to hold peaceful meetings
- freedom to join groups
- the right to live and work anywhere in Canada
- protection from unreasonable search or seizure and arbitrary detainment and imprisonment
- the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
- the right to have a lawyer
- the right to a fair trial, through due process of law
- the right to equal protection and benefit under the law, without discrimination
Manitoba Human Rights Commission
This branch of the provincial government enforces the Manitoba Human Rights Code. It investigates claims of discrimination in matters under provincial jurisdiction, such as education and health.
Canadian Human Rights Commission
This body enforces the Canadian Human Rights Act and ensures compliance with Canada’s Employment Equity Act. It investigates claims of discrimination in matters under federal jurisdiction, such as the RCMP or Canada Post.
Becoming a Canadian citizen
Once you have been in Canada for at least three years, you may apply to become a Canadian citizen. Immigrants who become citizens have the same rights as citizens who were born in Canada. As a citizen you can:
- vote and be a candidate for political office in federal, provincial and territorial elections
- apply for a Canadian passport
- enter and leave Canada freely
- enjoy full economic rights, including the right to own any type of property
- be eligible for some pension benefits.
Adults applying for Canadian citizenship must:
- be at least 18 years old
- be a permanent resident of Canada who entered the country legally
- have lived in Canada for three of the four years before applying for citizenship
- speak either English or French (Note: New citizenship language requirements)
- know about Canada’s history, geography, system of government and voting
- know the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
- apply for citizenship and pass the citizenship test
- take the oath of citizenship
You cannot become a Canadian citizen if you:
- are considered a risk to Canada’s security
- are under a deportation order
- are in prison, on parole from prison or on probation
- have been found guilty of a serious crime within the past three years
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