Canada Drops out of Top 10 Countries in Global Ranking of ‘Human Freedom’

By Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.
January 26, 2023Updated: January 26, 2023

Canada, the land of the strong and free, isn’t so free anymore, according to the Human Freedom Index (HFI), produced annually by the Fraser Institute and U.S.-based Cato Institute.

For the first time in more than 10 years, Canada did not rank in the top 10 freest countries worldwide, based on various indicators of personal freedom such as freedom of movement, speech, assembly, religion, and economic freedom.

This year Canada ranks 13th place in the list of free countries in the world, using the most recent data available from 2020, whereas last year, it ranked 6th, using 2019 data.

This is the first time in 12 years that Canada has not made the top 10 list. The study’s authors attribute that drop to the government’s pandemic response.

“During the pandemic, like other governments worldwide, governments in Canada restricted freedom of movement, expression, assembly and other freedoms even more than had in previous years,” said the Fraser Institute’s Fred McMahon, co-author of the HFI, in a Jan. 26 release.

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 165 jurisdictions fell from 7.03 in 2019 to 6.81 in 2020, according to the report.

On the basis of that coverage, more jurisdictions decreased (148) in their freedom ranking than increased (16). Only one country remained unchanged.

“The sharp decline in freedom in 2020 comes after years of slow descent following a high point in 2007 and sets global freedom to a level far below what it was in 2000, previously the lowest point in the past two decades,” said the report.

The data also indicates an unequal distribution of freedom globally, with 13.4 percent of the population living in the top quarter of free countries in the world, and almost 40 percent living in the bottom quarter of the list.

The countries that were the freest also had a significantly higher average per capita income ($48,644), compared to the average per capita income ($11,566) of the less-free bottom quarter of the ranking.

Switzerland Most Free

Switzerland ranked first in the freedom ranking, followed by New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Netherlands, and Luxembourg in 10th place.

The least free countries in the world from lowest score to highest included Syria (165th place), Venezuela (163), Iran (162), Saudi Arabia (159), China (152), Turkey (130), and Nigeria (124).

The report notes that from 2019 to 2020, pandemic policies reduced freedom for 94.3 percent of the world’s population.

The report also suggested that 2007 was the peak year of freedom experienced by 79 percent of the world’s population, and has been in decline since then.

According to the authors, the HFI is the most comprehensive measure of human freedom created so far and represents 98.1 percent of the world’s population. The most recent index considered 165 jurisdictions.

The index used the term freedom as implying “the absence of coercive constraint,” as well as that individuals “have the right to lead their lives as they wish as long as they respect the equal rights of others.”

The authors also noted that while some considerations of liberty associated with democracy and political freedom—such as freedom of speech, assembly, and protest—were considered by the index, democracy and political freedoms as a whole were not studied.