On the first anniversary of Canada’s National Housing Strategy important questions remain about the federal implementation of the Right to Housing.
CALGARY (November 26, 2018) – Canada will fall short of international standards on the progressive implementation of the right to housing if it excludes independent oversight and adjudication measures in upcoming legislation, according to housing experts.
On November 22, 2017 the Government of Canada announced a national housing strategy with a commitment to “progressively implement the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing.” It promised to introduce legislation based on the recognition that “housing rights are human rights.” On the first anniversary of that announcement important questions remain about the federal implementation of that right, specifically with regards to independent oversight through a Housing Advocate and an adjudication process to hold accessible hearings into systemic issues.
“Independent oversight and an effective hearing process are cornerstones of the right to housing,” says Elizabeth McIsaac, President of the Maytree Foundation. “Without those measures in place, Canada will not meet international standards for the progressive realization of the right to housing.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, sent an official communication to the Government of Canada in June 2018, emphasizing that right to housing legislation must provide for an “accessible process through which systemic issues are subject to public hearings, adjudication and remedies.”
The government has a ready means to ensure independent oversight and a hearings process without creating new federal organizations or tying up the courts according to noted Canadian Human Rights expert Bruce Porter of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre.
“The easiest option is to set up the federal Housing Advocate as an independent office in the Canadian Human Rights Commission with access to the Human Rights Tribunal for selective cases,” says Porter. “The federal government has just done something very similar with the creation of an accessibility commissioner and a pay equity commissioner.”
In this model, the Housing Advocate would monitor the implementation of the right to housing, and receive and investigate petitions addressing systemic concerns, with authority to refer selective cases of importance for hearings before a panel of the Human Rights Tribunal. The Housing Advocate would work with affected communities to ensure that their concerns are heard. This kind of hearing process is essential to recognizing housing as a right and to ensuring that key concerns are addressed.
At the 2018 National Conference on Ending Homelessness in early November, a cross-country panel of leaders with lived experience of homelessness called on the federal government to ensure the National Housing Strategy includes mechanisms for rights-based participation of, and accountability to, people directly affected.
“People like me become homeless because of gaps in the system,” said Al Wiebe of the Canadian Lived Experience Advisory Council. “The right to housing won’t make a difference if it doesn’t enable us to close those gaps and give us a voice in the process.”
Systemic issues refer specifically to failures of, or gaps in, government systems, policy, legislation or regulation that result in groups of people being denied their right to adequate housing. These issues would not include individual claims (like a landlord – tenant dispute) and they could not be taken to the court system for resolution.
“We’re not proposing anything that involves courts or lawyers or binding orders on the government,” says Tim Richter, President of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “But we think independent oversight by the Housing Advocate with access to hearings on particularly important issues would ensure that the kinds of systemic violations of the right to housing that have led to mass homelessness in recent years will no longer be ignored.”
The government is expected to implement the right to housing in forthcoming legislation. Advocates have developed draft legislation spelling out how the right to housing, with the Housing Advocate attached to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, could be implemented.
In August 2018 advocates released an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau signed by over 170 organizations and prominent Canadians urging the Prime Minister to fulfil his commitment to the right to housing by enshrining that right in upcoming National Housing Strategy legislation. The letter has now been endorsed by over 1,000 organizations and individuals.
For more information visit https://housingrights.ca