Canada must recognize the rights of homeless: UN report

United Nations recommends Canada enact a national housing strategy that includes recognizing the right to housing

Vancouver, B.C. [March 7]—Canada should enact a national housing strategy that recognizes the right to housing if it’s going to address its housing crisis, according to a preliminary United Nations report.

The report, delivered by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), is based on concluding observations from its periodic review of Canada’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant. In its report, the CESCR cited its concerns with the increasing number of homeless people across Canada and their lack of access to the judicial system when their rights are violated.

Pivot Legal Society made submissions to the Committee when it met in Geneva, Switzerland in February.

“The Committee report has made it abundantly clear that Canada should be ensuring that we have robust systems in place to protect people against forced evictions, evictions into homelessness, and evictions that lead to other rights violations,” says DJ Larkin, lawyer and housing justice campaigner at Pivot. “Canada needs to adopt a national strategy to end homelessness that includes the repeal of anti-camping laws that penalize homeless people for engaging in acts of basic necessity such as sleeping or sheltering in public spaces.”

Legal challenges to anti-camping bylaws have been the only avenue for people experiencing homelessness to seek protection under the Charter. In October, the Supreme Court of BC struck down several bylaws in Abbotsford for violating the right to safety and security of person. The Court found that the bylaws, which were enforced to evict people sheltering in public spaces, lead to displacement and marginalization. Homeless individuals camping in Victoria, B.C., currently face eviction by the province. 

Leilani Farha, Executive Director of Canada Without Poverty, which also provided submission to the CESCR, states: “It is important to underscore the Committee’s reference to broadening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure the justiciability under Canadian law. Without access to justice, those who are homeless, as well as the most vulnerable in society, are left with no recourse to assert or claim their rights. This absence has resulted in increasing unaffordability, visible and invisible homelessness, rising poverty and ultimately a silencing of the most marginalized who were left voiceless and ignored.”

Kenn Hale, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services with Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, adds: “A committee of international human rights experts was able to see what Canadians and their political representatives refuse to see – that we are failing to protect a large and vulnerable portion of our population from violations of their fundamental right to housing.”

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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot Legal Society has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
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Kevin Hollett
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