Homeless Rights at the United Nations

In 2016, Pivot appeared before the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Canada’s Periodic Review. Pivot’s submissions focused on laws prohibiting sleeping and sheltering in public places, which effectively criminalize homelessness. We asked the Committee to recommend that Canada recognize an enforceable right to housing, include social condition, including homelessness, as a protected ground against discrimination in federal human rights legislation, and revoke anti-camping laws that criminalize and discriminate against homeless people. During the review, Committee members heavily questioned Canada’s regressive stance regarding the right to housing and, in reference to actions undertaken by the City of Abbotsford against homeless people and the criminalization of homeless people more generally, referred to such actions as a “shameful practice.”

The subsequent CESCR report directly reflects a number of Pivot’s recommendations. The Committee recommended that Canada adopt a national strategy on homelessness, take measures to ensure the availability of adequate emergency shelters throughout the country, and repeal by-laws that penalize homeless persons for finding solutions necessary for their survival and well-being. The Committee also recommends that Covenant rights be enshrined in domestic law and that Canada improve human rights training to ensure better knowledge, awareness and application of the Covenant among the judiciary, law enforcement and public officials.