Amnesty International Welcomes Canada’s Promise of a Human Rights-Based National Housing Strategy

Amnesty International welcomes the federal government’s promise of a rights-based national housing strategy aimed at improving access to housing in Canada, including through “new legislation that promotes a human rights-based approach to housing and prioritizes the housing needs of Canada’s most vulnerable. “
“The adoption of a human rights-based national housing strategy, backed up by legislation, is a positive step toward fulfilling Canada’s international legal obligations to uphold economic, social and cultural rights,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “It stands to help address grave concerns raised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its 2016 review of Canada’s human rights record and recommendations brought forward by several other UN human rights bodies as well, including with respect to homelessness, inadequate housing and a persisting social and economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”
Amnesty International welcomes as well the establishment of the Federal Housing Advocate and National Housing Council, both of which should help improve accountability for upholding the internationally-protected right to adequate housing. The organization looks forward to hearing further details regarding the mandate and powers of those two bodies.
A lack of safe, affordable housing both deters women from fleeing violence, and too often results in women fleeing violence to insecure and precarious housing arrangements. Amnesty welcomes the application of a gendered lens to the strategy, and the allocation of dedicated resources for women, girls and their families.
Questions remain, however, about action to be taken to ensure Canada meets its obligation, under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to end homelessness by the year 2030. Amnesty International will follow the effective implementation of this strategy to ensure that the right to housing, which must be backed up by sufficient budget and resources, truly becomes accessible for all Canadians, without discrimination, particularly for the one million people who desperately need adequate housing in which to live.
In March 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued its observations with respect to Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It was the Committee’s first review of Canada since 2006. The Committee expressed concerns about Canada’s approach to homelessness and inadequate housing; noted the failure of past governments to adopt a human rights-based housing strategy; and called on Canada to develop such a strategy, designed to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to adequate housing including prioritizing the crisis of homelessness.
In particular, the Committee expressed concerns regarding the persisting social and economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including disparities in access to housing, education and health-care services. It urged Canada to ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for First Nations, to fully comply with a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling concerning the provision of child and family services in First Nations reserves, and to uphold First Nations’ right to Free Prior and Informed Consent before infrastructure projects are undertaken on their lands.  
The Committee forcefully rejected the position advanced by successive Canadian governments on numerous occasions that economic, social and cultural rights are of a different nature and not susceptible to the same level of judicial enforcement as civil and political rights.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Canada to take steps to develop a national human rights-based housing strategy; and had intervened on that issue before the Ontario Superior Court and Ontario Court of Appeal over the course of 2012-2014 in the case of Tanudjaja v Canada, highlighting Canada’s international obligations with respect to the right to adequate housing, including to provide remedies for breaches of that right.  Both levels of Court in that case ruled that matters related to housing rights were not justiciable and dismissed the application before hearing the extensive evidence that had been compiled.
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