Ensuring the Right to Housing is Embedded in National Housing Strategy Legislation

Widespread homelessness and lack of access to adequate housing in a country as affluent as Canada is clearly one of the most critical human rights issues facing all levels of government.

Social Planning Toronto has joined other community organizations and advocates as a signatory to an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, asking them to embed the right to housing in the National Housing Strategy legislation currently being drafted.

On November 22nd of last year, the Federal government announced a National Housing Strategy (NHS) that would be based in human rights. For the first time, it committed to implementing Canada’s obligation under international human rights law, as described in the NHS, “to progressively implement the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing.” It promised to “affirm the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” The government also promised to adopt legislation that would create an obligation on future governments to maintain a rights-based housing strategy.  

Consultations have been held across the country to consider how to implement a rights-based approach. The consultations revealed a strong consensus that the legislation must explicitly recognize the right to housing as it is defined in international human rights law. It must ensure that the policies and programs that are part of the housing strategy are consistent with Canada’s obligations to progressively realize this right.

Civil society representatives and experts have developed key requirements of a rights-based housing strategy and draft legislation to demonstrate how the legislation could ensure that those affected are able to identify systemic issues and hold governments accountable. These mechanisms need not rely on courts, but instead draw on the government’s proposed Federal Housing Advocate, National Housing Council, community initiatives, and programs.

This is the first time that legislation implementing the right to housing has been contemplated in Canada. The government needs to see that there is widespread public support for the recognition of the right to housing in this legislation. Without such support we may lose this historic opportunity. Consider contacting your Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister to voice your support before the legislation is tabled in the fall.

For more information, visit the website of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre, a not-for-profit NGO that provides support the work of Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, who drafted the open letter to the Prime Minister and Minister Duclos.

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