Promoting and claiming social and economic rights through an inclusive human rights practice

What's New

Canada adopts historic National Housing Strategy Act recognizing housing as a fundamental human right and establishing meaningful accountability, in line with draft legislation we proposed!. Read all about it.

CERA/SRAC launch Community Based Tenant Initiatives Project: Implementing the Right to Housing through Community Education and Empowerment

The struggle continues in Toussaint v Canada. Canada continues to deny irregular migrants access to essential healthcare and SCC declines to reconsider leave application. Read the Statement of Claim filed in ON Supeior Court. Read more.

Charities liberated to engage in public policy after decn in Canada Without Poverty v Canada


New Publications

Jackie Dugard, Bruce Porter, Daniela Ikawa and Lilian Chenwi (eds) Research Handbook on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as Human Rights

Bruce Porter "Bruce Porter, The Interdependence of Human Rights

Elizabeth McIsaac and Bruce Porter "Housing Rights: Ottawa takes an historic step forward"Literary Review of Canada,(November, 2019)

Martha Jackman & Bruce Porter "Social and Economic Rights" in P. Oliver, P. Macklem and N. Des Rosiers, The Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution (New York, Oxford Univesity Press, 2017) at pp 843-866.

Martha Jackman and Bruce Porter (eds)  Advancing Social Rights in Canada (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2014)

Bruce Porter Inclusive Interpretations: Social and Economic Rights and the Canadian Charter 

Rethinking Progressive Realization: How Should it be Implemented in Canada?.

Designing and Enforcing Social Rights Remedies: Reflections on the Canadian Experience

From the Archives

Human Rights and the Right to Housing Now Magazine, Toronto, 1989.

Maureen Callaghan, Leilani Farha & Bruce Porter Women and Housing in Canada: Barriers to Equality(CERA, 2002)

Bill C-400 earlier proposed housing strategy legislation.

1992 Alternative Social Charter 

See Further publications

Historic Recognition of the Right to Housing in the National Housing Strategy Act (2019)

The National Housing Strategy (NHS) introduced on November 22, 2017, promised rights-based legislation to implement the government’s commitment to the progressive implementation of the right to housing, as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  That promised legislation, The National Housing Strategy Act, received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019 and came into force on July 9, 2019.


The NHS Act is a major steop toward bringing Canada in line with international standards, which require the right to housing to be ensured not only through policies and programs but also through independent monitoring and access to hearings and effective remedies. It does so through a unique model that does not rely on courts but on alternative, accessible and participatory mechanisms that give a meaningful voice and role to rights-holders and provide for investigation, hearings and recommendations to ensure compliance with the commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing.

This legislation affirms that the government’s housing policy is based on the recognition of the right to housing as it is understood in international human rights law. This means recognizing that all people have the “right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity,” according to the United Nations. It requires the government to implement reasonable policies and programs to ensure the right to housing for all within the shortest possible timeframe. It also means priority must be given to vulnerable groups and those in greatest need of housing.

Recent History of the Advocacy Campaign

After the NHS was first introduced in late 2017, on August 14, 2018, advocates released an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, signed by over 170 organizations and prominent Canadians (totaling 1,100 signatories), urging him to enshrine the right to housing in the Act. On April 8, 2019 the NHS Act was introduced in the Budget Implementation Act, 2019 (Bill C-97). The legislation, as first introduced, affirmed  a commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing as recognized under international human rights law,  requires that future governments adopt and maintain a national housing strategy, and established  a National Housing Council and federal Housing Advocate.  It lacked, however, any meaningful accountability for the commitment to the right to housing and didn’t provide for hearings.

The Right to Housing Campaign—building off of over 30 years of grassroots advocacy, engagement with UN human rights bodies and court challenges proposed critical amendments pressing for a stronger commitment to the right to housing and the addition of appropriate rights-based accountability mechanisms, including access to hearings into important systemic issues. Our proposed changes were eventually supported in large part by the government and the government introduced amendments  to clarify and enhance the rights-based approach.   

Amendments to the Act were tabled on May 31, 2019 in the House of Commons to clarify and enhance the rights-based approach, reflectng many of the recommendations made by a broad range of civil society organizations, housing experts, as well as by United Nations human rights bodies.

After Bill C-97 received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, the National Right to Housing Network formed to mobilize a broad-based, grassroots civil society network to fully realize the right to housing in Canada.

Implementing the Right to Housing under the National Housing Strategy Act

In the NHS Act, Canada has recognized its commitment to the right to housing in federal legislation for the first time in its history. The legislation recognizes that housing is a fundamental human right and commits the government of Canada to the progressive realization of the right to housing as guaranteed in international human rights law ratified by Canada.

This innovative model does not give rise to legally binding orders from a court or an official tribunal, but it creates meaningful accountability and access to justice for the right to housing through other means. Issues of compliance with the right to housing can be submitted to the Housing Advocate for investigation and recommendations. Rights holders will have access to accessible hearings into key systemic issues, before an panel with expertise in human rights and housing with at least one representative of affected communities. The legislation ensures that findings and recommendations from the Housing Advocate and the Review Panel will not be ignored and must be responded to by the federal government in a timely and meaningful fashion.

International human rights law requires ultimate recourse to courts to ensure access to justice for the right to housing. While access to courts for binding decisions is not provided under the NHS Act, this can be ensured in Canada by way of inclusive interpretations of the broadly framed rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now that the federal government has affirmed in legislatoin that the right to housing is a "fundamental human right" and that housing is "essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person," the government should promote interpretations of rights to life, security of the person and equality under the Charter that are consistent with this. See Martha Jackman and Bruce Porter, “Social and Economic Rights”, in Peter Oliver, Patrick Maklem & Nathalie DesRosiers, eds, The Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) 843-861 and Bruce Porter, Inclusive Interpretations: Social and Economic Rights and the Canadian Charter  in Helena Alviar García, Karl Klare and Lucy Williams (eds), Social and Economic Rights in Theory and Practice: Critical Inquiries (London and New York: Routledge, 2015).

The National Housing Strategy Act:

  • Declares that it is the housing policy of the Government of Canada to recognize housing as a fundamental human right and to progressively realize this right in accordance with international human rights law;
  • Requires future governments to develop and maintain a national housing strategy to further this policy commitment, taking into account key principles of a human rights-based approach;
  • Establishes a National Housing Council to further the commitment to the right to housing and advise the Ministeron the effectiveness of the Housing Strategy ;
  • Establishes a Federal Housing Advocate, supported by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to:
    • Assess and advise the federal government on the implementation of its commitment to the right to housing, particularly with respect to vulnerable groups and those who are homeless;
    • Initiate inquiries into incidents or conditions in a community, institute, industry or economic sector;
    • Monitor progress in meeting goals and timelines olicy;
    • Receive and investigate submissions on systemic issues from affected groups;
    • Submit findings and recommended action to the designated Minister to which the Minister must respond within 120 days; and
    • Refer key systemic issues for accessible hearings before a Review Panel.
  • Provides for a Review Panel, made up of three members appointed bythe National Housing Council to hold hearings into selective systemic issues affecting the right to housing and submit its findings and and  recommended measures to the government through the designated federal Minister.
  • Requires the Minister to respond to findings and recommendations within 120 days.

If these mechanisms are properly implemented, with adequate resources and qualified staff and appointments, the National Housing Strategy Act will create a vibrant human-rights culture within which to reorient and invigorate housing policy and programs, creating a space for multi-stakeholder engagement around a shared commitment to reducing and eliminating homelessness and reclaiming housing as a fundamental human right.

 

National Housing Strategy Act

 

Core Components of Rights-Based Accountability in the NHS Act


The legislated right to housing includes infrastructure to implement a rights-based approach to housing including a Housing Advocate, Housing Council and support for community-based tenant initiatives. The core principles of the legislation incorporate a framework of human rights accountability.  It situates the Housing Advocate as an independent office within the Canadian Human Rights Commission, provides for petitions raising systemic issues to be investigated by the Housing Advocate and enables the Housing Advocate to refer selective systemic issues related to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing (not individual complaints) for hearings before a specialized panel with expertise in housing and human rights. The Housing Advocate and the Review Panel will issue findings and recommendations for action to which the government, through the designated Minister,  is required to respond within a 120 days .
All the components in the legislation are important, but the following list provides context to the components necessary to meaningful, rights-based accountability to the right to housing.

 

1. Accountability to the progressive realization of the right to housing consistent with international human rights (i.e. not just an affirmation of a government commitment to the right to housing).             

The Act affirms the government’s commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing and, most importantly, ensures accountability to that commitment.  The Housing Council has the mandate to further the policy and provide advice on how to implement it effectively; the Housing Advocate monitors progress, receives submissions from affected groups about systemic issues; investigates areas of concern; refers systemic issues to hearings; makes findings and recommends actions to be taken by the government, requiring a response within 120 days; Review Panels hold hearings into systemic issues related to the right to housing and submit opinions and recommended action to the government, requiring a response within 120 days.

 

2. An independent Housing Advocate to assess compliance with the progressive realization of the right to housing (i.e. not just to “report” on systemic issues).  The Housing Advocate is independent of CMHC, housed within and provided with support from the Canadian Human Rights Commission.  It’s role under the Act is clearly framed around the implementation of the right to housing as affirmed in the Housing Policy; monitoring progress in meeting goals and timelines; investigating systemic issues affecting the right to housing; engaging with rights-holders; making findings and recommendations to the government and working with affected groups to present systemic issues to the Review Panel.

3. Providing affected groups and advocates with access to public hearings into  important systemic issues related to the right to housing

The NHS Act introduces a participatory and innovative model of human rights review outside of the court system, in which systemic issues can be presented by affected groups, with the support of the Housing Advocate and presenting evidence from experts.
The Act provides for the appointment of a 3 person review panel by the National Housing Council to consider systemic issues referred to it by the Federal Housing Advocate.

Section 16.3 states that

A review panel must

  • hold a hearing to review the systemic housing issue in respect of which it was established;
  • hold the hearing in a manner that offers the public, particularly members of communities that are affected by the issue and groups that have expertise in human rights and housing, an opportunity to participate;
  • prepare a report that sets out the panel’s opinion on the issue and any recommendations to take measures – respecting matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction – to address the issue; and
  • submit the report to the Minister.

4. Meaningful and timely response by government to findings and remedial recommendations

The Act ensures that the government will not simply receive reports or policy recommendations from the review panel and the Housing Advocate without fully considering them and responding.

Section 17(1) of the Act states that:

The Minister must respond to the annual report of the Federal Housing Advocate.

The Minister must respond to each report provided by the Federal Housing Advocate under paragraph 13(h) and subsection 13.1(4) within 120 days after the day on which it is received.

And 17(2) of the Act states that:

The Minister must respond to a report submitted by a review panel within 120 days after the day on which it is received.

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