Putting Human Rights Accountability and Commitments to End Homelessness Into Ontario's Housing Strategy/Bill 140
See:Background, Submissions, Outcome of Vote, What Next?
Bill 140 The Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011 is the legislation that has been proposed to implement Ontario's Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy. It is currently before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.
Cognizant of the unique human rights crisis of homelessness in Canada, the previous UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, conducted an important Mission to Canada in 2008. He urged the adoption of provincial and federal housing strategies based on the right to adequate housing.
View the long history of concerns about homelessness in Canada and recommendations for a housing strategy based on the right to adequate housing from UN Human Rights Bodies.
A Summary of UN Human Rights Bodies' Recommendations for a Housing Strategy.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission also conducted an extensive consultation into human rights, housing and homelessness in Ontario and released an important Report entitled Right at Home, reporting on the result of its consultations and making important recommendations for an Ontario housing strategy based on human rights.The Commission’s Report was welcomed by the UN Special Rapporteur in hisMission Report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.
A rights based housing strategy is also a requirement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which should be interpreted as providing at least the same level of protection of human rights as international human rights treaties ratified by Canada. See the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Slaight Communications v. Davidson at paras 1056-57.
See the Notice of Application in the important Charter Challenge demanding that Ontario and the Federal Government enact rights-based housing strategies.
The following are strategies that have been adopted elsewhere, with clear goals and timelines and inclusive processes of participation and accountability to stakeholders:
Ireland, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, Finland, Portugal, Denmark,Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, France, Australia, and the United States of America. Many municipalities around the world are also basing their strategies to end homelessness on the right to adequate housing. See for example, Calgary's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and Bring Los Angeles Home: The Campaign to End Homelessnes.
See the following submissions proposing that Bill 140 be amended to include the right to adequate housing and commitments to end homelessness:
Social Rights Advocacy Centre Presentation - Bruce Porter.
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation Presentation - Leilani Farha
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario
Wellesley Institute Submissions
See also the Oral Presentations (Hansard)
Leilani Farha for CERA
Bruce Porter for SRAC
Miloon Kothari, the previous UN Special Rapporteur, has followed developments in Canada since his Mission, and is particularly concerned with follow-up to his recommendations. The current Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Raqel Rolnik, is also following developments here and will be submitting a report to the UN Human Rights Council on follow-up to her predecessors recommendations to Canadian governments.
Miloon Kothari wrote a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing copied to the other parties, urging that amendments be adopted to Bill 140 in order for Ontario to comply with international human rights.
See the Letter from Miloon Kothari in support of these amendments.
Here are the Key Amendments to Protect the Right to Adequate Housing proposed by CERA and SRAC, supported by many other groups, and moved by Cheri DiNovo, MPP
Outcome of Vote: The Liberal Government voted down EVERY amendment to protect the right to adequate housing, to reduce homelessness and to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Progressive Conservitives also voted against all of these amendments except for the provision of a universal shetler subsidy for low income households.
Cheri DiNovo cited the letter from Miloon Kothari to make it absolutely clear that the Government of Ontario has disregarded international human rights law, and is now in contravention of its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
See the Hansard of the Clause by Clause Debate on Amendments to Bill 140.
While the proposed amendments were not accepted in Bill 140, there is still a way that we can get the housing and homelessness plan we need in Ontario. Section 5 of Bill 140 makes it clear that the Minister may adopt a Policy Statement or a provincial plan which has the same status of a "provincial interest" under the legislation. If the Minister adopts as a “policy statement” or “plan” the proposed right to housing principles required by international human rights law, it will have the same status as if the proposed amendments had been included in the Bill. Municipal housing and homelessness plans will have to conform with a ‘right to adequate housing’ plan.
The fact that thewe amendments were voted down does not, therefore, foreclose the possibility of the Minister adopting a provincial housing and homelessness plan along the lines required for human rights compliance.
Alternatively, if the Minister does not adopt a plan that is consistent with Ontario’s Human Rights Code and UN human rights bodies' recommendations, Municipal Housing and Homelessness Plans are still, legally, required to comply with human rights law. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recognizes that a provincial housing strategy including targets and timelines to eliminate homelessness, as recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur, is necessary to address the needs of vulnerable groups who are guaranteed equal access to housing under the Human Rights Code. Municipalities are bound by the Human Rights Code. Additionally, where a service manager is accorded broad discretion as to the kind of housing and homelessness plan to adopt, as under Bill 140, that discretion must be exercised in accordance with international human rights values, including the right to adequate housing. These are rights that belong to residents of Ontario who are homeless or precariously housed – rights which directly engage their health, dignity and security and municipal housing and homelessness plans will have to ensure those rights.
See the Right at Home Report and CERA’s and SRAC’s Submission to the Ontario Human Rights Commission on the Right to Adequate Housing and the Human Rights Code
We will be urging the Ontario Human Rights Commission to hold an inquiry into homelessness as a violation of human rights, as a follow-up to its Right at Home Report in order to provide necessary guidance to the Minister and municipalities as to their human rights obligations. We will also follow up directly municipalities in their design of housing and homelessness plans and to assess ‘best practices’ for human rights compliance at the municipal level.
Affected groups and individuals will also be proceeding with their Charter challenge to governments’ continued refusal to enact a rights-based housing and homelessness strategy. When governments ignore the issues of the most vulnerable groups and disregard human rights, we rely courts to intervene. It is fundamental to a democracy based on human rights.