UN housing expert reprimands Canada, calls for housing action
Canada has received both a sharp reprimand and a strong call to action in the preliminary observations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, in his preliminary observations at the end of his fact-finding mission to Canada (October 22, 2007).
The preliminary observations are the first stage towards completing a major review on Canada’s compliance with its international housing rights obligations. The report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the highest human rights body within the UN, early in the new year.
Mr. Kothari visited five Canadian cities and several Aboriginal communities during his mission from October 9 to 22. He met with senior government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations and people who are directly experiencing Canada’s nation-wide affordable housing and homelessness crisis.
“Everything I witnessed on this mission confirms the deep and devastating impact of this national crisis on the lives of women, youth, children and men,” said Mr. Kothari. “Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, which makes the prevalence of this crisis all the more striking.”
Mr. Kothari’s preliminary observations are a devastating indictment of almost two decades of funding cuts by governments in Canada, not just of housing programs but also income assistance and other initiatives.
“Canada has a reputation around the world for its progressive housing policies and programmes, but that is no longer the case,” said Mr. Kothari. “Canada’s successful social housing programme, which created more than half a million homes starting in 1973, no longer exists. Canada has fallen behind most countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and development in its level of investment in affordable housing. Canada has one of the smallest social housing sectors among developed countries.
Along with his preliminary observations, Mr. Kothari has made a series of recommendations to the federal government, including:
- a comprehensive national housing strategy, co-ordinated with the provinces and territories;
- a “large-scale” building of social housing units;
- an immediate extension of the federal government’s affordable housing programs, which are due to expire at the end of fiscal 2008;
- immediate steps to fully recognize international economic, social and cultural rights in all Canadian domestic laws; as part of a national housing strategy, specific initiatives directed at groups forced onto the margins, including women, Aboriginal people, elders, youth, members of racialized communities, immigrants and others;
- an immediate extension of the federal housing renovation program that is due to expire at the end of fiscal 2008;
- a comprehensive fix for the subsidy erosion faced by s.95 housing co-operatives; funding and resources to ensure that all Canadians have access to potable water and proper sanitation;
- an immediate extension of the federal homelessness program, which is due to expire in fiscal 2008;
- a consistent framework of tenant protection and rent regulation laws across the country that meet the standards set by international housing rights laws;
- additional housing allowances as part of a national housing strategy;
- inclusive zoning and planning practices across the country;
- a comprehensive and properly-funded poverty reduction strategy at the federal level, and with provinces and territories; measures to address the urgent, short-term and long-term needs of women;
- progressive legislation to address violence against women;
- creation, funding and implementation of programmes and policies to support women in the area of housing and domestic violence;
- funding and resources to a national Aboriginal housing strategy, on and off-reserve, that ensures that Aborginal housing and services are under Aboriginal control;
- a moratorium on oil and extractive activities at Lubicon until a settlement is reached with the Lubicon Lake Nation;
- specific targets and strategies, and independent monitoring, of the Vancouver Olympics;
- funding and programmes to sustain non-governmental organizations over time;
- the development of proper statistics and indicators for homelessness and housing insecurity.
Over the next four months, Mr. Kothari will continue to monitor the activities of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and will work with non-governmental organizations in Canada to develop a comprehensive report on housing and homelessness in Canada.