The National Right to Housing Network is concerned with gaps in the recently announced National Housing Council but intends to work collaboratively to progressively realize the right to housing in Canada.
Yesterday, the Government of Canada took the next step in implementing its legislated commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing with the newly appointed National Housing Council. While this is a step forward, there are some significant representation gaps including lived experience advocates on homelessness, and persons with technical human rights expertise in the right to housing.
Canada’s National Housing Council is a key feature of Canada’s legislated commitment to the right to housing through the National Housing Strategy Act, which passed in June 2019. The Act explicitly requires that members to the Council include persons with human rights expertise as well as lived experience of housing need, and lived experience of homelessness, yet these requirements are not fulfilled in the list presented by the government yesterday.
“The members of the National Housing Council announced on National Housing Day will have a critical role in holding Canada to account for the progressive realization of the right to housing under the National Housing Strategy Act,” says Michèle Biss, National Right to Housing Network (NRHN) Project Manager. “Canada will rely heavily on their human rights expertise as Canada’s first–ever adjudicators of the right to housing through the function of the review panel. There is no doubt that the Council announced yesterday features some extremely qualified experts. Nevertheless, the legislation calls for the inclusion of technical right to housing expertise and persons with lived experience of homelessness. This is not reflected in the Council’s current makeup, leaving an enormous gap to fulfill its purpose.”
An extension of the National Housing Council will be the three-person review panel, made up of members of the Council, who will hear cases of systemic violations of the right to housing referred by the Federal Housing Advocate (not yet appointed). The review panel will hold hearings that offer those individuals who have borne the brunt of violations of the right to housing a chance to be heard so that Canada’s housing policies and programs are consistent with the recognition of housing as a human right.
This role is more important than ever as COVID-19 recovery plans are developed. This pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the deep systemic inequalities that are at the core of homelessness and inadequate housing. It has particularly exacerbated housing precarity for those who are disproportionately represented in these populations, including Indigenous people; women-led households; persons with disabilities; members of racialized groups; people with precarious immigration status, immigrants and refugees; and members of 2SLGBTQQIA communities.
“The members of this new Council have an incredible opportunity to shape Canadian legal precedent for those who have so long borne the brunt of Canada’s housing crisis, who have previously had no access to justice when their right to adequate housing is violated,” says Debbie McGraw, NRHN Steering Committee and Co-chair of the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network.
“As it stands, this Council will rely heavily on service providers to speak for those experiencing homelessness instead of working with people directly affected. This role is more important than ever as people across the country face evictions, homelessness and job loss in the wake of COVID-19.”
The legislation makes room for at least four additional members to be appointed to the Council. The NRHN, made up of over 250 individual and organizational members is ready to advise the Council in its role to implement the right to housing in Canada.
“Now more than ever, opportunities to claim human rights and hold governments to account are the key to a thriving Canada,” says Elizabeth McIsaac, president of Maytree and NRHN Steering Committee member. “The National Housing Council is not a mere advisory body, it is a pillar of the implementation of the right to housing in Canada. We call on Minister Hussen to remedy the gaps on the Council and move forward in the meaningful implementation of the right to housing in Canada.”
The announcement on Sunday includes the opening of recruitment for Canada’s first Federal Housing Advocate. The Network is concerned, however, that the posting does not mention the Advocate’s central role of promoting and monitoring the progressive realization of the right to housing as required under the Act, and the critical importance of expertise and experience in this area. The NRHN looks forward to assisting the government in identifying candidates with the necessary knowledge of the right to housing under international human rights law to meaningfully implement the National Housing Strategy Act.
For more information, visit www.housingrights.ca.
- Right to housing legislation was enacted on June 21, 2019 as part of the National Housing Strategy Act.
- The National Right to Housing Network formed soon after to mobilize a broad-based, grassroots civil society network to fully realize the right to housing in Canada.
- The act recognizes housing as a “fundamental human right” as it is defined under international human rights law.
- The National Housing Council will further the right to housing by monitoring progress and the progressive realization of the right to housing in Canada.