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.
The NHS Act brings 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.
After the NHS Act 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, reflecting 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.