For the first time on November 22, 2017 the Government of Canada formally began speaking about housing as a human right. While this has been recognized by the international community for some time, this marked an important recognition of the obligation we have as a country to ensure everyone has a safe and decent place to call home.
“Human rights are always fuzzy and hard to pin down. All human rights today are based on UN declarations. The problem is that they don’t compel any nations to do something. They simply state an obligation.”
“With housing it gets more complicated. The rights language gives us a way of thinking about housing, but not a black and white pathway to answers about what governments or communities can do. Even if Canada signs on to this obligation, what are the measurables of whether that right is being satisfied or not? The amount of money you have as a state can make it impossible to do much.”
“It also doesn’t directly feed into legal obligation. For example, Ontario courts have noted of some other rights, that even if something is a right, it’s not something we can enforce. A legal obligation can materialize if there becomes Canadian legislation to enforce housing as a right. Our Prime Minister hinted at that possibility in his November 22 announcement, but it was very vague. Moving forward, the Government will be considering what that might mean. Currently there is no legisltation in action that you could bring to the human rights commission to say ‘my right to housing has been violated.'”
“But here’s what I like about it. It makes us uncomfortable with the fact that some people don’t have this basic need met, and gets us exploring how we can work to resolve that. It gets us talking about the fact that we are not doing a good job. If a nation has homelessness, it is not doing enough. It gets us talking together about why some people don’t have the help they need.”
As I concluded this conversation with Jim, I came to the understanding that human rights language serves to remind us of our obligations as citizens of earth; obligations that the world has said together are critical and necessary. Obligation to protect freedom of speech and religion, peaceful assembly and association, to combat slavery, and to provide each other with basic needs like food, water and yes, adequate housing (Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Interview by Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador