Moral and legal foundations of housing rights

by Ephraim Vecina04 Mar 2016
Back in 1973, the passage of a housing law came with a bold statement from then-minister of urban affairs Ron Basford, who was working at the time under the first Prime Minister Trudeau.
“When we talk about people's basic needs -- the requirements for survival -- society and the government obviously have an obligation to assure that these basic needs of shelter are met,” Bansford was recorded as saying during the landmark decree’s introduction.
And while housing isn’t enshrined as a fundamental right under the Canadian constitution and legal system, the country is a signatory to the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a 1976 accord that compels the parties involved to “take appropriate steps to ensure the realization” of the right to adequate food, housing, and clothing.
In addition, Canada voted in favor of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and signed the UN International Convention on Women's Rights. Both pacts included clauses that cover the right to housing.
Pivot Legal Society housing attorney DJ Larkin—who, along with other concerned individuals and organizations, submitted a “right to housing” document to a UN committee in Geneva late last month—said that Canada declaring its solidarity to these agreements should mean that existing policies and jurisprudence should be “interpreted in a way that is in keeping with our covenant obligations.”
University of British Columbia law professor Margot Young agreed with this assessment, saying that Canada has effectively announced on an international level to uphold these rights.
“So one can quite credibly argue that signing onto these treaties has obligated all levels of government in Canada to recognize [that commitment] in their actions, and also to implement in domestic law the right to adequate housing,” Young said.
To date, these stated commitments have yet to produce concrete results: Along with ever-growing real estate prices, Canada is currently seeing record levels of homelessness, with approximately 235,000 people annually having no choice but to stay at congested shelters and sidewalk camps due to not having roofs over their heads.

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