4/16/2019: (En Francais) Advocates today released an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau urging minor but essential amendments to the National Housing Strategy Act in Bill C-97. In Bill C-97 (Budget Implementation Act, 2019) tabled Monday, April 8, Canada took a major step forward toward legislating housing rights for the first time in its history. The National Housing Strategy Act reflects recommendations made by housing rights advocates. However, more needs to be done to ensure that key accountability mechanisms are included in the legislation and the right to housing is implemented as the government intended. The legislation is also missing a requirement for housing strategies to identify and address the distinctive barriers, needs and rights of Indigenous peoples, including urban Indigenous peoples consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Why does the National Housing Strategy Act as written need to be amended?
The legislation as currently drafted has some of the key ingredients necessary for an effective rights-based approach, but it has been drafted in a way that does not implement the approach the government intended. The act fails to provide for key, minimal requirements identified by civil society in a letter to the Prime Minister signed and endorsed by over 1,100 individuals and organizations, including prominent experts such as Professor Irwin Cotler. It also does not comply with international human rights law, as clarified by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing in official communications to the government of Canada. Most importantly, it does not establish the rights-based procedures that are necessary for the government’s declared commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing to be effective in addressing the housing and human rights crisis of homelessness and housing unaffordability in Canada.
We are urging MPs to amend the National Housing Strategy Act so that it accomplishes what the government intended it to do.
What does the legislation do and what is needed to make it effective?
It is a positive and historic step that the legislation declares a “housing policy” to further the “progressive realization of the right to housing.” The problem is that the legislation contains no measures to monitor, promote or hold anyone accountable for compliance with the housing policy.
The legislation establishes a “National Housing Council.” However, the Council as described currently will only “advise” the Minister. For a rights-based approach, the Council needs to be clearly mandated to monitor and review the implementation of the housing strategy and provide advice about compliance with the commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing.
The legislation creates a “Federal Housing Advocate” who receives administrative support from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. However, as currently written, the legislation doesn’t give the Federal Housing Advocate any role in promoting or ensuring compliance with the commitment to the progressive realization of the right to housing. The Housing Advocate is only mandated to “receive submissions” about systemic issues, to consult with groups, to do research and submit an annual report to the Minister. If it is to be rights-based, the Housing Advocate needs to assess compliance with the housing policy through the kinds of procedures that a rights-based approach requires. Submissions should be transmitted as “petitions” identifying specific areas of concern about compliance with the right to housing; the Housing Advocate should be mandated to investigate the petitions, to provide for public hearings where appropriate, and to make specific recommendations about what needs to be done to ensure compliance with the housing policy. These are fundamental to a meaningful rights-based approach, and they are conspicuously absent in the current draft.
What specific amendments are required?
The attached amendments work within the confines of what can be amended at the committee stage. They clarify the roles of the Housing Council and, most importantly, of the Housing Advocate to be consistent with the purpose of the legislation and the housing policy of furthering the progressive realization of the right to housing.
Our proposed amendments:
- Clarify that the National Housing Council doesn’t just “advise the Minister,” but also monitors progress towards the goals of the housing policy;
- Clarify that the Federal Housing Advocate doesn’t just receive submissions from vulnerable groups, consult with them and submit a report to the Minister every year, but rather receives petitions about specific concerns regarding compliance with the housing policy (petitions), reviews programs and policies and areas of concern and makes specific recommendations about what is required for compliance with the housing policy;
- Provide for informal hearings before a three-person panel into important systemic issues, where the Housing Advocate considers this to be warranted, and ensures that those affected will have a meaningful voice in these hearings; and,
- Require the Minister not only to respond to annual reports from the Housing Advocate, but also to specific recommendations addressing areas of concern.
We have also suggested that the legislation be amended to include reference to Indigenous peoples and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to refer to the “community initiatives” that were promised in the National Housing Strategy.
Are these types of amendments permitted at this stage and could they be done later by regulation?
None of the proposed amendments alter the scope and principle of the legislation and none require any public expenditure that is not already provided for in the legislation. The amendments are necessary to clarify what is currently unclear, and to bring the roles of the Housing Council and the Housing Advocate in line with the purpose of the legislation and the commitment to a rights-based approach based on international human rights. These changes are within the scope and purpose of the Act but they are substantive changes to the legislation that must be made by parliament, not deferred to regulations.
We need your help!
Legislation implementing a rights-based national housing strategy provides an historic opportunity for the federal government to address, as a priority, a critical human rights issue at home and at the same time to provide leadership in human rights internationally.
This is the first time in Canada’s history that legislation implementing the right to housing has been introduced, and it is critical that this be done right.
Please take a few minutes to email the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Families Children and Social Development and your Member of Parliament urging their support for our amendments to the National Housing Strategy Act.
Getting amendments to the federal budget implementation act will not be easy, but it is critically important to get the right to housing right. Please help us maximize our impact during this critical window by sharing this campaign with your networks via email or social media. Find more online at housingrights.ca or on Facebook and Twitter @legislateR2H.