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Draft Legislation: National Right to Housing and Housing Strategy Act

(En français)

What to watch for in Federal Right to Housing Legislation

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. The NHS Strategy promised the creation of infrastructure to implement a “rights-based approach”, including a Housing Advocate, a Housing Council and support for community-based tenant initiatives.

In support of this historical commitment, the first of its kind, we have prepared draft legislation outlining how this can be done, based on the announced elements of the National Housing Strategy. The draft is based on core principles described in an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, signed by over 1,000 organizations and individuals. It is the result of extensive consultations and has been prepared with the kind assistance of Professor John Mark Keyes, Adjunct Professor of the University of Ottawa, previously Chief Legislative Counsel (Assistant Deputy Minister Responsible for Legislative Services) at the Department of Justice.

The draft legislation incorporates the commitments made in the National Housing Strategy within a framework of human rights accountability.  It situates the Housing Advocate as an independent office within the Canadian Human Rights Commission, provides for petitions raising systemic issues to be investigated by the Housing Advocate and enables the Housing Advocate to refer selective systemic issues related to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing (not individual complaints) for hearings before a specialized panel of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Housing Advocate and the Tribunal would issue non-binding remedial recommendations to which the government would be required to respond within a reasonable time period.

Core components of rights-based accountability

All the components outlined in the draft legislation are important, but the following list provides hyperlinks to the components that are necessary to ensure meaningful rights-based accountability to the right to housing. These are the elements that will be most important to look for when proposed legislation is released by the federal government.

  • Accountability to the progressive realization of the right to housing consistent with international human rights (i.e. not just an affirmation of a government commitment to the right to housing).
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  • Targets, timelines, and independent monitoring consistent with human rights obligations (e.g. not just reducing homeless by half by 2030 but eliminating homelessness in the shortest possible time).
    Extract 1 / Extract 2
  • An independent Housing Advocate to assess compliance with the progressive realization of the right to housing (i.e. not just to “report” on systemic issues).
    Extract 1
  • A procedure for affected groups to submit petitions (i.e. not just consultations with affected groups but a rights claiming mechanism for meaningful participation and accountability).
    Extract 1
  • Referral of selective systemic issues for hearings before a specialized panel of the Human Rights Tribunal with participation in the hearings by those affected (Accessible hearings before a human rights body are essential to a rights-based approach).
    Extract 1 / Extract 2
  • Meaningful and timely response by government to findings and remedial recommendations (i.e. not just receiving reports or policy recommendations, but responding to human rights remedies recommended by an authoritative body).
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  • Inclusive rights-based community initiatives (i.e. not just tenants’ organizations, but all communities affected, including those who are homeless).
    Extract 1 / Extract 2
  • Consistency with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (including the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising the right to housing).
    Extract 1


Recently, there has been some consideration of the idea of situating the Housing Advocate as an independent office within the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).  Civil society groups are supportive of this idea, as a way of implementing the key components of rights-based accountability without requiring the creation of new organizations within government.

We have proposed some alterations to the previous draft legislation based on this new idea. They are highlighted in the draft legislation linked below. A french version will be made available as soon as translation has been completed.

Read the summary| Read the revised draft legislation (changes highlighted)

We know that while many individuals and organizations care about the right to housing, it can be difficult to clearly articulate what this really looks like on the ground. Similarly, we know that it could be easy for government to use the language of “the right to housing” without actually implementing it in a meaningful way.

We want to seize this critical moment in the development of the National Housing Strategy to ensure legislation is passed that honours Canada’s international and ethical obligations to “ensure access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services” (2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development).

The following working draft of legislation is intended to provide clarity and direction on what the right to housing could actually look like in practice.

Read the draft legislation