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Poverty, housing and international human rights

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Canada has recognized that adequate housing is a fundamental human right in international instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada has also agreed to take appropriate steps towards realizing the right to adequate housing.

Human rights violations in housing are often connected to poverty and income. Many consultees said that the Code needs to be amended to include social condition as a means of providing greater protection against discrimination for reasons relating to poverty. While the Code does not protect the broad range of social and economic rights set out in international instruments, it affirms the right to equal treatment in housing without discrimination on the basis of Code grounds. The Code provides a range of tools to address violations of housing rights and situations affecting access to housing because of Code grounds, even if section 2 (which sets out the right to equal treatment with respect to the occupancy of accommodation) does not explicitly create a freestanding right to housing. In addition, the values reflected in international human rights laws are to be used as an aid to interpreting the rights in the Code

Although social condition is not a ground under the Code, discrimination relating to poverty has been addressed through Code grounds where there was a demonstrable link between poverty and those grounds. For example, the link between poverty and Code grounds such as race, sex and family status, was noted in a famous human rights case, Kearney v. Bramalea Ltd. In general terms, the Code may be brought into play when the low income is connected to grounds such as race, family status, age, disability (including mental illness) or being in receipt of public assistance, such as Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits.

The Commission will consider the strategic use of its mandate, which includes public inquiries, interventions and applications, to address situations of discrimination related to rental housing in light of this broad systemic context. The Commission will also further examine the implications of adding social condition to the Code. The Commission recommends that the Government of Canada adopt a national housing strategy and that all levels of government work together to give effect to the ICESCR and to integrate housing rights into comprehensive and coordinated poverty reduction strategies.