UN critical of Canada's record on housing, homelessness

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has criticized Canada for its “persistent housing crisis” in a report that points to the lack of a national housing strategy.

Review of human rights record finds failures around poverty, housing and visible minorities

Hamilton volunteers conducted a count of the region's homeless population in February. A UN committee is critical of Canada's lack of a national housing strategy and increasing homelessness. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has criticized Canada for its "persistent housing crisis" in a report that points to the lack of a national housing strategy.

It expressed concern about increasing levels of homelessness in Canadian cities and the existence of anti-camping and other bylaws to penalize homeless people.

And it urged federal and provincial governments to work together to devote resources to affordable housing and ensure the housing subsidy for those on social assistance is in line with living costs.

A group of anti-poverty and housing rights groups met with the UN committee in Geneva last fall to outline their concerns about lack of affordable housing and widespread evictions.

They argued that high housing costs and a lack of rental vacancies is forcing people to spend ever larger amounts of their income on rents and that leads to eviction.

The Right to Housing Coalition and Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario welcomed the UN report.

"A committee of international human rights experts was able to see what the Canadian government and their political representatives refuse to see — that we are failing to protect a large and vulnerable portion of our population from violations of their fundamental right to housing," said Kenneth Hale, legal director of the tenant advocacy group.

The UN Group completed a comprehensive review of Canada's human rights record in which it welcomed developments such as the restoration of health benefits for refugees and asylum seekers and the national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls.

But it pointed to multiple areas where it found inequity in Canadian society. Among them:

  • Discrimination faced by First Nations people and people of colour.
  • High unemployment among disadvantaged and marginalized groups and individuals.
  • Minimum wage that falls short of living costs.
  • A stagnation of social spending as a share of GDP.
  • Lack of adequate housing for people with disabilities.

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