Homeless Defend Right to be Heard in Court

05-26-14

At Canada Without Poverty the question that keeps us scratching our heads is this: how do we convince governments that providing beds and bread is not enough? How do we get governments to recognize that being free from homelessness and poverty is a human right, obliging governments to take effective action? Well, next week a number of organizations including the Centre for Equality of Rights and Accommodation, Amnesty International – Canada, ESR-Net, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Colour of Poverty are trying to convince the government of just that. On May 26th a three day hearing will commence at the Ontario Court of Appeal in Tanudjaja v. Attorney General (Canada) (also known as the Right to Housing Case).

In this case four individuals and one institutional applicant are arguing that the federal and provincial governments have violated their obligations under international human rights law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by failing to adopt effective housing strategies and by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness and inadequate housing.

So why is this case being heard at the Ontario Court of Appeal? Well, at the urging of the Federal government and the government of Ontario, the Superior Court decided – without hearing ANY of the 9000 pages of evidence submitted by the applicants – that it would dismiss the litigation before going to a hearing. Basically the Court tried to shut the door on claims by poor and homeless people that governments have violated their Charter rights by failing to effectively address homelessness in Canada. This basically means that people living in poverty have NO legal recourse when the government violates their human rights.

This decision cannot be left unchallenged. So the applicants are asking the Court of Appeal to take another look at the question: can homeless and poor people avail themselves of the Charter and the courts to hold the government legally responsible when they’ve violated the human rights of poor people?

Why is this case so important? Well, as Leilani Farha, Executive Director of CWP and one of the people who helped initiate the case has said, “This decision effectively bars poor people access to the Charter on issues that are most important to them – including poverty and homelessness caused by a failure of government policy and programming. The Superior Court’s decision also allows governments in Canada off the hook in terms of their international human rights obligations.”

This is the chance to hold the government legally accountable for their human rights obligations. This is the opportunity to convince the government that beds and bread are not enough, Canada needs a national housing strategy based in human rights!

CWP will be at the Court of Appeal covering the case on twitter and facebook from Monday 26 May – Wednesday 28 May. We will also provide more updates as the case unfolds.

*For more information see the press releases of our colleagues also involved in the case:

Amnesty International

ESCR-Net

Advocacy Centre for Tenants in Ontario (ACTO)