2013: A Year to End Poverty

Every New Year there is an undercurrent of excitement of untapped opportunities.  A sense of possibility and hopefulness that change will happen.  This New Year is no different as a number of upcoming meetings, debates and movements are getting greater public recognition, reminding us that there remain reasons for positive thinking:

Bill C-400 – a call for a national housing strategy

An incarnation of the former Bill C-304, this piece of legislation remains the same as the first version and calls for the development of a national housing strategy that is grounded in a human rights framework.  Debate at second reading is scheduled to continue in February.    During the last parliament all the opposition parties were in favour of the bill at third reading, which meant that the bill would have likely become law had an election not been called.

For those who are not interested in a moral argument on why every person deserves  a home, or who ignore the fact that Canada has ratified international treaties which state that every person has a ‘right to housing’, there is always the financial argument.

One way to determine the financial benefits of providing housing is to consider the cost of a homeless person.  It was estimated that in 2010, 3.1 million households paid more than 30% of their income on housing making them housing insecure, and 150,000 – 300,000 were visibly homeless, while 450,000 – 900,000 Canadians represented the ‘hidden’ homeless.  A recent study in September 2012 by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network quantified the cost of homelessness on governments:  approximately $4.5 billion in health care, housing, food banks, and criminal justice costs.  In stark contrast, taxpayers could save $0.54 on every dollar spent if supportive housing and services were offered.

This could be the year Canada ends homelessness.

Idle No More

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence embarked on a hunger strike on December 11, 2012 in an effort to secure a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss treaty rights and unilateral federal government decisions that affect First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.  Part of a broader “Idle No More” movement, Indigenous groups across Canada have been protesting the actions of the federal government and supporting Theresa Spence.

Last year Chief Spence made headlines when the plight her of community in Attawapiskat, Ontario was thrust into the spotlight thanks to video footage from MP Charlie Angus.  The images of ill-equipped housing with no electricity or running water and the declaration of a state of emergency within the community, shocked the world. The plight of Attawapiskat is not unique unfortunately, and many reserves across the country find themselves in similar situations.  Chief Spence, both then and now, has helped to bring First Nation’s issues out of the shadows.

Spence is in her fourth week of the hunger strike and has begun to see support pouring in from within Canada and beyond the border.    A number of actions and blockades are springing up across the country, and media attention on the issue is stretching from Europe to New Zealand.  If the PM does not agree to meet with Spence to discuss treaties, then on January 16th there will be a national day of action and economic disruption (see the APTN website).

This could be the year that Indigenous peoples in Canada have their voices heard.

United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Canada

Established in 2006 with the creation of the UN Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an opportunity for all member-states to reflect on their human rights progress and failings.  Canada was reviewed in 2009 and was given a list of 68 recommendations by peer countries as to how to improve its human rights record, however it only accepted 39 recommendations.  One recommendation which was rejected was to establish a federal anti-poverty strategy.  (Read the recommendations and government response here.)

Between April  22 – May 3 during the 16th UPR session Canada will be under review once again.  While civil society organizations submitted reports on Canada’s human rights performance, Canada will submit their own at the end of January.    This review is significant considering Canada’s obligations under international treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD); the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); the Children’s Rights Convention (CRC); and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (Read some basic facts on the UPR process here.)

All Canadians are entitled to have their human rights respected and protected, including the right to food, adequate housing, clothing, equality, non-discrimination, labour and an adequate standard of living.

This could be the year that Canada commits to ending poverty.