Yesterday, CWP’s President, Harriett McLachlan, and ED, Leilani Farha, appeared in front of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA committee) in a study preparing for Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
This isn’t the first time a government committee has studied poverty reduction strategies and recommended that Canada needs a rights-based national poverty plan. In fact, this isn’t even the first time this committee has made that recommendation to Parliament. The HUMA committee, Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, and many UN authorities have told Canada again and again that we need a poverty plan based in human rights. That’s the message that we brought to the committee yesterday. We’re hoping they hear our message loud and clear: it’s time for Canada to step up to our human rights obligations.
You can read Harriett and Leilani’s presentation below. To hear audio of the meeting, click here.
PRESENTATION TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES, SKILLS AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE STATUS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
Study of Poverty Reduction Strategies
November 1, 2016 at 8:45 am
Thank you for inviting Canada Without Poverty (CWP) to appear at this important study of poverty reduction strategies.
CWP is a federally incorporated, charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada. Since our inception in 1971 as the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO), we have been governed by people with direct, lived experience of poverty, whether in childhood or as adults. This lived experience of poverty informs all aspects of our work.
I am the President of CWP, and I have lived most of my life in poverty. I am joined in my comments by CWP’s Executive Director and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha.
CWP can provide all the statistics that you need to understand the persistence of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in Canada – the country with the tenth highest GDP in the world. But this morning, allow me to tell you about the actual lives behind those statistics.
The Story of 4.9 Million People in Canada
My poverty started when I left my middle class yet abusive home at 16 years of age. My siblings and I were beaten from early childhood and I was sexually violated by my father from the age of nine until I left home. These early experiences were crippling and devastating. I slowly fumbled along trying to make my way and eventually married, yet with someone who was abusive, a familiar pattern of some broken people, and became a single parent with three children.
Today, I am an educated professional with a Master’s degree and have worked for over 20 years in my field. As a single parent, I faced enormous obstacles and lived in deplorable conditions. I made hard choices between paying my hydroelectric bill or getting food. I did not have a bedroom of my own and we lived with rats in my home – in our living space, in the kitchen, and in my children’s beds. I could not afford to live in a better place.
Though mine is a personal story, the roots are systemic and bridge the lives of 4.9 million others living in poverty.
Poverty is a Violation of Human Rights
Poverty is a violation of human rights. United Nations treaty bodies have recently instructed Canada that we are in violation of our international human rights obligations to ensure an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and housing.
The consequences of poverty, homelessness, and hunger are severe. Consider that in Hamilton, Ontario, a 21-year difference was found in the life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest residents of the city. In January 2015, two homeless persons died in Toronto, Ontario due to cold weather, poverty, and lack of adequate housing.
A Human Rights Approach to Poverty
A human rights approach to poverty recognizes the structural causes of poverty; it recognizes that poverty is not the result of the personal failures of individuals; poverty is systemic in nature and related to the decisions and actions of governments in Canada that have failed to effectively implement human rights obligations. The value of this approach is that it transforms policies beyond political whims to stand the test of time and it provides human rights responses to what are, in fact, human rights violations.
With a human rights-based strategy, the approach must be holistic in nature and intersect with other sectors and strategies – for example a National Housing Strategy and Early Childhood Education and Care Framework. While individual policies such as the Canada Child Benefit and increases to Old Age Security are positive steps forward, these policies must connect with and be part of a larger, human rights vision to end poverty in Canada in keeping with Canada’s international human rights obligations and now our commitment to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
There is now an opportunity for Canada to emerge as a human rights leader. Concretely, a human rights-based strategy will include the following hallmark characteristics:
- Make explicit reference to international human rights obligations;
- Ensure human rights training for those involved in developing or implementing the Strategy;
- Include those with lived experience of poverty in the development, monitoring, and implementation of the Strategy;
- Develop measurable goals and timelines;
- Make the strategy a budget priority;
- Monitor and report on the process and implementation of the strategy;
- Develop accountability and review mechanisms for the strategy; and
- Provide claiming mechanisms to ensure rights holders have a place for their concerns to be heard.
Canada has had a persistent poverty problem for more than a decade. The HUMA Committee and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology have recommended a human rights approach to poverty. Additionally, Bill C-245: Poverty Reduction Act embraces this human rights approach in addressing poverty.
It is time for a new approach focused on addressing the causes rather than the symptoms of poverty. A human rights-based approach will do this. We strongly encourage members of the committee to review the United Nations Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, as well as Dignity for All: A National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada, a human rights-based, model national anti-poverty plan assembled with the input of hundreds of organizations, individuals with lived experience of poverty, academics, and others.
In summary, in its deliberations on poverty reduction strategies, we ask the committee to:
i/ recommend that a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy be based in a human rights framework as found in UN documents and in Dignity for All: A National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada;
ii/ implement recommendations made to Canada by United Nations Treaty Bodies, including increasing the Canada Social Transfer and attaching conditions to ensure subnational governments are required meet their human rights obligations. This might thus require provinces and territories to set social assistance rates at realistic levels.
We look forward to answering questions in this regard. Thank you.
 The World Bank (October 2016), “Gross domestic product ranking table”, available here: http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table
 Code Red, “CODE RED: Mapping the Health of Hamilton”, available here: http://media.metroland.com/thespec.com/statistics_flash/
 Daniel Otis, “Second homeless man dead as bitter cold envelops city” Toronto Star (January 2015), available here: <http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/01/06/second_homeless_man_dead_as_bitter_cold_envelops_city.html>
 HUMA Committee, “CHAPTER 3: THE FEDERAL CONTRIBUTION TO REDUCING POVERTY IN CANADA”, available here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4770921&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&Language=E&File=141
 The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, “IN FROM THE MARGINS: A CALL TO ACTION ON POVERTY, HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS”, available here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/402/citi/rep/rep02dec09-e.pdf
 United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, “Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights”, available here: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/OHCHR_ExtremePovertyandHumanRights_EN.pdf