Statement made at the UPR-Info.org Pre-Session for Canada’s 3rd UPR
12 April 2018, to delegates of the United Nations and
Canadian Non-governmental Organizations
Delivered by Harriett McLachlan, Canada Without Poverty Deputy Director (interim) and immediate past-President of the Board of Directors
Good morning distinguished delegates, and participants. My name is Harriett McLachlan, I am the interim Deputy Director of Canada Without Poverty also referred to as CWP. CWP’s submission was written in collaboration with 23 civil society organizations, many of which are coalitions representing hundreds of smaller organizations across the country.
CWP is a charitable organization governed by a Board of Directors all of whom have lived experienced of poverty. Using the Low-Income Measure (LIM) of poverty, Statistics Canada has determined that there are 4.8 million people in poverty in Canada, including 1.2 million children, numbers that are relatively stagnate for more than a decade. Marginalized communities experience poverty disproportionately, particularly Indigenous peoples, racialized people, persons with disabilities, and homeless youth.
As a single mother with three children, I struggled for 34 years living in poverty, despite having a Masters degree in social work. Poverty has taken a toll on my physical and mental health.
We know poverty is preventable, particularly in a wealthy country like Canada.
Federal government social spending is at its lowest level since 1949. In 2017 it was 14.6% of GDP. The top 1% of earners pay a lower share of their income in tax than the poorest 10%.
Lack of Investment in Social Protection Programs: National Anti-Poverty Strategy
While the federal government has invested in programs like the Canada Child Benefit, a tax-free monthly payment made to eligible families, and the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB), these programs alone fail to address the urgent need. The Worker’s Benefit only decreases the poverty rate by 0.2%
Current social assistance rates are well below any measure of poverty in Canada and many welfare incomes have not been adjusted for inflation. Since the second UPR, some provincial social assistance programs have been cut drastically or now impose retrogressive restrictions on social assistance recipients. An illustrated example of this is with the province of Québec. In 2016, regressive legislation was introduced with Bill 70, which imposes restrictions on individuals from accepting a ‘suitable’ job if one is offered to them. Starting April 1st of this month in 2018, those affected by the Bill will see a cut in benefits from 628$ to 404$ dollars a month.
In light of this we ask that you recommend to Canada that it ensure that provinces and territories raise social assistance rates to ensure they are commensurate with the cost of living, including the average cost for rental accommodation.
We further ask that you recommend to Canada, as did the CESCR in 2016, that the federal government “in collaboration with provinces, territories, and indigenous peoples and consultation with civil society organizations, implement a human-rights based national anti-poverty strategy, which includes measureable goals and timelines as well as independent monitoring mechanisms. … and ensure that provinces and territories’ anti-poverty policies are human-rights based and aligned with the national Strategy.”
A shocking 3.2 million individuals experience some level of food insecurity in Canada, with 850,000 using food banks each month. Canada accepted, in part, the recommendation from Brazil at the 2013 UPR to “elaborate a national plan on food security” (Brazil, Rec #125) but has not implemented it. The recommendation we would like you to make is that Canada implement the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food following his 2012 mission to Canada, to “adopt a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, based on human rights principles that define the objectives, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks.”
Canada’s public healthcare system is regarded worldwide as a model, however one in ten Canadians cannot afford their prescription medications because Canada is the only industrialized country with a national healthcare system, but no national pharmacare plan. We ask you to recommend that Canada implement a national pharmacare plan.
Housing and Homelessness Still at Crisis Levels: National Housing Strategy
235,000 people are homeless annually in Canada, leading to severe health consequences and deaths. The housing and homelessness crisis remains a persistent and serious concern for United Nations Special Rapporteurs as well as UN treaty bodies. We ask that you recommend that Canada commit to ending homelessness by 2030 in keeping with Goal 11, Target 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The CESCR has repeatedly recommended that Canada “develop and effectively implement a human-rights based national strategy.”
While we welcome the recent launch of a human rights-based National Housing Strategy by the Federal Government, it is uncertain as to whether the strategy will comply with Canada’s international human rights obligations. We request that you recommend to Canada that it ensure that its national housing strategy conform with checklist provided by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing in her 2018 report to Human Rights Council.
Gender Budget: Still No Universal Childcare Framework
Canada’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in 40 years. However, Canada’s labour market has changed dramatically – most new jobs are low-paying, part-time, temporary or contract, and without long term benefits. The rise in precarious labour, combined with the decline in unionization, has been felt most acutely by marginalized groups.
In February 2018, the federal government introduced what they called a “gender budget” butfailed to commit to a universal, publicly-funded and managed early childhood education and care program. We ask you to recommend that Canada adopt such a program, in keeping with the CEDAW Committee’s recommendation in its 2016 review of Canada.
Access to Justice
Access to justice remains a critical issue in Canada. Governments continue to urge courts to ignore Canada’s international human rights obligations, particularly their socio-economic rights obligations. We ask that you recommend to Canada that it promote interpretations of Canadian laws that would provide remedies for those in need of food or housing as recommended by the CESCR in its review of Canada in 2008.
Income Tax Act
And finally, we are deeply concerned about discriminatory provisions in the Income Tax Act (ITA) which limits freedom of expression for people living in poverty. In January 2016, the federal government’s announced that the CRA political audits would be rolled back but this has not yet been done. We ask that you recommend that Canada amend the discriminatory section of the Act.
In closing, Canada is not spending a reasonable proportion of its vast resources to address poverty and the resources it is spending are not attached to human rights based initiatives in keeping with its obligations. We hope your recommendations to Canada will help to rectify this and encourage you to refer to our submission which provides further recommendations and details.