Of the many rights enshrined to Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to housing is not explicitly included.
Gary Barron, research associate with the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the Haskayne School of Business, believes that the National Housing Strategy currently being created by the federal government must recognize this right.
Earlier this month, Barron was invited to participate in the ongoing consultations for the National Housing Strategy in Ottawa because he had completed a literature review on housing in Canada and developed a multidisciplinary and cross-sector collaborative research program on housing affordability.
“The session was very collaborative and the objective was to get diverse opinions and perspectives on the topics at hand,” says Barron. “It was clear that housing is a necessity to ensure the right to life, but more fundamentally, housing itself is also a human right.”
Barron contributed to a roundtable session that included several law professors, a UN Rapporteur on housing, a senior economist from RBC, and lawyers who do front-line work advocating for housing rights through the court system. The charter recognizes the right to life and while it does not explicitly mention the right to housing, there is consensus among the legal community that it is inclusive of housing and international law has explicitly recognized that the right to life includes appropriate living conditions and housing.
“The primary takeaway was that the National Housing Strategy must be driven by the fact that housing is a human right and that the National Housing Act should also recognize this right. We also discussed outcomes, measures and accountability.”
“There is considerable research demonstrating that measures regarding organizations and individuals don’t always simply reflect a truth or reality that they are intended to. Instead, they often make up the very phenomena they are supposed to reflect. This becomes intensified when a measure becomes a target, because people become very conscious that the measure has consequences for them. Work then often becomes focused on how to measure well and the ethical, moral, cultural, or other objectives the measure was intended to report on become lost in the concern to be counted and measure up.”
Some of the ideas that were considered by the group included implementing mechanisms for people to claim their right — such as a housing ombudsman office in each province, or something like the Alberta Mental Health Patient Advocate Office — by supporting accountability without tying up courts. The group of experts also said there should be regular reports on the state of housing and the degree to which Canada is meeting its obligations to ensure citizens’ right to housing is being met.
Earlier this year, the federal government announced that it wanted to hear from experts across the country and bring together federal, provincial and territorial governments to put together a national strategy. The consultations, which are still ongoing, are wide-ranging and are looking at such topics as housing costs, how communities are designed, housing on Canada’s reserves, the condition of rental properties and homelessness.
The federal government is expected to release the results of their consultation on Nov. 22, 2016, which is National Housing Day.
Barron says that while he was in Ottawa, he was struck by how often he heard people talking about the very issues his research at the Westman Centre had explored.
“I am certain they cannot have all read the documents and take this as an indicator that we tapped into themes of concern held by experts across Canada. I find this incredibly motivating and believe that we can all work together to maintain momentum and develop projects that make significant contributions to knowledge and have an impact on our society.”