A Hard Won Victory for Housing


June 21, 2019 (Toronto, ON) – An important milestone has been achieved in Canada as Parliament formally recognizes that housing is a fundamental human right. Bill C-97, which includes the National Housing Strategy Act, received Royal Assent today. For over a decade, the right to housing movement across the country demanded the creation of a National Housing Strategy and the recognition of the right to housing in law. The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) and the Right to Housing (R2H) Coalition celebrate that millions of people can now hold their government accountable for addressing their housing needs.

The R2H Coalition and ACTO’s historic Charter challenge inspired public awareness of what a right to safe, secure and adequate housing could mean for those living in Canada. Five applicants bravely shared their life experience of struggling with inadequate housing and homelessness, while many social justice organizations intervened to echo the call for the right to housing. “Taking the government to court for failing to address growing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis was a colossal task,” explains Kenneth Hale, the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at ACTO. “As a specialty legal clinic committed to representing the needs of low-income Ontarians, we had to show Canadians and the world that too many vulnerable lives were being harmed.”

Across Canada, 1.7 million people are living in unaffordable and inadequate homes. Mass homelessness is disproportionally impacting Indigenous people, people living with disabilities, women, lone-parent households, racialized and immigrant communities. “It’s been proven that safe and secure housing is a step further to socioeconomic well-being,” says Lubna Khalid a member of the R2H Coalition. “It builds people’s self-esteem and confidence while improving mental and physical health.”

After the R2H Coalition and ACTO highlighted Canada’s failure to adequately house its vulnerable residents before a United Nations committee in Geneva, Canada was told that it must adopt a human-rights based national housing strategy and collaborate with affected communities. With the right to housing now legislated, people will have a new Federal Housing Advocate and the National Housing Council to hold the government accountable for systemic violations of their right to adequate housing. “We see the terrible consequences to people who experience homelessness every day,” says Mike Creek, a member of the R2H Coalition who attended the UN meeting. “The right to housing will change lives and how we view housing. Canadians should celebrate that housing is recognized as a human right. This is something to be proud of.”

So what does this new legislation mean?
Read ACTO’s blog post: We got the Right to Housing. Now What? (June 27, 2019)
Read CHRA’s blog post: Right to Housing is Now Law in Canada: So Now What? (July 5, 2019)


Recognize the Right to Housing in Law

Canadians have been urging their governments to recognize housing as a human right for over a decade. Last year, the federal government introduced Canada’s National Housing Strategy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that “housing rights are human rights”. Now public consultations on the National Housing Strategy’s human rights-based approach to housing are underway until June 2018. The Government of Canada wants to hear what you have to say about the key elements of a human rights-based approach to housing, the proposed approach to new legislation, and new concepts to be explored.

We believe that the federal government MUST recognize that housing is a human right in law. Canada signed international agreements that must be upheld. We need clear remedies to hold our government accountable to their promise. Without recognition of the right to housing in law, a human-rights based approach to housing is merely symbolic.

Click on this link to send an email to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and tell them to recognize housing as a right in law.

Right to Housing Forum

On April 30, 2018, we organized the Right to Housing Forum. Panelists discussed solutions to Ontario’s affordable rental housing crisis and what the right to housing should look like in Canada – if you couldn’t make it in person, watch the forum here:

The Government of Canada is currently in the midst of a national consultation for their human rights-based approach to housing. Consultations will end on June 1, 2018. We encourage everyone to engage in this process through written submissions.

Here are two resources to help you with your submission:

1 – ACTO’s ideas paper on the human rights-based approach: Questions on the Way to the Right to Housing.

2 – Emily Paradis, Research Consultant at the University of Toronto and Bruce Porter, the Executive Director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre have prepared a summary paper that sets out key elements for implementing the right to housing: Implementing the Human Right to Housing in Canada’s National Housing Strategy.

Canada responds to years of pressure from community advocates by recognizing housing as a human right


ACTO and the Right to Housing Coalition applaud recognition of right to housing in National Housing Strategy

November 24, 2017 (TORONTO) — For over seven years, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) and the Right to Housing Coalition – alongside housing advocates from across the country, including those with lived experience of homelessness – have pressed for a National Housing Strategy and the recognition in law of the right to housing. Those demands have finally been heard by the federal government in their announcement of a National Housing Strategy.

“The courts repeatedly blocked our efforts to have these rights recognized under existing laws. But the community organizing on the ground sent a loud message to the government that enough is enough,” says ACTO lawyer Tracy Heffernan, one of the legal counsel in the historic Charter challenge. “The fight isn’t over just yet. Until new legislation is adopted by Parliament, we have to keep up the pressure to ensure that our government stays true to their promise of legally recognizing that housing is a human right.”

From 2010 to 2015, the Right to Housing Coalition worked tirelessly to have the voices of those impacted by the affordable housing crisis heard by the courts through the Charter case called Tanudajaja vs. Canada. 10,000 pages of evidence never heard by the court demonstrated:

Five applicants bravely shared their life stories of struggling with inadequate housing and homelessness, while many social justice organizations intervened in the case to echo the call for the right to housing, backed up by a National Housing Strategy.

In 2016, ACTO, the Right to Housing Coalition and others went to Geneva to make the case before the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that people were suffering from governments’ broken promises and to push for the right to housing in Canada.

Details of the National Housing Strategy unclear

While we celebrate the recognition of the right to housing and the creation of the first National Housing Strategy, we are also waiting for more details of how it will be implemented, to verify that it actually meets the needs of those living on lower incomes in Canada. The affordable housing crisis most adversely impacts hundreds of thousands of people living on lower incomes and fighting to keep a roof over their heads. These people cannot wait several years for the bulk of the money to be spent.

“Committing to a national strategy is an important step toward ending the affordable housing crisis, but a generation has gone by without meaningful spending and the time is now to invest in building communities,” says Kenneth Hale, the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at ACTO. “We must continue to advocate for the rights of the most marginalized members of our society and work in partnership with people whose lives are being thrown off course by a lack of housing opportunities.”

See official press release here.

Join us in delivering the UN report on Canada’s human rights record to the Finance Minister!

DSCN4544(photo credit: John Bonnar)

We sent two delegates to Geneva in February to address the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its review of Canada. The UN committee’s concluding observations will be released to the Canadian government on Monday, March 7th at 12:00pm ET, and we plan to bring attention to this! Join us that day at 2:00pm as we deliver the UN report to the Finance Minister, two weeks ahead of the federal budget! Help us show the government that housing is a human right!

If you can’t make it in person, you can still make your voice heard, wherever you live! Call, email or visit your local MP that day to tell them you want them to act on the recommendations in the UN report on Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Ask them what they plan to do about Canada’s poor track record on the housing and homelessness crisis. You can locate the contact information for your local MP by entering your postal code here.

What: We will be “delivering” the UN report to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and have speakers who will give statements to the media and answer media questions.

Who: Speakers representing the Right to Housing Coalition, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Working for Change, Chiefs of OntarioODSP Action Coalition, and Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation. Everyone joining us on the street can help us deliver the report!

When: Monday, March 7th from 2:00-2:30pm

Where: Outside on the sidewalk in front of Bill Morneau’s office, 430 Parliament St. (between Gerrard and Carleton), Toronto

Why: Canada has been ignoring the fact that it signed this international human rights covenant for far too long. After the last UN review in 2006, the CESCR slammed Canada on its poor track record, noting that most of its recommendations from previous reviews in 1993 and 1998 had not been implemented, and referring to the inadequate housing and homelessness crisis as a “national emergency.” Canada’s new Liberal government promises to deliver “real change” but what we heard from the government’s representatives during this year’s review was sadly business as usual. We will not accept business as usual because everyone who lives in Canada deserves the right to housing! Real change will only happen if Canadians speak up and tell the government that it’s time to comply with our international human rights obligations. Public pressure and media attention on the issue will make it hard for Canada to ignore the UN report again – so join us in making sure our message is heard!

Read our media advisory here.

Court Shuts Down Charter Challenge – homeless Ontarians denied their day in court

From the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario

September 6, 2013

Homeless Canadians Denied Their Day in Court

Judge Accepts Government Motion to Quash Historic Case


(Toronto) Today, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that homeless and inadequately housed Ontarians should be denied a chance to have their landmark legal challenge heard.

“This case is about the fundamental principle of access to justice in our society,” said Tracy Heffernan, staff lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, who represents the applicants. “By denying them the chance to present their evidence, the Court suggests that poor people cannot rely on Charter protection.”

Joined by housing advocates from the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), the individuals filed the case in 2010, seeking a Court order requiring Federal and Provincial governments to implement a national housing strategy. They argued that Canada and Ontario have violated their rights under section 7 and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness.

In May of this year, the governments of Canada and Ontario argued that the case should be struck down before any evidence was heard. Several interveners, including Amnesty International, underscored the importance of allowing the challenge to move forward. Today’s decision accepted government arguments that “it is plain and obvious that the Application cannot succeed” and dismissed the case.

“The decision reflects a narrow view of the Charter that seems to be applied when the poor seek judicial relief,” said Peter Rosenthal, lawyer for the applicants.

In his decision, Justice Lederer said that courts in Canada have no role in reviewing critical human rights issues such as “the basis on which people may be evicted from where they live and the treatment of those with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities”.

“This will come as a shock to those in Canada and the international community who have been assured that Canada recognizes access to adequate housing as a fundamental human right and that the most marginalized are protected under the Charter,” said Leilani Farha of CERA. “This decision, if allowed to stand, denies any protection under the Charter to the most vulnerable groups in Canada – those devastated by homelessness and inadequate housing. We welcome the opportunity to have these critical issues considered on appeal.”

To schedule interviews with spokespeople contact: Yutaka Dirks 416-597-5855 x.5243 or 1-866-245-4182 x.5243 email: dirksy[at]lao.on.ca http://www.acto.ca/en/cases/right-to-housing.html

Housing a Human Right: Why is Canada Still Violating this Basic Human Right?

On December 10th – International Human Rights Day, join with the Right to Housing Coalition in sending a message to the Prime Minister: Create a rights-based national housing strategy! For physical postcards (English or French), which you can sign and send to the PM, or to your local MP, please contact us at: righttohousingcoalition@gmail.com

R2H imageR2H text

There are between 150,000 people homeless in Canada, according to the Canadian Senate report on poverty.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation identifies 1.5 million households in ‘core housing need’ in Canada.

A recent report by Stephen Gaetz of the Canadian Homelessness Research Network explains how it will cost us less money to end homelessness than to maintain it.

On May 4, 2012 members of the House of Commons from all parties voted to support a motion which recognized that Canada has obligations to fulfill the right to housing.

Canada is a signatory to the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees the right to adequate housing.

Charter Challenge: the right to housing in Canada

Today, formerly and currently homeless Ontarians launched a landmark legal challenge against the federal and provincial governments. Joined by housing advocates and their lawyers, the individuals are seeking a Court declaration that Canada and Ontario have violated their rights under section 7 and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness and inadequate housing.

The Applicants’ lawyers will argue that both the Charter and international law require that Federal and Provincial governments implement effective housing strategies that will reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness and sub-standard living conditions.

For more information, read the related press release at this link.

Please also visit this link to read a related Globe and Mail article.

Or you may wish to listen to an interview on CBC Metro Morning with Peter Rosenthal, one of the lead counsel in the Charter challenge, at this link.

Stay tuned for more information!