TORONTO, May 26 /CNW/ - Formerly and currently homeless individuals and housing advocates today launched a landmark legal challenge, asking the Superior Court of Ontario for a declaration that Canada and Ontario have violated their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness and inadequate housing.
"I was homeless when I was younger and I have lived for many years in inadequate housing," said Jennifer Tanudjaja, an applicant in the case. "Each month I fear that I won't be able to pay the rent and that my sons and I will end up in a homeless shelter. The government needs to respect the human rights of everyone who has been forced to live in sub-standard housing or on the street."Free housing in state-built concrete bunker-esque tenements for all (even those who aren't all together "there," if you catch my meaning, and who prefer to live al fresco)! Hey, it did the trick in the Warsaw Pact, right? (Is it just me, or is it becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between this "human rights" stuff and Communism?)
There are an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 homeless people in Canada and almost 4.2 million men, women and children live in homes that fail to meet federal standards for acceptable housing. Canada and Ontario have instituted changes to legislation, policies and services which have resulted in homelessness and have failed to ensure government programs effectively protect those who are homeless or most at risk of homelessness.
"Canada and Ontario are violating the human rights of homeless people and those living in inadequate housing, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said Tracy Heffernan, Staff Lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO). "To fulfill their human rights obligations, Canada and Ontario must implement effective strategies to end homelessness."
"The United Nations has been urging Canada to address homelessness as one of the most serious and widespread violations of human rights in this country," said Leilani Farha, Executive Director of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation. "The UN has repeatedly recommended that both levels of government urgently adopt a strategy to address homelessness as most other developed countries have done. Homeless people should not have to go to court to get governments to protect their human rights, but when governments refuse to listen to the UN and fail to enact appropriate policies or programs the courts are the only option left."
Expert witnesses will testify that homelessness and inadequate housing harm people through reduced life expectancy and significant damage to physical, mental and emotional health. In Canada, groups protected from discrimination by the Charter including women, single mothers, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, racialized communities, youth and seniors are disproportionately affected by homelessness and poor housing.