Open Letter Urges Prime Minister to Make Good on His Commitment to the Right to Housing

OTTAWA (August 14, 2018) - At a press conference in Ottawa today advocates released an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau signed by over 170 organizations and prominent Canadians urging the Prime Minister to make good on his commitment to the right to housing by enshrining that right in upcoming National Housing Strategy legislation. 

The letter was penned by Amnesty International Canada, Campaign 2000: End Child and Family Poverty in Canada, Canada Without Poverty, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, housing and homelessness researcher Emily Paradis, and the Social Rights Advocacy Centre. Supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, the letter outlines key requirements of right to housing legislation consistent with international human rights law.

“We’ve come together to show the Prime Minister that there is broad-based support for legislated recognition of the right to housing and to offer a way forward,” said Tim Richter, President of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis is the result of a failure to protect human rights. If we’re serious about fixing this crisis, then Canada must live up to our international human rights commitments and have a legislated right to housing as the foundation of our National Housing Strategy.”

Among the letter’s signatories are national organizations including the Canadian Housing & Renewal Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Lived Experience Advisory Council and the United Church of Canada along with prominent Canadians like street nurse and advocate Cathy Crowe, former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, and former Liberal cabinet ministers Claudette Bradshaw and Irwin Cotler.

Every year over 235,000 people experience homelessness in Canada. Today, over 1.7 million Canadian households are living in unsafe, unsuitable, or unaffordable housing without better options available to them. These households are disproportionately led by women and feature overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, youth and older adults, and members of racialized communities. All these people are experiencing the effects of a systemic crisis - a failure to protect and implement their human rights. 

“Canada has an opportunity for international human rights leadership with a clear, decisive and unambiguous commitment in legislation to the right to housing,” says Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. “The National Housing Strategy made an historic commitment to progressively implement the right to housing; what’s needed now is legislation that ensures meaningful accountability to that right.” 

The open letter has been posted to where Canadians are asked to add their names to the call for a legislated right to housing in Canada.                                                 

Draft legislation prepared by legal scholars and civil society experts is also available. This draft legislation offers suggestions on how the right to housing could be incorporated into the proposed National Housing Strategy legislation, consistent with international human rights law, and including mechanisms through which people affected by homelessness and inadequate housing can bring complaints about systemic violations and require the government to respond.                                                                                                        

Media Contacts

Tim Richter, Canadian Alliance to end Homelessness, Ph: 587-216-5615 ; Natalie Appleyard, Coalition Coordinator, Ph: 613 552-3439        


The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. 

Prime Minister

Office of the Prime Minister     

80 Wellington Street                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2 

August 14, 2018

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

On November 22, 2017 your government announced a national housing strategy based on its commitment to “progressively implement the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing.”

Consultations held in recent months regarding the National Housing Strategy demonstrated a strong consensus that implementing legislation must explicitly recognize the right to housing as defined in international human rights law. Widespread homelessness and lack of access to adequate housing, in so affluent a country as Canada is clearly one of the most critical human rights issues facing all levels of government. Rights-based legislation must establish mechanisms for those affected to raise systemic issues regarding the progressive realization of the right to housing and ensure that governments will respond by implementing remedies. These mechanisms need not rely on courts but they must be effective. 

In addition, the legislation must require goals and timelines for the reduction and elimination of homelessness that are consistent with international human rights obligations to realize the right to housing within the shortest possible time based on available resources.  It should ensure that Canada meets its commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to eliminate homelessness by 2030. It must also include measures to eliminate the deep disparities in access to adequate, affordable, safe, and secure housing for Indigenous peoples, women, members of racialized communities, persons with disabilities, trans and gender-diverse people, older adults, children and young people, migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons. 

Draft legislation has been developed by civil society and experts, demonstrating how this can be accomplished and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you.  

We call on the government to ensure that the National Housing Strategy legislation:

  • affirms the recognition of the right to housing as a fundamental human right;                                                                                                             
  • implements accountability mechanisms through which those affected by homelessness or inadequate housing can hold governments accountable for the   progressive realization of the right to housing;                                                                                                                                                 
  • ensures that the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate and National Housing Council are independent, adequately resourced and given authority to make   recommendations and require remedial action for compliance with the right to housing;                                                               
  • provides for an adjudication body which includes both experts in human rights and persons with lived experience of homelessness or inadequate housing, to   hold accessible hearings into systemic issues affecting the progressive realization of the right to housing and to recommend effective remedies;                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  • requires goals and timelines for the elimination of homelessness and access to adequate housing, in accordance with Canada’s obligations under   international human rights law and commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals;                                                                             
  • mandates rights-based participation by, and accountability to, diverse individuals and communities affected by homelessness and inadequate housing, in all   NHS mechanisms including the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, National Housing Council, adjudication body, and community initiatives;                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • provides resources and support for local lived-experience-led monitoring of NHS programmes and for community initiatives to promote the right to adequate   housing engaging all levels of government;                                                                                                                                                 
  • provides for initiatives to identify and address the distinctive barriers, needs and rights of Indigenous peoples, co-developed with Indigenous peoples’   organizations, as well as housing strategies for First Nations, Inuit, Métis Nation, and urban and rural Indigenous partners, negotiated on the basis of Inuit-to   Crown, government-to-government, nation-to-nation relationships, to ensure the right to housing of Indigenous peoples both on and off reserve, in rural and   urban settings, consistent with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

The legislation implementing a rights-based national housing strategy provides an historic opportunity for the federal government to address, as a priority, a critical human rights issue at home and at the same time to provide leadership in human rights internationally.  It is the first time that legislation implementing the right to housing has been contemplated in Canada, and it is critical that this be done right. 

We look forward to ongoing dialogue with the government in the coming weeks and months, as this important legislation is brought forward. 


Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing           

Anita Khanna, Campaign 2000:  End Child and Family Poverty in Canada     

Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada         

Emily Paradis, Independent Researcher   

Bruce Porter, Social Rights Advocacy Centre         

Tim Richter, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness  


CC The Honourable Andrew Scheer. P.C., M.P., Leader of the Official Opposition         

Mr. Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party         

The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, P.C., M.P., Minister of Families, Children and Social Development 

For list of signatories (including NAWL), return to the "Take Action" or home page.   

NAWL Speaking Out

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