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Amnesty International Intervenes in Landmark Ontario Court of Appeal Case on Canada’s homelessness crisis.

    May 23, 2014

    On May 26, 2014, Amnesty International Canada is intervening, jointly with the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Net),  at the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case of Tanudjaja et al v Attorneys General of Ontario and Canada. The case, scheduled for three days of hearings, is being brought by a number of individuals who have experienced the severe effects of homelessness and inadequate housing. The applicants argue that their rights to life, to security of the person and to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been violated. The Governments of Ontario and Canada are trying to have the case dismissed without a full hearing. The Ontario Court of Appeal will decide whether the case can proceed.

    Amnesty International considers it to be very important to be involved in this significant case. As Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada explained, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the primary vehicle through which Canada’s international human rights obligations are given effect in Canadian law. This case will be essential to ensuring that Canada complies with those international obligations by taking action to address homelessness and inadequate housing as a human rights crisis.”

    Neve continued: “We will be urging the court to allow this case to proceed to a full hearing on the evidence, so that these critical issues can be properly assessed on the basis of full argument and evidence and against the backdrop of Canada’s binding international human rights obligations.”

    Many of the Canada’s fundamental international human rights obligations are at stake in this case. Canada has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to adequate housing and commits Canadian governments to applying available resources to address homelessness and inadequate housing.  The United Nations recognizes that poorer countries may not have the resources necessary to ensure the right to adequate housing right away, but there is no excuse under international human rights law for a country as wealthy as Canada to fail to address widespread homelessness among the most marginalized groups. 

    Numerous UN human rights bodies have raised serious concerns about Canada’s inaction in the face of the pressing problem of homelessness and have emphasized the responsibility of courts to fully consider Canada’s international human rights obligations when interpreting the Canadian Charter. Recognizing that homelessness in Canada leads to serious health consequences and even death, the UN Human Rights Committee has told Canadian governments that they must address homelessness to comply with the fundamental right to life. Other UN human rights bodies have repeatedly urged Canadian governments to design and implement a national strategy to reduce homelessness, with clear goals and timelines. This court challenge simply calls on the federal and Ontario governments to do just that; adopt a human rights-based housing strategy. To date, the governments have refused to implement any of these urgent recommendations; arguing that the Canadian Charter imposes no obligation to address homelessness. The governments have even attempted – albeit unsuccessfully - to prevent Amnesty International from informing the Court of the concerns and recommendations of UN human rights bodies. 

    Unfortunately, the governments’ obstructionist strategy in this particular case is characteristic of Canada’s current approach to its international human rights obligations more generally. Concern about the growing gap between Canada’s commitment to international norms on the one hand, and action to implement and live up to those norms on the other hand, has mounted considerably over the past decade. Amnesty International hopes that this court case will serve to remind governments in Canada that international human rights are key to ensuring that the Charter protects the rights of the most disadvantaged in society.

    At the hearing on 26-28 May, Amnesty International and ESCR-Net will be represented by Molly Reynolds, Ryan Lax and Nick Kennedy, lawyers from Toronto firm Torys LLP.

    For further information please contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, (416)363-9933 #332