Introduction. Advancing Social Rights in Canada

AuthorBruce Porter and Martha Jackman
ProfessionExecutive Director, Social Rights Advocacy Centre and Co-Director (Community) of the SSHRC-CURA Research Project 'Reconceiving Human Rights Practice'/Professor, Faculty of Law, French Common Law Program, University of Ottawa and Co-Director (Academic) of the SSHRC-CURA Research Project 'Reconceiving Human Rights Practice
Bruce porter and Martha JackMan
A book that purports to discuss advancing social rights in Canada in 2014
may be viewed by some as an exercise in denia l. Thirty years into Ca nada’s
pos t- Charter democracy, growing economic inequ ality and violations of so-
cial rights, disproportionately experienced by Aboriginal people, sole-support
mothers and their children, people with disabilities, racialized groups and
newcomers, represent egregious human rights fa ilures that call into ques-
tion our collective commitment to what have long been understood as
def‌initional values. A s former NDP leader Jack Layton observed:
Canadia ns, overwhelmi ngly, believe in justice and equa lity. These are
values we trust, and we want to bring them to life in our commun ities.
* We wish to acknowledge a nd thank the Soci al Sciences and Huma nities Research
Council of Ca nada (SSHRC) Communit y-University Resea rch Alliance (CUR A) Program
for its generous fund ing support, Andre i Ilas for his invalu able editorial as sistance, the
many student rese arch assista nts from the partic ipating universities for t heir important
contributions, a nd the University of Ott awa Faculty of Law for its ongoin g support for
the CURA pr oject and for hosting the s ymposium which led to th is book.
Bruce Porter, Executive Direc tor, Social Rights Advo cacy Centre and Co-Di rector
(Community) of the SS HRC-CURA Resea rch Project “Reconceivin g Human Rights
Practice,” online:
Marth a Jackman, Professor, Facu lty of Law, French Common Law Progra m,
University of Ot tawa and Co-Director (A cademic) of the SSHRC-CUR A Research
Project “Reconceiv ing Human Right s Practice,” online: ww w.socialright
2 bruce porter and martha jack man
Our vision of the just society forms t he core of our sense of identity as
Canadians. But rejecting povert y in our national heart ha sn’t stopped
poverty from fester ing. Our societ y enters this new mi llennium with
open wounds and a poverty r ate that stands among the worst in the de-
veloped world.1
In recent years, civil society and Aboriginal organizations in Canada
have consistently identif‌ied poverty, food insecurity, inadequate housing,
and lack of access to health care, education, and decent work as funda-
mental violations of human rights.2 UN human rights bodies have also
expressed “grave concern” about the extent and systemic impact of home-
lessness, hunger, and poverty in Canada and have called for immediate and
concerted federal and provincial/territorial government action to address
these issues.3 It is not, as the Canadia n government likes to suggest, that the
UN mistakenly believes that hunger and homelessness are more extreme
in Canada than in struggling economies in Africa or Asia. 4 These harms
are seen as a human r ights crisis in Canada because they are completely
1 Ja ck Layton, “Foreword to the Firs t Edition” in Dennis Ra phael, Poverty in Canada, 2d
ed (Toronto: Canadian Sc holars’ Press, 2011) at xii .
2 See, for exa mple, Ligue des droits et lib ertés, Rapport sur l’état des droits humain s au
Québec et au Canada (2013), onli ne: LDL http://liguedesdroits .ca; Bruce Porter
& Leilan i Farha, “Rearm ing Canada’s Commitme nts to Human Rights” i n
Poverty and Parliament(Spri ng 2009), online: Socia l Rights in Cana da CURA
www.soci alrightscur; Leilan i Farha, Alex Neve, & Bruce Por ter, “The Universal
Periodic Review of C anada: Februa ry 2009: An Overv iew of a Select Number of
Canadia n NGO Concerns and Recom mendations” (Janua ry 2009), online: Soci al
Rights in Ca nada CURA w ww.socialr; A ssembly of First Nations,
Submission to the United Nation s Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Re view
of Canada’s Human Rights Obligat ions (October 2012), online: Univer sal Periodic
Review www.upr-in; Senate , Subcommittee on Cities of the St anding Senate
Committee on Soc ial Af‌fairs , Science and Technology, In from the Margins: A Call
to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness (December 2 009) (Chair: Hon Art
Eggleton, PC at 15: “[w]hethe r the subject was povert y, housing or homelessness, many
witnesses desc ribed the problems in ter ms of rights denied” ); Canadian Human
Rights Act Rev iew Panel, Promoting Equalit y: A New Vision (Ottawa: Dep artment of
Justice, 2000) (Cha ir: Hon GV LaForest at 106: [d]uri ng our consultations we hea rd
more about poverty t han any other single i ssue.”
3 Br uce Porter & Martha Jac kman,International Hu man Rights and Strategies to Address
Homelessness and Povert y in Canada: Making the Connection, Ot tawa Faculty of Law
Working Paper No 2013-0 9, online: CUR A http://socialrightscu at 47–54. See
also Bruce Port er’s discussion in Chapte r 1.
4 House of Commons Debates, 41 st Parl, 1st Sess, No 127 (18 May 2012) at 1155 (Dee pak

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