Poverty as a Human Rights Violation (Except in Governmental Anti-poverty Strategies)

AuthorVincent Greason
chapter 3
Vincent Greason*1
Poverty is a fundamental violation of the human r ights of the poor. To be
poor means to have substandard housing or bad teeth, an empty f ridge
or recurring sickness, or to be aicted by a myriad of other, often com-
bined, situations that af‌fect one’s ability to live as “fully human.” A series
of human rights th at are recognized by States in various internat ional and
domestic instruments are ignored, violated, and shunted aside as govern-
ments entrench themselves within a “balanced budget” logic. This is the
political context in which a majority of Canadian provinces have decided
to “f‌ight poverty” — it also fra mes the new human rights paradigm with in
which we currently f‌ind ourselves.
As of December 2010, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, Q uebec, Ontario, and Manitoba have adopted formal anti-povert y
strategies.2 Five of these are rooted in legislation, whereas Newfoundland
* Coordinator, Table ronde des organ ismes volontaires d ’éducation populai re de
l’Outaoua is (TROVEPO) and Resea rch Partner in the SSH RC-CURA Resea rch Project
“Reconceiving Social Rights Practice,” online: www.socialrightscura.ca.
1 I wish to acknowled ge the f‌inancial s upport of the (now defunct) Commu nity-
University Rese arch Alliance (CU RA) program of t he Social Sciences and Hu manities
Research Counc il of Canada. I wou ld also like to acknowled ge the invaluable resea rch
assista nce of Stephanie Chalou lt, student at the Faculty of L aw, University of Ottawa.
2 Nun avut launched a formal a nti-poverty strate gy in October 2010. Given the
constitution al dif‌ferences between prov inces and territor ies, we have chosen not to
108 vincent greason
and Labrador has chosen a non-legislative route. Quebec was f‌i rst to adopt
such a strategy. Between 1995 and 2002, a unique citizens’ movement cen-
tred on the Collectif pour une loi sur l ’élimination de la pauvreté3 gat hered
the support of hundreds of thousands of citizens and 1,600 civil society
groups who urged the Quebec government to adopt a law to eliminate
poverty. Following a massive popular education campaign in the spring of
2002, a citizens’ assembly made up of dozens of delegates from civ il society
groups across Quebec voted for a peoples’ law to eliminate poverty, and
several months later, 215,316 petitions in support of this demand4 were pre-
sented to Quebec’s National Assembly.
In December 2002, the Act to Combat Poverty, which contained sev-
eral of the popular law’s recommendations, was unanimously adopted by
the National Assembly.5 Two comprehensive f‌ive-year action plans to f‌ight
poverty followed in 2004 and 2010.6
include it in our study.
3 A n Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclu sion, RSQ c L-7 [Act to Combat Pove rty].
Following the adopt ion of Quebec’s law, the Collectif pour u ne loi sur l’élim ination
de la pauvreté cha nged its name to Collect if pour un Québec san s pauvreté [Collecti ].
4 T hat is in support of the pr inciple of a law to elimin ate poverty, not specif‌ical ly
in support of the content of t he popular law. The “popul ar law” was redacted b y
progressive jur ists and ref‌lected the cont ent that the Collectif wou ld have liked to see
in a “law to eli minate poverty.”
5 Act to Comb at Poverty, above note 3. Francois Aubr y & Christia ne Plamondon, “The
Québec Act to Combat Pover ty and Social Exclusion: How Does it Tackle t he Situation
of People with Disa bilities?” (10 June 2010), online: CCD w ww.ccdonline.ca [Au bry &
Plamondon]. In the foreword to Aubr y and Plamondon’s article, Luc ie Dumais and
Yves Vaillancour t make the followin g statement: “ . . . [t]he fact that th is law had been
democratica lly co-construct ed before its adoption, both in ci vil and political s ocieties,
has allowed it to ac quire greater inst itutional strengt h and durability t han if it had
been the work of a single pol itical party a nd had not been strongly rooted i n civil
society” (ibid at 2). Therefore , they take sides on an iss ue that has profoundly d ivided
Quebec’s anti-povert y movement: Was the Act to Combat Poverty co -constructed?
Or was it the Quebe c government’s calculate d political response to a p olitically
opportuni stic issue? The fact t hat the Collectif un abashedly welcomed the pas sage of
the Act to Combat Povert y certainly pai nted it into a proverbial corner and l imited its
role as a critica l intervener in the ongoing deb ates concerning the implement ation of
the law.
6 Government of Quebec , Reconciling Freedom and Social Just ice: A Challenge for the
Future (2004–2010) (April 2004), onl ine: MESS www.mess.gouv.qc.c a; Government of
Quebec, Combating Pover ty and Social Exclusion: A Pr iority for Québec (2010–2014) (Ju ne
2010), online: MESS w ww.mess.gouv.qc.ca [Que bec, Combating Poverty].

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