Canada has been under strong scrutiny in recent days as the United Nations looks at how well the federal government is meeting its international obligations.
The verdict: Canada is failing to meet the basic standards in international law, and is especially failing women, Aboriginal people and the poor.
The international attention will grow even stronger on June 19 – when the United Nations opens its third World Urban Forum in Vancouver.
The United Nations’ Economic, Social and Cultural Committee released its five-year review of Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on May 22. The language of international diplomacy is normally very polite and restrained, but the UN Committee is blunt when it calls housing in Canada a “national emergency”.
The federal government has signed a number of international treaties, covenants and other international legal instruments. These commitments create a binding obligation on the government.
Miloon Kothari, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, was in Toronto on June 7. Miloon, who is based in New Delhi, India, asked for a briefing on the current housing landscape. I put together a backgrounder that reviews the funding and program cuts of the 1980s and 1990s, along with the emerging patchwork of new money and initiatives in the last few years. I’ll be representing Wellesley at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in mid-June. Thousands of delegates are expected from around the world.
There’s plenty to celebrate: In the 30 years since the first global conference on housing and human settlements sponsored by the United Nations in Vancouver, there has been plenty of important advances on the international front. The Vancouver Declaration and other actions at the 1976 meeting led to the creation of UN Habitat, the United Nations agency on housing and human settlements that is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
But there has also been plenty of backtracking here in Canada and in other parts of the world over the last three decades.
For instance, in 1996, at Habitat II in Istanbul (the second UN global conference on housing and human settlements), Canadian housing minister Diane Marleau lectured recalcitrant United States officials on the urgent need to recognize housing rights at the same time that, back at home, federal finance minister Paul Martin announced plans to end the federal role in housing by downloading housing programs to the provinces and territories.
I’ll be in Vancouver for the World Urban Forum. I’ll be making presentations to several networking forums and roundtables, delivering presentations to the National Aboriginal Housing Association and meeting with housing officials, advocates and politicians from around the world.
It will be an exciting week and I will post reports from Vancouver throughout the World Urban Forum.