France is set to declare housing as a fundamental right following a high-profile protest in downtown Paris by homeless people and housing advocates.
The right to housinghas been recognized in international law for decades, and is incorporated in countless international covenents, treaties, declarations and other legal instruments. However, many countriessign the international documents then fail to incorporate the right to housing in domestic law, which makes it difficult for people to realize that right.
French President Jacque Chirac, a rightist,statedin his new year’s address that the right to housing needs to be made explicit inFrench law.National elections are being held this year in France, and both the socialistand rightist candidates for president are also backing theright to housing.
Canada is one of many countries that have signed numerousinternational legal agreements that not only recognize the right to housing, but also oblige the national government to take action to ensure that the right is realized. For instance, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states:
11.1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.
In addition to signing dozens of international treaties and covenants that include the right to housing, Canada has been a leader at world forums – including the two United Nation’s global conferences on housing and human settlements (Habitat I in Vancouver in 1976 and Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996) – in advancing the global right to housing.
Yet, on the domestic stage, Canada has been actively dismantling housing programs over the past two decades, cutting billions in housing funding at the federal level, and in 1996 downloading most federal housing programs to the provinces and territories. Canada is one of the few countries in the world without a national housing strategy.
In May of 2006, a United Nation’s review of Canada specifically criticized the federal government for failing to incorporate the right to housing in national law, and for failing to meet the housing needs of hundreds of thousands of homeless people and millions of low-income Canadians who are at risk of becoming homeless. The UN called Canada’s affordable housing crisis a “national emergency”.
In 2002, a private member’s bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Libby Davies, the NDP MP for Vancouver East, that would have recognized the right to housing in Canadian law. It set up a structure to create a national housing strategy in co-operation with the provinces and territories. Unfortunately, the bill was blocked by the government, which wouldn’t allow it to proceed to a vote.
– Michael Shapcott