Groups that have experienced historical disadvantage and who are protected under the Code are more likely to experience low social and economic status. Poverty is linked with inequality, particularly for women (especially single mothers and older women), Aboriginal persons, racialized persons and persons with disabilities. A person’s socio-economic status is highly relevant to his or her housing situation. It will dictate the type of housing available, the likelihood he or she will get the housing that he or she is seeking and may contribute to his or her treatment as a tenant.
It is also clear that one’s socio-economic status has a direct relationship to the likelihood of becoming homeless, one of the most extreme outcomes of low social and economic status. Discrimination also contributes to homelessness. Homeless people include persons living on the streets, ‘hidden’ homeless who use shelters and those at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Homeless people frequently find themselves at the outermost margins of society and are highly vulnerable to ill health, spread of disease, harassment, abuse, malnutrition, dehydration, sleep deprivation and life threatening weather.
Social and economic rights and homelessness in Canada and Ontario have been identified as a priority at an international level. Canada became a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976 and by doing so accepted the responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the rights guaranteed in the Covenant.
While the Code makes it hard to tackle all aspects of poverty and homelessness, the Commission is nevertheless interested in exploring ways it can address these issues within its mandate under the Code.
In addition, many individuals and organizations, including the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel, the Canadian Senate and the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies, have taken the position that human rights laws should be amended to include “social condition” as a new prohibited ground of discrimination.
What steps, if any, do you think the government or others should be taking to address issues of discrimination related to socio-economic status, poverty and homelessness?
What role can the Commission play in protecting and promoting social and economic rights and responding to homelessness?