CERA is excited to kick off 2015 with our new Executive Director, Renee Griffin. Renee has extensive experience in human rights and housing law from her work at legal clinics. Welcome Renee!
A young woman was denied an apartment because she was under the age of 18, something that is illegal under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found Havcare Investments and Ms. Carolyn Goodman had violated the Code, fabricated evidence and attempted to get a witness to lie on the stand.
Recognizing the young woman’s particular vulnerability the Tribunal anonymized her name, noting that she “had been a Crown ward since she was 13 years old, was homeless, and was still in high school. Furthermore, she was dealing with significant personal issues, including a pregnancy.”
The Tribunal awarded the young woman $10,000 in damages for the discrimination and ordered the landlord to hire an expert to develop a human rights policy and train staff.
“This is a significant decision,” said Megan Evans Maxwell, AB’s lawyer who acted for the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and is now counsel at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. “This young woman had support and was determined to make a difference to other peoples’ lives so she stuck with it,” continued Evans Maxwell.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that Ms. Goodman (also known as Ms. Linton and/or Krebs) had “attempted to influence a witness, Ms. St. John, to deny that the applicant had been denied the unit on the basis of her age.” The Tribunal also concluded that the landlord’s insistence the unit had been rented to another tenant was “fabricated evidence regarding the purported tenant.”
“Housing decisions from the Tribunal are rare,” said Theresa Thornton, Executive Director of CERA. “Most people walk away from the discrimination, desperate to secure a place to live,” continued Thornton.
CERA is the only organization in Canada dedicated to promoting human rights in housing and ending housing discrimination.
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre offers free legal services to individuals throughout Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
For more information or to arrange interviews:
Theresa Thornton, Executive Director, CERA 416-944-0087 ext.2
Jennifer Ramsay, Human Rights Legal Support Centre 416-597-4958 or 416-522-5931 (mobile)
Download this press release: here.
Check out CERA’s report on Housing Equality for New Canadians: Measuring Discrimination in Toronto’s Rental Housing Market
Over the past few months, CERA, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and COSTI Immigrant Services have been holding housing rights workshops for front line workers that provide housing assistance for recent immigrants and refugees.
We provided a session in Ottawa in October, Toronto in November and London in December. We’ll be holding our fourth and final session in Windsor later this month.
I’m responsible for the segment dealing with housing and the Human Rights Code and, invariably, I’ll see many people nodding their heads during the discussion of the different types of discrimination. Being refused an apartment because your income is “too low”, you have no Canadian credit or references or you have “too many” children, or being required to pay six or twelve months rent in advance is old news for these community workers. It’s what many of their clients experience when applying for an apartment.
Shortly after I see the heads nodding, a hand goes up. The participant asks, “What can we do?”
This is the most difficult question I have to deal with in any workshop. It’s easy to describe the law. The challenging part is making it work for vulnerable households.
Ontario has a human rights enforcement system, but the vast majority of people experiencing housing discrimination do not access it. Many are not aware of their legal rights or the mechanism for enforcing them. Those that are frequently don’t have the resources or time to file a formal human rights application and take it through the Tribunal process – a process which will, in any event, not get them the apartment they were denied. The proof is in the numbers: despite evidence of widespread housing discrimination, housing cases make up less than 6% of all human rights applications filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
In most cases, a person who experiences housing discrimination will just move on to the next apartment ad, try again and, often, be refused again.
During my workshop, I tell these community workers that they or their clients can call CERA and we will advocate with the landlord. The reality, however, is that CERA is a very small organization and we receive no funding to provide human rights advocacy services (we’ve only received dribs and drabs since 1995). Our services are provided almost entirely by volunteers and this limits what we can do.
I can also tell them to contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, but in most cases the intake process at the HRLSC is too long for any advocacy to start before the apartment has been rented. And few community legal clinics provide direct advocacy services related to housing discrimination.
Even if a person can access advocacy services, will anyone follow-up with the landlord to ensure the discrimination doesn’t happen in the future? No.
To effectively tackle housing discrimination, Ontario needs an enforcement process that recognizes the importance of early intervention and monitoring – where housing providers are monitored for compliance with the law and where community and legal workers can be ready to advocate with landlords immediately after discrimination has occurred. A system that focuses entirely on formal complaints, as ours does, will be needlessly expensive and will not respond to the needs of the thousands of recent immigrants and refugees, Aboriginal People and members of racialized communities, youth, people with disabilities, lone parent families, people living on low incomes and other disadvantaged individuals and families who experience housing discrimination.
It will not respond to the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents – because that is who experiences rental housing discrimination.
Here at the Eviction Prevention desk we know the hardest cases involve hoarders. But we didn’t know just how hard they can be. Two recent cases have shown us the limits of our small organization when it comes to helping combat a very large problem.
In both instances, the clients were long-term tenants of subsidized units. They were in their mid-50s, with significant mental health issues. The state of their apartments was almost unlivable. Their landlords, however, were very accommodating and gave CERA ample time to work with our clients. We spent months building rapport, discussing options, connecting to other support services. We really felt we could help our clients clean up their apartments and prevent eviction.
Why? The mind of a hoarder is strange terrain. Unlike tenants facing arrears, the hoarder often does not see the scope of their problem; even when faced with eviction, they will deny a need to change. CERA staff were overwhelmed. We spoke daily with clients, but also tried to co-ordinate property managers, lawyers, extreme cleaners and occupational therapists. In the end we failed primarily because of our clients’ resistance, but it also became clear that only a more fully-organized response would help the most extreme clients. What we need is a multi-disciplinary team armed with a consistent city-wide plan that encompasses all aspects of the hoarder’s problem, from initial resistance to possible relapse. Perhaps this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, especially in the current political climate, but a small initial investment in capital and ideas could payoff big time for tenants, landlords and city services alike.
At CERA, we often see landlords at their worst. Those brought to our attention are typically not landlords that are doing a great job, but those that are potentially violating the Human Rights Code. When we speak to them it is usually because they have (allegedly) discriminated against one of our clients. After 25 years of responding to discrimination complaints, CERA has developed a pretty one-sided view of the rental housing sector.
It’s nice, then, when we can get beyond our own prejudices.
Over the past few months, CERA staff and volunteers have been scanning ads in Kijiji and Craigslist to educate landlords whose ads indicate that they may be violating the Code (see “Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination“). We’ve been picking out ads that say things like, “looking for a professional single or couple,” “seeking mature, quiet individual,” “proof of employment required” or “no kids” and either calling or e-mailing the posters to educate them on the Code and its prohibitions against discrimination directed at families with children, young people, people receiving social assistance, etc.
When we started, we weren’t sure how this outreach would be greeted. Would the landlords hang up on us, yell at us to mind our own business, tell us that they can rent to whomever they want?
We’ve heard all of these things, though more often the landlords have been open to our calls. Most have said they didn’t realize their rental requirements or “preferences” were potentially discriminatory and have been quick to change their ads. Many have also wanted us to forward additional information on CERA and the Code. With most of the landlords, there appears to be a genuine interest in understanding the Code and how it applies to their rental property. And most haven’t been professional landlords (i.e. landlords that should “know better”) – they’re just people renting out apartments in their homes.
CERA counsels others not to generalize or make decisions based on assumptions. When it comes to landlords, it appears that we haven’t always followed our own advice.
Talking About Money
Someone recently said to me, “talking about money is harder than talking about death”.
CERA, in partnership with Canada Without Poverty (CWP), recently received a grant from TD’s Financial Literacy Program to do what a lot of folks have told us would be impossible: to talk about the taboo, uncomfortable subject of “money” with people from across the country who barely have any.
A few weeks ago we piloted our first session with a group of 18 people who are living on very limited incomes in the city of Ottawa. And contrary to all warnings – this group couldn’t stop talking. They were women and men, young and old, Aboriginal, Canadian born, newcomers, disabled and not, single mothers and two parent families. They had just one thing in common: they are all making ends meet, just barely.
So, why was this diverse group so willing to talk about money? I think it’s because we did things a little differently this time round. We turned the tables. We admitted that if this group of people have the lowest incomes in the country and are able to make ends meet, they must have a vast amount of expertise in money management. We asked them to share that expertise with us so that we could document it and then share it with other people, like those who get to make decisions about how money is spent in this country: Jim Flaherty – the Minister of Finance; bankers; and financial literacy trainers. And share they did. From rolling loose change, to never buying anything that isn’t 2nd hand, to using foodbanks and pay-as-you-go telephones, to developing sophisticated banking techniques, we learned how the poor endure a whole lot of indignities, to survive.
And we learned something even more important in this session. By recognizing the participants as experts in managing their money (rather than assuming we are the experts because we have money) we unwittingly provided them with an opportunity to feel some pride in their poverty, even if only for a few hours.
Over the past few weeks, CERA volunteers have been scanning rental housing ads in Kijij to pro-actively reach out and provide human rights education to landlords who might be violating the Code.
The volunteers have been busy.
They have found dozens of ads – some blatantly discriminatory, others which may not explicitly discriminate, but which are still problematic.
Some of the more obvious examples:
“Suitable for mature, working individual”
“Basement apartment for couple/employee”
“You must have a steady full time job”
“Applicants over 40 years old only”
“Professionals only please”
“No government assistance of any kind”
Other ads were less obvious, but still communicated to young people, people receiving social assistance, families with children and other groups protected under the Code that they are either not welcome and will not be treated equally if they choose to apply:
“A professional single or couple welcome!”
“Perfect for couple and young professionals”
“Best place for a single working person”
“Ideal for senior person or couple”
“Perfect for a retired couple”
Unlike rental ads in Viewit.ca, Renters News and most large newspapers, ads in Kijiji and other online “want ads” such as Craigslist, are not screened. As a result, exclusionary wording is common-place. While both Kijiji and Craigslist have mechanisms for reporting problematic ads, they do not make it clear to posters that they must abide by the Human Rights Code.
Kijiji and other free online classifieds need to start being pro-active in promoting human rights and removing discriminatory ads. There are many options they investigate – directly monitoring and removing ads, posting information on the Code, or adding discrimination as a reason for reporting an ad.
It’s time Kijiji and other online classifieds realized that they can play a significant role in promoting housing equality – or inequality.
VOICES-VOIX is a non-partisan coalition of organizations and individuals defending democracy, free speech and transparency in Canada. CERA is one of the over 200 member organizations. CERA’s Executive Director has spoken at several press conferences and meetings on behalf of the coalition.
On the day before the Day for Democracy (April 6th) VOICES-VOIX held a press conference on Parliament Hill to draw attention to the demise of democracy as we enter the second week of a federal election. CERA’s Executive Director talked about the lack of access to information, the control of information and the demise of Democracy in Canada. At the Day for Democracy Rally on the following day, she spoke about the assault on women’s human rights and equality. Over 200 people attended the rally in Ottawa. Speakers included: Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International, Gerry Barr, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for International Cooperation, MP Paul Dewar (NDP), as well as representatives from the Liberal Party of Canada and the Green Party.
Day for Democracy Rally – The Assault on Women’s Human Rights and Equality (Speaking Notes)
I am Leilani Farha, the Executive Director of CERA – the Centre on Equality Rights in Accommodation. CERA is one of the groups whose funding was slashed by the current government because we dared to protect women’s equality rights in Canada.
Not so long ago I spent the bulk of my time working across the country with low income women and advocates to protect the right to housing for the poorest women – disabled women, Aboriginal women, single mothers – to make sure they would have a decent place to live.
These days I spend my time giving speeches and attending rallies to talk about the assault on democracy and more specifically the erosion of women’s equality rights in Canada.
It still makes me shake my head. How did we get here? And by here I mean where voices are silenced, where information is controlled, where human rights and women’s equality are reviled, and as we saw yesterday, where the young and politically engaged are profiled and excluded.
I used to have pride in Canada as one of the most progressive democracies, and champions of peace and human rights. Now, Canada feels like hostile territory. Hostile to me personally as an Arab Canadian and to my work, particularly on women’s rights.
Am I exaggerating? Is there real hostility against dissenting voices and women’s rights in this country? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Let’s review some facts:
- The current government cancelled the national child care program and replaced it with a paltry taxable $100 a month payment to parents with children under 6.
- They scrapped the equality portion of the Court Challenges Program a program which made constitutional rights accessible to ordinary people.
- They attacked Status of Women Canada (an already fledgling department): they cut the research budget, they closed 12 of 16 offices across the country and they ceased funding any organization engaged in advocacy, lobbying, or law reform.
- They gutted pay equity legislation, and stripped it of its meaning.
- They introduced a stimulus budget which basically offered nothing of relevance to women and they
- Eliminated the mandatory long form census – which provided information for example on the extent of women’s unpaid work at home.
AND WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF ALL OF THIS?
There are real ramifications for these decisions.
Women’s groups and human rights groups are afraid to speak out – there is no national voice on women’s rights; women are not at political tables and our interests are not being represented or heard.
Because women’s groups across the country are basically decimated and because we have had systematic policies that have not considered women’s interests and needs – there are a host of social and economic repercussions emerging for the most marginalized groups:
– Increasing unemployment – official unemployment rates approached double digits.
– Fewer women than ever are able to qualify for employment insurance benefits in the face of job loss. And if you can qualify for employment insurance what you receive is 20% lower now than during the last recession in the 1990s.
– There have been dramatic increases in food bank and meal program use. In the last year we’ve seen an 18 percent increase. “the largest year-over-year increase on record” (Food Banks Canada, 2009: 1-2).
– Also, we are seeing increased use of bankruptcy and credit counselling services, and impacts on health services, mental health counselling, and suicide and crisis intervention programs.
There is only one thing to do in the face of a democracy under attack: take to the streets, BE LOUD and use our VOICES COLLECTIVELY TO RECLAIM Democracy as we know it.
VOICES-VOIX Press Conference
Speaking Notes: Leilani Farha
5 April 2011
I am Leilani Farha the Executive Director of CERA – the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, a human rights organization working with some of the poorest and most marginalized people in Canada. CERA is a member of the VOICES-VOIX coalition because we are gravely concerned with the demise of democracy in Canada over the last five years.
If the Government of Canada can’t get democracy right, who can?
In recent years one of the most direct attacks on democracy has been this government’s attempt to control information. Of course, access to information that is reliable, accurate, and non-partisan is one of the fundamental pillars of a democracy. Information animates democracy. Access to information allows us to hold our government’s accountable. Only with reliable, non-partisan information can we engage in healthy debate. Only with access to information can we develop policy that is based in real needs and experiences.
The recent curtailment of access to information and the control of information has been raised most loudly by journalists across the country, whose Access to Information requests often lay languishing on a shelf in some government office somewhere. And when the access to information request is granted, the information returned is often gutted of content.
But the control of information net has been cast much wider than this. It has been used, and I’d say used very effectively to mask what’s happening to some of the most marginalized groups in the country – specifically marginalized and disadvantaged groups of women.
This has been achieved with three swift moves:
- The Harper Government got rid of the research arm of Status of Women Canada. This was the only national research body whose mandate was to research and assess how women and different groups of women were faring in the country. Were women achieving equality in different areas: employment, housing, politics, on reserve, off reserve … The research arm of SWC had a national and international reputation for groundbreaking and important research on women’s rights and related issues.
- The change to the mandate of SWC banning the funding of groups who undertake advocacy, and the resultant elimination of a vast number of women’s organizations. Organizations like the National Association of Women and the Law; and the Sisters in Spirit Campaign. Organizations that engaged in research, generated information about women’s inequality, and then used that information to generate debate, and to inform policy discussions.
- The elimination of the mandatory long-form census which is widely understood as providing information on the socio-eco conditions of the most marginalized groups, information that would not otherwise be accessed but for the mandatory nature of the census. And the elimination of questions regarding unpaid household work in the household survey, which is considered a critical measure in revealing gender inequality.
Lets be clear about what happens when you eliminate this type of information from the public domain, information about women’s poverty, women’s earnings, legal barriers to women’s equality, when you muzzle information about Aboriginal women’s horrific experiences of going missing and being murdered.
What happens is the narrative is controlled; you get a pretty rosy picture of a land of milk and honey where there are no women’s advocacy organizations because women have achieved full equality in all realms.
But this is Canada, not Never Never Land.
We need a government that understands and respects the fragile nature of democracy, and that isn’t afraid to be judged by the light of day.
We need a government that will re-instate the mandatory long-form census, reform Canada’s Access to Information Act, and restore funding to women’s advocacy organizations.
The Province of Ontario released its Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy in late 2010. Bill 140, Strong Communities Through Affordable Housing Act, 2011, legislation which has passed 2nd reading and is now before the Legislature at the Comittee on Justice Policy, is the implementing legislation for the Housing Strategy.
CERA and the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC) appeared before the Committee on 24 March 2011, to encourage the Committee to adopt a series of amendments to Bill 140 to ensure that it is in keeping with the provinces’ commitments under international human rights law.
CERA provided an overview of the 5 components that Bill 140 must include to ensure it is in compliance with international human rights standards based on what UN human rights bodies and officials have indicated must be in a housing strategy. SRAC then provided the Committee with an overview of practical amendments that could be made to Bill 140 to integrate the 5 components. Both the Wellesley Institute and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario submissions were supportive of this approach.
Committee members from all three parties expressed interest in the CERA and SRAC presentations and the suggested amendments. CERA and SRAC will work collaboratively with other organizations concerned with housing rights and will continue to press for human rights amendments to Bill 140. For more on human rights accountability of the province and Bill 140 click here.