Tag Archives: human rights

Kijiji – stop promoting housing discrimination

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:

“Require…permanent employment.”

“No children”

“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.

CERA Joins VOICES-VOIX Coalition on Women’s Rights and Democracy – Rally and Press Conference

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

 

Good Morning,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Thank you.

 

 

 

CERA Presents to Legislative Committee on Province’s Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy

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.

CERA’s presentation

Summary of UN Consensus

SRAC’s presentation

Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario presentation

One Family’s Experience

CERA recently received an e-mail from a woman who is trying to find an apartment with her husband and baby. We were struck by how clearly and powerfully she described the discrimination commonly faced by families, newcomers to Canada, and low income people. We asked her if we could post it on our website.

“My husband and I are newcomers to Canada and we have a 5 month baby…We have been looking for a place to live. When we first got here we where receiving assistance and the only place we could get was a bachelor basement. I got pregnant and now we have a baby growing fast and no place for him to grow. My husband has a job now in the cosntruction business and we always provide the job letter to the places we try to rent, but everytime there is competition and we are always the last.

“We are being very discriminated against. Some places don’t even accept us because of the baby. They say things like: “our place is not big enough for 3 people”, “not suitable for a family”, “suitable for a professional couple only, no babies” and it goes on. We are looking for a small place because that’s what we can afford. We just started our life here we need to start small, but people don’t give us a chance to rent anywhere.

“At other places the discrimination is because we are immigrants. They keep asking questions about where we are from and after that all we receive is calls and emails, ” sorry, somebody else got the place”.

“I’m getting desperate because the baby is growing up fast. We need to move fast but by ourselves nothing is working. We can afford to pay the rent no problem… But everyday I see lots of places that could fit us, they just don’t accept us. My question is is there anything that we can do to make this process easier? Any place that can help us?”

Discrimination and Newcomers to Canada

I regularly facilitate human rights workshops for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes – and each time I’m shocked by what I hear.

In almost every class, a large proportion of the students report having experienced multiple forms of discrimination in their search for housing:

Refused because because you cannot meet a minimum income cut-off? Check. Refused because you have no Canadian credit or references? Check. Required to pay six months rent in advance? Check. Required to provide a co-signor or guarantor because you are new to the country? Check. Denied because you don’t yet have a job? Check. Refused because of the number of children in your family? Check.

Many of these students hit a wall of discriminatory barriers when they first arrived in the country. And this was on top of the fact that there are few affordable housing options. Nothing could have prepared them for this introduction to Canada.

Canadians talk about how they value diversity, that it is something that defines this country. Governments rely heavily on immigration to keep the economy and tax base healthy and they lure people with promises . But when newcomers arrive, they are abandoned to a rental housing market that is unaffordable and often inaccessible.

As a result, new Canadians are often forced to double-up for extended periods with friends and relatives, eat away at their savings in expensive short-term accommodation, or even resort to shelters.

When are governments in Canada going to figure out that ensuring access to good, affordable housing has to be an integral part of Canadian and provincial/territorial immigration policies?

Bill C304: A National Housing Strategy

Bill C304: A National Housing Strategy

They said it couldn’t be done. The Bloc Québécois would never change its mind and support Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, without an exemption and compensation clause. And, without Bloc support for the Bill, it was certain to die on 3rd reading as the NDP and Liberals don’t have enough MPs to carry a vote and the Conservatives appear to be categorically opposed to the Bill.

On 20 October 2010, the Bloc did precisely what everyone said they wouldn’t.  They changed their position.  In the first hour of debate at 3rd reading of the Bill, the Bloc indicated that they would support the Bill if it included a simple amendment attesting to their unique expertise and jurisdiction in the area of housing.  As a result, Bill C304 went from being well meaning but ultimately doomed dream to a possible reality.

What was the catalyst for this about-face? Was it the inclusion of human rights principles in the Bill – principles the Bloc believes in and is proud of – and thus reluctant to vote against?  Was it that Quebec housing groups articulated, in no uncertain terms, that they wanted the Bloc to support this Bill? Was it that dozens of national organizations endorsed the Bill? Was it the cross-country day of action – the Red Tent Campaign – held in cities the day before third reading? Was it pressure from the NPD and Liberals who had invested considerably in the Bill?

In all likelihood there was no single catalyst. It was, probably, the result a confluence of all of these factors and pressures. But what we do know is that it didn’t come about by luck or chance.  These days, political victories for marginalized groups, even relatively small victories of this nature, are only won when individuals, organizations, communities and government officials of different political stripes, share a vision, collaborate and work hard till the bitter end.