Statement – Canada must uphold the rights of persons experiencing homelessness

Following the tragic and preventable deaths of people experiencing homelessness across Canada, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, issues the following statement:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned and saddened by reports that an increasing number of people experiencing homelessness have died of exposure and unsafe living conditions in recent weeks.

Now, more than ever, people living in vulnerable circumstances must be at the forefront of government efforts to address housing need. In particular, marginalized groups, including Indigenous people, members of Black and racialized communities, persons with disabilities, those dealing with mental health and addiction issues, women and children experiencing domestic violence, those facing economic hardship, individuals identifying as LGBTQ2S+, and youth are disproportionately represented among those facing homelessness.

We are all well aware that the pandemic has disproportionately affected these already vulnerable groups. And with the closure of public spaces, the reduction of services, and outbreaks in shelters, more people than ever before find themselves living in tents and makeshift shelters.

As governments continue to take action to battle the virus, they must ensure that human rights are respected when taking measures to protect public health and safety. Measures meant to keep everyone safe, such as curfews or restricting the availability of services and facilities, should not put people living in precarious circumstances at a disadvantage.

In a country like Canada, it is unacceptable that people experiencing homelessness die of exposure and unsafe living conditions every year. These preventable tragedies can be avoided by upholding the rights of persons facing homelessness and providing adequate housing and supports.

We urge governments at all levels to mount a coordinated and swift response to ensure the right to safe, dignified housing for everyone facing homelessness across Canada. This includes implementing their right to housing obligations as outlined in the National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada, issued by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.

Adequate housing is a fundamental human right for every person in Canada, and is crucial to upholding life, health and dignity. The rights and needs of people experiencing homelessness must not be forgotten or ignored.

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