Succession letter

To the next Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission:

I am writing to you to tell you about the organization I have had the honour to lead for almost eight years. The role of Chief Commissioner and CEO was for me, one of the greatest honours of my life. In addition, I would like to provide you with a sense of the current context of the remarkable organization you are about to lead.

As you know, forty-five years have now passed since the Canadian Human Rights Act became law and the Canadian Human Rights Commission first opened its doors. Throughout its history, the Commission has been guided by the Act's purpose: “[…] to give effect... to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with others to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have […].”

These words are just as relevant today as they were when Parliamentarians first put pen to paper, but our world is far different. Through decades of change, the principles of equality, dignity and respect have inspired and guided our progress.

It would seem that change is happening faster and more dramatically year over year. In the time that I have served as Chief Commissioner and CEO, I have seen incredible advances in human rights in Canada. Social justice issues have become part of mainstream conversation. Grassroots movements have galvanized loud and powerful voices to speak out against hate and intolerance, racism, gender inequality, gender-based harassment and violence, and many other issues. Together with the hard work of stakeholders and human rights champions, it has all translated into a wave of positive change. From advances in human rights for trans and non-binary people, people with disabilities, and Indigenous peoples, to new laws that aim to protect our genetic information, and to promote accessibility and equal pay for work of equal value.

Yet, as write this letter, our country is in crisis. For one, we are still grappling with the fallout of a global pandemic, which is proving to be an ongoing social and economic crisis, and a human rights crisis for many people in Canada who were already living in vulnerable circumstances before there was even a whisper of COVID-19 in the air.

Added to this, is a collective sense of fatigue and a growing loss of trust in public institutions that is fuelling divisive, vitriolic rhetoric, aggression, and hate speech in both our public and virtual spaces. While social media gives us valuable platforms for sharing opinions, online anger has emboldened and popularized those who use ignorance, misinformation and complacency to serve their personal agendas or get more attention, often by stirring up more anger and division. Recent protests and occupations are emboldening others and giving legitimacy to intolerance. The frequency of xenophobic, racist and hateful incidents are deeply concerning.

Now more than ever, the principles of equality dignity and respect are essential to reconciling our shameful past and finding our way forward — whether it be recovering from this pandemic or confronting system racism.

Clearly, the Commission has an important role to play and must lead by example.

Today, government, stakeholders and the international human rights community see the Commission as an independent, relevant, credible and trusted national human rights institution. We are thought leaders; we are a bold and outspoken national voice; and we are responsive to the emerging issues of the day.

The Commission has the knowledge expertise and reputation needed to effectively inform and influence lawmakers and the public, to represent the public interest in matters before the courts, and to encourage and compel employers and service providers to identify and eliminate barriers to equality. Most importantly, it has the trust of rights holders and those seeking equality in Canada.

This was not always the case. Over the past decade, the Commission made deliberate and strategic changes in the way we work and communicate our work in order gain this trust.

We set out to become the national human rights institution Canadians expect us to be: one in which Canadians see themselves in the work we do, the issues we promote, and one that is able to adapt and keep pace with our rapidly evolving society.

This continuous journey has been guided both by the candid input we have asked for and received from a diverse cross-section of stakeholders and rights-holders, and by our commitment to be a proactive force for human rights in Canada.

One of the key pillars of this work was our determination to assert and protect our independence. Another key pillar was to make “People first” our guiding principle throughout this process, from consulting with stakeholders across the country, to changing the way we serve people in Canada who come to us seeking access to justice.

Outreach, stakeholder engagement, and broad participation in the national conversation about human rights has built public trust in the Commission, which is reflected in the trust of many stakeholders and Parliamentarians.

We have also worked tirelessly to build our network of human rights stakeholders representing all equity deserving groups. Building trusted relationships with these groups — from coast to coast to coast — required us to listen and to learn from them before taking action. I have continued to ask them what I could do better, as a Chief Commissioner, to make the Commission more relevant to them.

We continue to listen, learn, and take action to ensure that the Commission is the organization people need, want and expect from their national human rights institution. We work to uphold this commitment both within and outside of our organization, across our various roles an employer, a service provider, and an advocate. It can be seen in our commitments to both anti-racist organizational change and accessibility.

We have transformed the Commission to be more accessible, relevant, and dependable to all the people who rely on us to champion their human rights. To truly put people first.

On the success of these achievements, the Commission was given additional mandates and expanded responsibilities in critical issues such as Pay Equity, Accessibility, Housing, and the National Monitoring Mechanism. The Commission may soon receive additional responsibilities involving Canada's approach to addressing hate online.

I believe the Canadian Human Rights Commission is at a crucial point on its journey. The Commission is evolving beyond its former status as a small-sized organization with two main mandates, to a medium-sized organization with multiple mandates, reporting to multiple Ministers. A key challenge is to remain one united Commission that puts the health of its people first while tackling a series of new responsibilities and priorities handed to us by a trusting Parliament.

These new responsibilities have dramatically transformed the organization, creating new opportunities and new challenges. There is now a tension —but a productive one — between all our various roles: as advocate, as regulator, as policy expert, as a human rights litigator for the public interest, and as a service provider that is the first point of contact for human rights complaints from people facing discrimination.

Meanwhile, new challenges are emerging every day. The human rights landscape is evolving fast. Rapid advances in technology and our changing climate are impacting human rights in ways that were not imaginable even ten years ago. I invite you to consider the three feature stories at the start of the 2021 Canadian Human Rights Commission's Annual Report.

As the Commission grows and takes on new responsibilities and challenges, it will be critical for the organization to continue to prioritize outreach and engagement, bold advocacy and deliberate efforts to be part of the national conversation. These activities are the underpinning of the organization's credibility, relevance and ability to grow and nurture trust. The Commission cannot afford to be silent, it must continue to speak out in the public interest on current and emerging issues. At the same time, the more people we make aware of the Commission, the greater the demands for our services.

I wanted to write you this letter because it was important for me to provide you with some context of the organization and to give you information about the important journey and everyone's hard work that has brought us to this point. I look forward to following the Commission on its path forward with great interest.

You will be taking the lead of an exceptional organization made up of exceptional people. You will have the support of a team of committed, dedicated and caring people. Their knowledge, their expertise, their creativity and their passion never ceased to inspire me. With this team supporting your vision for the Commission, I am confident that you will be a positive and influential force for human rights in Canada.

Sincerely,

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.

 

 

How we got here

The pace of change at the Canadian Human Rights Commission has accelerated significantly over the past decade.

From bringing Indigenous peoples in Canada fully under the Canadian Human Rights Act's protection, to new mandates in pay equity, housing, and accessibility, to new prohibited grounds of discrimination, our role has expanded more in the last ten years than in the previous 34 years since its founding.

A fundamental change has been in the way we at the Commission engage with the public. Starting in 2015, when I began my term as Chief Commissioner, I launched a series of Canada-wide stakeholder consultations that inspired fundamental shifts in how we work.

Shortly after being appointed, I travelled across Canada to meet with more than 65 stakeholders, including organizations and individual people who advocate for human rights in Canada. These included Cabinet Ministers, Agents of Parliament, academics, non-governmental organizations, law societies, First Nations community leaders, advocacy groups, employers, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, and several community organizations that work directly with rights holders and people living in vulnerable circumstances.

During those initial 2015 consultations, our stakeholders were quite candid. They were clear that they felt let down by the Commission and that we had a lot of work ahead of us if we wanted to become a credible national voice of human rights in Canada. The three themes that resonated most and that greatly contributed to how we charted our path forward changed our priorities and processes at the Commission were:

  • Demonstrate that we were truly independent from government.
  • Be more vocal, as the national voice on all human rights issues in Canada.
  • Ensure that people in vulnerable circumstances would have the same access to justice as everyone else.

These stakeholder engagements are an ongoing process, which continues to this day.

Asserting our independence

One of the most critical communication challenges facing the Commission has long been the perception that we are part of the federal government.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission works for the people of Canada, independently from the Government. The Commission helps ensure that everyone in Canada is treated fairly, no matter who they are. We are responsible for representing the public interest and holding the Government of Canada to account on matters related to human rights. It is essential that the Commission be independent and perceived as such.

Operating at arm's length of government is not enough. It is essential that people in Canada perceive the Commission as independent, especially in the eyes of people in vulnerable circumstances. When you consider that half the complaints we receive involve the federal government, the Commission's independence must be clear. Trust is fundamental to an effective and credible system.

Finding our voice

Through the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Commission has the authority to research, raise awareness, and speak out on any matter related to human rights in Canada.

While the Commission had not been regularly vocal in its first few decades, in 2015 we made the decision to take a bold new approach to informing the Canadian public about their human rights and those of others. Taking a page from marketing communications, we developed new processes and products to reach more Canadians in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

We are now part of the human rights conversation in Canada, speaking out boldly on such issues that Canadians would expect their human rights champion to have an expert opinion. In just a short decade, the speed of communication — both the news cycle and in social media — has accelerated dramatically. When a new issue emerges, we cannot be slow to react. Now, when a human rights issue or event suddenly gains interest or notoriety in the public forum, we are there to respond, to provide advice and perspective with statements and policy positions. We are committed to ensuring that the human rights lens is being applied to these issues and events as they unfold, and especially as they are discussed in political and media circles.

As Canada's national human rights institution, the Commission has a leadership role in setting the human rights agenda in Canada. We have made communications and outreach more proactive, becoming a storyteller to raise awareness and serve as a bridge between government and civil society, always acting in the public interest.

Making justice more accessible

In recent years, Canadians told us that there are significant barriers to accessing human rights justice through the Commission's complaint process. Some of those barriers result from poverty, low literacy, or limited access to technology. Other barriers, we were told, were the result of our complaints system being too onerous, too complex, too legalistic. With more and more people coming to us for help each year, and as the caseload of complaints continues to increase significantly, the Commission has had to re-imagine our human rights system to make it simpler, more effective, and better tailored to the needs of the people it serves.

What has been most important to us is that every person in Canada is able to see themselves in our human rights justice system, so that they know and trust that they can have meaningful participation in it, and use it to find a meaningful outcome.

We went to work, and introduced a number of new initiatives, including a new online complaint platform that uses accessible and simple language. This change means that no matter where you live, filing a complaint takes the same effort and the same amount of time. Steps that once took weeks or months now take minutes. This online platform can answer many questions, provide information and support to those who can use the technology and free up resources to support those who need help.

We have also prioritized complaints triage and prioritize cases where the alleged discrimination is ongoing, severe or when the complainant is in a vulnerable situation. This allows us to address the most pressing issues with the limited resources at our disposal to handle the high volume of discrimination complaints coming to the Commission. All cases are important, but not all are urgent! As situations change, the urgency or non-urgency is reassessed by the Complaints team.

In 2021, the Commission changed its approach to how we screen and refer complaints. In the simplest terms, we have changed what questions we ask, and when we ask them. This is important because now, if it is clear early on that a complaint does require a hearing because of the facts and/or legal issues raised, the Commission is working to send those files to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as soon as possible.

At its core, this modernized complaint process allows complainants and respondents to move their case through the process quicker, and allows the Commission's limited number of analysts and human rights officers to focus their attention on those most vulnerable participants who need our assistance at every stage of the process.

We owe many of the improvements we have implemented over the past year to the invaluable feedback we received from various stakeholders, including disability groups as well as those representing racialized people in Canada.

We heard from them about how the Commission could improve the way we screen complaints alleging racism. During 2021, we incorporated their meaningful feedback into our complaints screening tools.

This has in turn helped inform a more modernized process overall. A key component to all of this has been ensuring that any changes to our processes and any training to our complaints staff were guided by a trauma-informed approach. For example, we are preventing complainants from having to re-tell their difficult story multiple times.

Our modernized complaints process has also levelled the playing field for complainants by ensuring that both parties in a complaint disclose all their information at the beginning of the process. No surprises. Total transparency upfront.

We are doing this using a series of new online forms that will be updated in response to user feedback. These forms ask participants key questions at the beginning of the process so they can get to the mediation table or to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing faster. With this information, and with the understanding that only the Tribunal can make the determination if discrimination has or has not taken place, we are able to refer complaints more swiftly.

In addition, as a screening body, we are being harder on our decisions to dismiss a complaint, and are putting those decisions through the utmost scrutiny and judgment. In other words, when it appears a complainant does not have the basis of proof, we spend the energy making sure we are not missing something.

Our modernized complaints process is a work-in-progress. As the world in which the people we serve continues to evolve, so too will our processes if we want to remain relevant. The ultimate goal is to deliver a process that meets the needs of people in Canada.

Responding to changes in our society

Changing the way the Canadian Human Rights Commission listens, works, and advocates would prove necessary to remain relevant and influential as many aspects of society changed quickly in the past decade.

Prioritizing Online Hate

When the Canadian Human Rights Act came into force in 1977, it sought to address the problem of hate speech. Specifically, Section 13 of the Act prohibited the use of federally-regulated communications for “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” Originally, this applied to telephone communications. In 2002, it was expanded to include communications over the internet.

Section 13 was repealed in 2014. Since that time, there have been calls to replace the section with new provisions in the Act. Among those advocating for action was the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In 2019, I addressed the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Study on Online Hate. My statement included the following:

“The internet has given everyone the power to be a broadcaster. People can be louder than ever before and influence more people than ever before. While this has had many positive benefits, it has also amplified hate speech.

Far too often, people are victimized by online hate because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or where they are from. Online hate has been found to cause fear and psychological harm. It shuts down debate and it promotes conflict, division, and social tension.

Hate speech, and particularly online hate speech, is both an urgent public safety issue and a fundamental human rights issue. It threatens public safety, violates human rights and undermines democracy. At its most serious, online hate incites violence, and leads to horrific consequences.

If Canadians targeted by online hate are expected to live their lives in a toxic social atmosphere, we are failing them.”

I also stated that tackling the issue of online hate should not fall to one organization alone; nor should the onus fall those victimized by online hate. The Commission, however, needs to have a key role in a much broader approach to addressing this complex issue. Reinstating section 13 alone, would not be enough. This legal instrument alone would not provide the scope, nor the level of protections or remedies necessary to address the prevalence of online hate speech. This outdated 20th century tool is no longer a feasible option to addressing what is now an urgent 21st century problem. We need a concerted, multi-faceted approach — led by government — that brings all the necessary parties to the table.

Shortly before Parliament adjourned ahead of the last federal election, the government had tabled Bill C-36, targeting extreme forms of hate speech online. While that bill died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved, the Liberal Party of Canada promised a renewed National Action Plan on Combating Hate by 2022 as part of a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy. I am looking forward to seeing new human rights legislation to fight a problem that has only become more urgent, as we have seen in recent years in Canada, in the United States, and throughout the world.

Internal changes and anti-racist transformation

To inspire Canadians to embrace and preserve their human rights, we have set an example of mutual respect, equity, and transparency, ensuring that the Commission's own workplace is one that respects the equality and individuality of each member of the team.

In recent years, the Commission we have created a much more open and “flat” internal communications model that encourages transparency in interdepartmental communications and across traditional boundaries of hierarchy. This means that Commissioners, managers, and others have an open-door policy by which any team member can express suggestions or concerns and have a safe space in which to be heard.

The Commission has also made a fundamental culture shift in our processes.

Prior to 2015, the Commission operated in a more compartmentalized way, in silos. In recent years, it has invested considerable effort to bring down silos and ensure that management leaders work collaboratively as one team.

We have also acknowledged that, as an employer, the Commission must lead by example when it comes to anti-racism, equity and inclusion. This has resulted in a number of internal and external initiatives, through which we shared our experiences and lessons learned in the humble hope that they can guide organizations across Canada in effecting anti-racist organizational change. Also auditing the representation of racialized people in the federal public service as a whole and implementing our own Anti-Racism Action Plan.

We are committed to creating an open, healthy, safe, and inclusive workplace that has at its core the principles of anti-racism, equity, and inclusion. The Commission values and respects the diversity of the Commissioners, leadership, and staff. Through continuous training, we are building organizational awareness of the various historic and structural inequities that have created societal barriers for Indigenous, Black and other racialized people.

Over the last few years, the Commission has undertaken an organization-wide evaluation of our structure and processes. The key to the success of this work is that it be never-ending. It must be continuous, it must be evergreen, and it must be sustainable.

I would invite you to refer to the Commission's Anti-Racism Action Plan and our 2021 Open Letter on the Commission's implementation of the Clerk's Call to Action on Anti‑Racism, Equity and Inclusion.

You will see how this important anti-racism work is an organizational imperative and it has been permanently embedded across the Commission's three central roles: as an advocate, as a service provider/regulator, and as an employer. In order to champion a sustainable anti-racist organizational change within the Commission, the Executive Director and I also are Co-Champions of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Anti-Racism, and Co-Champions of our Anti-Racism Action Plan.

Changes to our mandate

Repeal of Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (2011)

Prior to 2011, not everyone in Canada could benefit from the protections of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is because section 67 of the original 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act prevented some 700,000 Indigenous people from being able to make discrimination complaints against the federal government or against a First Nation Band Council on matters related to the Indian Act. In other words, the Commission could not accept complaints from First Nations peoples who felt they had been discriminated against on many matters affecting their daily lives. Section 67 was repealed by Parliament in 2008, and the repeal came into force on June 18, 2011.

This repeal meant that people affected by the Indian Act had full access to Canadian human rights law for the first time in history. It was a huge human rights victory that was long overdue. For the Commission, it launched a new era of very close work with Indigenous communities to help bolster human rights awareness and access to justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada. This was coinciding, of course, with the early foundational years of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So it was a pivotal turning point for Indigenous human rights in Canada.

Reconciliation starts with listening. In 2015, I asked Indigenous communities across Canada, from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, to the Arctic oceans, what we need to do to champion and protect their human rights. I met personally with dozens of Indigenous organizations and hosted roundtables with Elders from the Algonquin, Anishinaabe, Cree, Inuit, Mi'kmaq, Mohawk, Sahtu Dene, Squamish and Tlingit nations. An important concern we heard is that, even after the repeal of Section 67, access to human rights justice remained elusive

In 2007, the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada had filed a complaint to the Commission regarding inequitable levels of funding for child welfare on First Nations reserves. This complaint involved the funding formula of the Federal Department then known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (now known as the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs).

Despite external requests to dismiss the case, my predecessor at the Commission had brought it forward to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, who at first dismissed the case in March of 2011. In April of that year, the Commission applied to Federal Court for judicial review, arguing that if the complaint were to be dismissed, it could undermine Canada's human rights legislation and shield the federal government from discrimination complaints related to funding for services on reserves. A year later, Federal Court overturned the Tribunal's decision and ordered a full hearing on the merits of the case.

The Tribunal's full hearing lasted from February 2013 to October 2014. The Commission participated in the case on behalf of the public interest. Amnesty International Canada and the Chiefs of Ontario also intervened in the case. In 2016, a year after I became Chief Commissioner, the Tribunal issued its decision. It confirms that the current First Nations Child and Family Services Program, and how it is funded, is discriminatory.

It confirmed for us, as a Commission, that our voice as Canada's national human rights institution, was having impact.

After years of honing our message and being bolder with our voice and making it clearer to our public audiences that we were a truly independent human rights watchdog for all of Canada, Parliament came knocking on our door.

Beginning in 2019, the Commission's work has expanded into new areas with mandates created by The Pay Equity Act, the Accessible Canada Act, and the National Housing Strategy Act. These were not simply new responsibilities we were granted, but changes we have called for and been entrusted with due to our expertise and actions.

Genetic Non-Discrimination (May 2017)

In 2017, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the ground of “genetic characteristics.” It was the first time since the ground of “sexual orientation” was added to the Act in 1996 that a new ground was included in the list.

This act prohibits anyone from requiring that a person undergo (or share the results of) a genetic test as a condition to receive goods or services or enter into a contract. This act also affected the Canada Labour Code to protect employees from these requirements.

The implications of this human rights victory are far-reaching, and many of them have not even been imagined yet. Genetic research and the uses of genetic information is a quickly evolving area of science, with already proven benefits. But we have yet to fully understand the vast implications and potential risks. As the technology develops, human rights and privacy rights must develop along with it.

Taking a test that could help save your life should not have to be a calculated risk. Every Canadian deserves these important protections so that we can all live without fear of our genetic information one day being used against us.

In 2020, after intervening in 2019 on behalf of the public interest in the matter, the Commission joined other human rights and privacy organizations in celebration when the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the constitutionality of the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, which had been challenged by the Attorney General of Quebec.

Gender Identity and Expression (June 2017)

In 2016, the government introduced Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Once passed in June of 2017, it added “gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the list of characteristics of identifiable groups protected from hate propaganda in the Criminal Code.

In simplest terms, it clarified once and for all that discrimination or harassment related to a person's gender identity or gender expression is against Canadian law.

The Commission had long advocated for this change. We declared that “Nobody should have to live in fear because of who they are,” and that “trans rights are human rights.” We celebrated this human rights victory with key stakeholders who had led the way on this important issue for years.

Pay Equity Act (2019)

Our history in pay equity advocacy goes all the way back to our inception. Since Parliament established the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977, women across Canada have brought us discrimination complaints based on the issue of pay equity.

But for decades, we held that a discrimination complaint after the fact was not the ideal way to fight for equal pay of equal work. We knew Canada needed a proactive regime – and we had long called for one.

Finally in 2019, the Pay Equity Act was passed. It aims to address systemic gender-based discrimination in the compensation of employees who occupy positions in predominantly female job classes.

While the Canadian Human Rights Act allowed employees to make a complaint based on gender discrimination, the federal Pay Equity Act is proactive. It puts the onus on employers to assess, at set points in time, whether employees in jobs commonly held by women are earning equal pay for work of equal value in their workplace.

The Pay Equity Act established a Pay Equity Unit at the Commission, with a mandate is promote women's equality by ensuring that federal public and private sector organizations value work done by women in the same way they value work done by men.

The Pay Equity Unit provides guidance to employers, bargaining agents and employees in a variety of ways as they implement pay equity in their workplaces

A Barrier-Free Canada (2019)

Like with Pay Equity, the rights of people with disabilities have always been a central focus for the Commission. Almost since our inception, discrimination complaints based on the ground of disability have remained the largest proportion of complaints we receive.

But by the time someone feels that they need to bring a discrimination complaint to the Commission, the damage is done. Taking proactive steps to eliminate barriers so that discrimination does not happen in the first place, is a far more effective way to build an inclusive society. That is what we advocated for, and in 2019, Parliament delivered.

The Accessible Canada Act declares an intent to make Canada barrier-free by January 1, 2040. This includes physical and technological barriers, as well as those in communication or policy, that impede equal access and participation by people with an impairment or limitation. It affects people with a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication, or sensory impairment, or functional limitation.

The Act established the Accessibility Unit at the Commission, with a mandate to help federally regulated employers and services create a barrier-free Canada through the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility.

National Monitoring Mechanism (2019)

The Commission, along with many other stakeholders, has long advocated for Canada to designate a monitoring mechanism in line with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On June 21, 2019, this designation was made official with the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which contained amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

As the National Monitoring Mechanism (NMM), the Commission's objective will be to monitor progress and report on whether the Government of Canada is doing all it can to meet its human rights obligations outlined in the Convention. In our role as NMM, we ensure that people with disabilities and their representative organizations are actively engaged and involved throughout the process.

National Housing Strategy Act (2019)

The National Housing Strategy Act recognizes that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law. It also sets out a long-term vision for housing in Canada that recognizes the importance of housing in achieving social, economic, health and environmental goals. The Act also required that the government establish national goals relating to housing and homelessness and identify related priorities, initiatives, timelines, and desired outcomes. It established an office of the Federal Housing Advocate, with The Canadian Human Rights Commission providing any administrative services and facilities that are necessary to assist the Advocate in performing their duties.

The National Housing Strategy Act established the Federal Housing Advocate housed at and supported by the Commission to oversee the implementation of the strategy.

The Federal Housing Advocate's mandate is to promote and protect the right to housing in Canada. The goal of the Advocate's work is to drive change on key systemic housing issues and advance the right to housing for all in Canada, guided by a human rights-based approach, which values participation, accountability, non-discrimination, equity, transparency, empowerment, and respect for human rights laws and obligations.

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