As we celebrate 75 years of universal human rights, the time is right to enshrine socio-economic rights

December 8, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

To mark the International Human Rights Day on December 10, Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, Interim Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, issues the following statement:

This year’s International Human Rights Day marks 75 years since nations of the world came together to compile a list of 30 fundamental rights that we all share, simply because we are human. It is now time to recommit to the full realization of those rights – including social and economic rights - for everyone in Canada.

Since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the concept of human rights has become a part of our social fabric and how we understand ourselves as a country. Many of the rights we may take for granted, like being able to attend schools that aren’t racially segregated and being able to marry the person of our choosing, are built on the principles of the Universal Declaration, as a roadmap for human rights justice, equity, and freedom.

From the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act to more recent legislation like the Pay Equity Act and the Accessible Canada Act, the Universal Declaration has inspired our human rights system in Canada. And it continues to inspire lawmakers, courts, community advocates, and us – as human rights defenders – on the path forward, whether it is in recognizing the human rights of Indigenous peoples, uncovering and dismantling systemic racism, or understanding what it takes to build a barrier-free society.

As we celebrate the progress made, we also acknowledge the work that still needs to be done to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Canada are not only universally recognized, but also meaningfully realized for everyone in Canada.

In Canada, there is a profound disparity between those who have access to adequate food, housing, health, education, and other social and economic rights and those who do not. Far too many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, Black and other racialized groups, religious minorities, people with disabilities, children, women, trans, non-binary, and other 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals who are living without the full recognition of these basic rights.

For people who are already facing other forms of discrimination, having to fight for their basic social and economic rights becomes yet another obstacle to overcome. When these rights are in jeopardy, it can impact one’s sense of dignity and autonomy.

Every provincial and territorial human rights code in Canada has some form of protection against discrimination based on a person's social and economic standing, or social condition. No such protections are enshrined at the federal level. It is time for our Parliament to address this glaring gap.

It is time to add the ground of social condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is a necessary step to ensure everyone living in Canada has equal access to live a life of their choosing. It is key to realizing the full promise of the Universal Declaration.

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