U.N. Human Rights Committee Cites Canada for Violating Rights of the Poor - NAPO and CCPI press release


APRIL 12, 1999

Canada has received yet another statement of serious concern from a United Nations human rights monitoring body regarding poverty, homelessness and discrimination against poor people. The United Nations Human Rights Committee in its five year review of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights cites a number of serious concerns about violations of poor peoples' rights to equality and non-discrimination, life, privacy and freedom of association.

In particular, the Committee noted that homelessness "has led to serious health problems and even to death.," recommending "positive measures required by article 6 [the right to life] to address this serious problem."

The Committee expressed concern that women and other disadvantaged groups, particularly single mothers "have been disproportionately affected by poverty" and by recent program cuts, noting that poverty in Canada has left children without the protection "to which they are entitled under the Covenant." It noted that a number of provinces claw back the National Child Benefit Supplement from social assistance recipients and disapproved of finger-printing and retinal scanning of welfare recipients.

Bruce Porter of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues welcomed the Committee's report as an affirmation of the recent Charter claims which poor people in Canada have been taking forward to courts and tribunals. "Poor people in Canada have argued that their rights under the Charter of Rights to equality and to life, liberty, security of the person have been violated and courts have rarely agreed. The U.N. Committee has vindicated them these claims. This is a very significant report from this Committee. Clearly a consensus is developing at the United Nations that Canada's human rights record is seriously tarnished by unabated poverty and homel essness in the midst of affluence. We can only hope that our courts and politicians will pay attention and start to recognize and protect the basic rights of poor people."

Mike Farrell of the National Anti-Poverty Organization noted that the Committee's concerns echoed a number of the concerns of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which issued a scathing report on Canada in December. He said NGOs were pleased that Hedy Fry, who headed the Canadian delegation at the Committee's review at the United Nations had been willing to acknowledge problems that previous Canadian delegations had denied and had made a number of important commitments. "We were particularly pleased that she made a commitment to ensure that a parliamentary committee will hold public hearings into issues arising from the Committee's observations," Mr. Farrell said. "It is imperative that we establish effective review and follow-up mechanisms in Canada if these commitments are going to actually be implemented," Ferrel said.

For more information, contact:

Bruce Porter, Charter Committee on Poverty Issues, 705-789-1397
Mike Farrell, National Anti-Poverty Organization, 613-789-0096