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Former UN Special Rapporteur Calls for National Housing Program for Canada

Speaking at UBC's Liu Institute on Thurs. Nov. 26, Miloon Kothari, a former UN Special Rapporteur, called for Canada to give greater legal recognition to housing rights and to undertake a national housing strategy. Mr. Kothari is the author of the 2007 UN Human Rights Council Report on Adequate Housing in Canada.

Kothari explained that the right to housing is included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in numerous international Covenants such as the Rights of the Child, the Status of Refugees, and the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Housing rights include social and economic components such as access to public goods (i.e. water, electricity) and also civil and political elements such as privacy and freedom from forced evictions.

Currently one billion people in the world lack adequate housing and 100 million are homeless. The problem has been exacerbated by the financial crisis which has led many to lose their homes, by climate change and food crises which force people to relocate, by counter-terrorism and security concerns especially directed at certain populations such as migrants, and by the general process of urbanization which will see 60% of the world's population, or 5 billion people, living in cities by 2030.

Kothari noted particular housing concerns in Vancouver related to the coming Olympics. Targets for social housing are not being met, there is inadequate protection from evictions, and laws allowing forcible removal of homeless people are worrisome.

Some positive developments are occurring at local, national and international levels. Kothari cited the Montreal Charter as a positive example which requires the city and its partners to take appropriate housing measures. He noted that a private member's bill submitted by Vancouver MP Libby Davies calls for a national housing strategy and has currently passed second reading in the House of Commons. And finally he noted that the new United Nations Human Rights Council has a Universal Periodic Review which asks countries to redress human rights shortcomings and report on their efforts.

Mr. Kothari's presentation at the annual Richard B. Splane lecture was sponsored by the UBC School of Social Work, UBC Liu Institute for Global Issues, UBC Habitat Exchange, and the Vancouver branches of the United Nations Association of Canada, and World Federalist Movement-Canada. Dr. Richard B. Splane, who was in the audience, is a retired civil servant and professor who is considered to be the "principal architect" of the Canada Assistance Plan, which governed federal/provincial cost sharing from 1966 to 1996.

Larry Kazdan
is a Council Member of the
World Federalist Movement-Canada, an organization that advocates more effective global governance and monitors developments at the United Nations.

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