A Discussion With Miloon Kothari, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing

Miloon Kothari

Summary Notes
July 11th, 2013
SFU Woodwards, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Vancouver, B.C.

Useful Links

Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Miloon Kothari, 2007: http://www.ligi.ubc.ca/sites/liu/files/Publications/2009_Nov26_KothariRTH_Canada07.pdf

Universal Periodic Review, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Canada, 2009:  http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/pdp-hrp/inter/wrk_grp-eng.pdf

Canadian Response to recommendations, 2009: http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/pdp-hrp/inter/101-eng.cfm

Summary of Discussion

This meeting was convened by Housing Justice to bring together members of the community active in advancing housing rights with Miloon Kothari.  More specifically, the event presented an opportunity for local activists and experts to discuss with Mr. Kothari his insights into human rights at both domestic and international levels.  The goal was to provide the local community with an opportunity to think collectively about the use of international human rights particularly at the local level.

Mr. Kothari began by reviewing the history and content of his UN Special Report on Canadian Housing in 2007. A main focus of this part of the discussion was the lack of a national housing strategy in Canada. Mr. Kothari emphasized the importance of establishment of a national strategy that recognizes the right to housing.  Such a strategy provides a key benchmark of what is considered adequate, safe and affordable housing.

Mr. Kothari noted that the conclusions of the Special Report were based on testimonies from people at the grassroots. These conclusions of the Report were addressed in the Universal Periodic Review of Canada (link above) in the following recommendation of the Working Group, Canada:

45: Integrate economic social and cultural rights in its poverty reduction strategies in a way that can benefit the most vulnerable groups in society, specially the Aborigines, afro-Canadians, migrants, persons with disabilities, youth, women with low incomes, and single mothers and adopt all necessary measures, including the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to guarantee Aboriginals the full enjoyment of their rights including economic, social and cultural so that their standard of living was similar to that of the rest of the citizens in Canada (Cuba).

The Government of Canada responded to this recommendation by stating “Canada accepts in part recommendation 45 and commits to giving appropriate attention to vulnerable groups in policy development.” (See linked documents above for the remaining recommendations that were accepted and rejected by the Government of Canada.)

An international perspective was brought to the discussion through discussion of efforts against homelessness in: New Delhi, India; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and The Netherlands. For example, it was noted that the Urban Rights Forum initiative in New Delhi has pushed for rights of homeless people in the city, shifting the terminology from “homeless” to “City Makers.”

The discussion broadened to include a variety of issues that are commonly seen in Vancouver, including gentrification, rising land prices and affordability, West End development, and “renovictions”. One of the most resounding conclusions of the discussion was the power of forming alliances to tackle these issues. It was acknowledged that alliances are not easy to form and sustain but remain essential.

A key concern regarding documentation emerged.  Mr. Kothari noted the importance of disaggregation of data, allowing effective mapping of the social mix in the city and effective recording of inadequate housing situations.  Such data collection and organization are essential for local action around housing injustices.     This information, thus, is useful for challenging existing policies, and creating changes in policies and programs.

Considerable and repeat emphasis was placed on the fact that Canada soon returns to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations for a second Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The upcoming Universal Periodic Review is a possible focus point for groups or an alliance of groups to present information and data in a way that would put pressure on the federal and provincial governments.  The federal government commitments in the areas of housing must serve as a focus point for failures to advance the issue.  Local groups were urged by Mr. Kothari to take advantage of this opportunity to catalyze and inform international criticism of and pressure on Canadian governments.