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Vancouver civil society groups to launch U.N. human rights complaint against Canada on the right to adequate housing

The Impact on Communities Coalition, the Carnegie Community Action Project and the Pivot Legal Society will launch a formal human rights complaint against the Canadian government over ongoing Single Residency Occupation housing conversions in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The report was initiated by University of British Columbia students Mike Powar and Gayle Stewart in Dr. Michael Byers UBC course in global politics and international law who took part in a walking tour of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in September 2007 as part of their class.

This complaint comes on the heels of a visit in October 2007 (see below) by Miloon Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and a visit in January 2008 of Dr. Kris Olds, a member of the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) advisory board for a report on mega-events and the protection and promotion of housing rights which was released in June 2007. The report by COHRE includes multi-stakeholder guidelines on protecting housing rights from an international human rights perspective which have been endorsed by the Impact on Communities Coalition.

The complaint will be filed through the Section 1503 procedure with the UN Human Rights Council which is the oldest human rights complaint mechanism in the United Nations system.

The complaint argues that Canada is:

  1. Failing to ensure minimum standards of health and safety in the SRO stock;
  2. Failing to enforce what few protections exist to prevent conversion of SRO stock to other uses;
  3. Failing to provide police protection to tenants who are illegally evicted;
  4. Failing to require market housing developments in the inner city to include some portion of non-market housing;
  5. Failing to provide an adequate system for tenants to seek remedies where landlords illegally evict them;
  6. Failing to ensure that social assistance shelter allowances are sufficient to permit rental of adequate accommodation;
  7. Failing to provide information about the state of the housing stock;
  8. Failing to involve the inner city in the redevelopment of the neighbourhood;

Jean Swanson, Coordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project said, "Downtown Eastside hotels are the homes of last resort for low income people. The study we are also releasing tomorrow, 'Disappearing Homes', shows that almost half are already closed, at risk, or charged too high a rent. If the city and the province don't act now, the rest of the hotels could push low income people out on to the street."

David Eby, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society said, "I am disappointed that we have to go to the international community for something as simple as getting the police to intervene in illegal evictions, forcing the city to maintain minimum standards in buildings, ensuring that people aren't kicked out for condo development, and getting the health department to address the bed bug issue. But if that's what it takes, we're willing to take this complaint all the way."

"We began raising these issues early on the in the Olympic bid process as early as 2001. Despite ongoing promises of 'social sustainability', civil society groups aren't even at the table with VANOC or government partners. This human rights complaint is a damning indictment of a misguided legacy of a decade of inter-governmental finger-pointing, bureaucratic arrogance, political indifference and VANOC's condescending, fortress-like approach to community engagement," said Am Johal, a founding member of the Impact on Communities Coalition, a 2010 Olympic watchdog group. "We look forward to an engaged 2 year conversation with UN human rights institutions and being involved with processes of documentation, fact-finding and in finding appropriate human rights instruments which can be applied to remedy this regrettable and preventable disaster."

Johal has proposed a homelessness levy on Olympic tickets and 2010 Olympic merchandising that could be matched by the provincial and federal governments. He also criticized the Board of VANOC for having no civil society representation.

April 12, 2008

View more about residential hotel loss at: Carnegie Community Action Project

Preparation of the Olympics in Vancouver

(Extracts from: 'United Nations expert on adequate housing calls for immediate attention to tackle national housing crisis in Canada', Miloon Kothari , UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing,1 November 2007)

In his mandate, the Special Rapporteur has looked at the negative impact on housing in cities that host mega-events, such as the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games. These impacts include forced evictions for construction of infrastructures, city beautification and speculation of land and property and measures to remove homeless people from cities prior to and during the event. In Vancouver, the Special Rapporteur also looked into the potential impact of 2010 Olympic Games on the right to housing of low income people.

Vancouver has been an innovative city, incorporating in their bid the Inner-City Inclusive Commitment Statement, developed by a representatives from a variety of inner-city community organizations and government agencies, which seek amongst its main objectives to address issues related to housing, civil liberties and public safety, health and social services, environment, transportation, accessible and affordable Games. The bid also included a sustainability plan aiming at guaranteeing that the social, economic and environmental impacts and opportunities of the event produce lasting benefits, locally and globally.

The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the resources generated by such an event should be used to improve adverse housing situation in Vancouver. The Special Rapporteur met with the CEO of VANOC who expressed his commitment to ensure that the games would contribute to improve housing conditions of the poor in Vancouver as a positive legacy.

Vancouver Olympic officials, and the relevant city authorities, [said Kothari] need to continue to implement specific targets and strategies on housing and homelessness, and to commit funding and other resources to support these targets, including the construction of 3,200 units of affordable housing. The social development plan of the Vancouver Games should be developed and implemented in public, so that the progress of Vancouver officials can be effectively monitored. The Special Rapporteur would recommend the formation of an independent monitoring body to assist VANOC in complying with its commitments to improve the housing rights situation in the region where the Olympics will take place.

Extracts from: 'United Nations expert on adequate housing calls for immediate attention to tackle national housing crisis in Canada', Miloon Kothari , UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing,1 November 2007

See more at: Miloon Kothari

See also: Homeless Nation

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