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Social and Economic Rights Becoming More Important

July 17, 2012 Poverty Reduction

Recently United Nations Special Rapporteur, Dr. Oliver De Schutter came under fire from Federal Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

De Schutter had expressed concerns about the barriers that many in this country face in getting enough good food to eat.

“Canada is much admired for its achievements in the area of human rights … but access to adequate diets, too are human rights issues - and here much remains to be done,” De Schutter had said when visiting Canada in May.

Minister Kenney went on the offensive arguing that the Special Rapporteur should focus on countries where there is widespread hunger.

Looking at Canada isn’t a “very intelligent use of resources” and is “completely ridiculous,” huffed Kenney.

But does Kenney really appreciate what is happening around the world on the human rights front?

Bruce Porter, of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (, would say he doesn’t.

Recently Porter spoke to caseworkers at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic focussing on “very important new developments in the human rights world particularly in the area of social and economic rights.”

These rights were originally articulated in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. A bill and two covenants ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations in 1976 meant that the declaration took on the force of international law.

Now domestic judicial bodies must pay attention to rulings in other jurisdictions.

For example, a ruling in a South African case dealt with the Grootman community’s right to housing articulated the concept of “reasonableness.” Porter argues that this ruling suggests that governments must “take reasonable measures in conformity with available resources” to address issues like poverty and housing. (Porter has written about the case at,_Reasonableness.pdf) Of late the Canadian government has failed to adequately address social issues using the excuse of financial constraints, essentially arguing that dollar concerns trump human rights considerations. But Porter notes that it is “no longer acceptable to treat social and economic rights as policy objectives. Government is obligated to provide effective remedies.”

Porter says that many in the U.N. system have become increasingly alarmed with what they are seeing in Canada as, unlike many countries, we have resources available to ensure that no one is hungry or homeless and yet choose to allow violations of social and economic rights.

Porter challenged caseworkers to claim these rights and demand that decision makers like Jason Kenney start to pay attention.

Katherine Popaleni July 18, 2012

We are hoping that the kind of ideas Porter is putting forward will overtake the current mindset in government that we are overtaxed. Cuts to youth justice programs is just one more example of this wrong headed and short sighted approach. HCLC ------------------------------------------------------------------ I agree with Porter's argument. And, it extends to the the needs of those who find themselves in conflict with the law. Instead of addressing issues of poverty, unemployment and housing, (which all contribute to crime), the government of Canada has recently cut $35 million plus to youth justice programming across Canada. Community justice organizations such as Community Justice Initiatives (CJI) in Kitchener, ON are doing excellent work in reducing the recidivism rate, giving victims a voice, holding offenders accountable, drawing in the community and providing an opportunity for offenders to make amends and contribute positively to their society.

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