The Ontario government is helping to block a Charter challenge designed to force Canada to do more to help homeless people – despite Premier Kathleen Wynne’s call for a national affordable-housing strategy.
A Superior Court judge threw out the case last week after Queen’s Park teamed up with the federal government to successfully argue that the challenge should not even be heard.
The case was brought by the Toronto-based Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation and four Ontario residents. They argued that homeless peoples’ rights to equality, life, liberty and security of the person – guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – had been violated by a lack of affordable housing and cuts to social programs. They wanted the court to order governments to fix the problem.
In a decision dated Friday, Mr. Justice Thomas Lederer sided with the governments in quashing the case. He reasoned that considering social policy is not the courts’ job.
“The Charter does nothing to provide assurance that we all share a right to a minimum standard of living,” he wrote, adding that matters such as housing, evictions and help for people in poverty “are important, but the courtroom is not the place for their review.”
CERA’s Leilani Farha, who vowed to appeal the decision, expressed bewilderment that Ms. Wynne’s government helped stop the case.
“I am surprised at this point that there haven’t been overtures [to us] from the provincial government,” she said. “Because I think that Kathleen Wynne’s government has taken a lot of steps … to address some of the social problems that Ontarians are facing.”
Ms. Wynne has repeatedly pushed Ottawa for a national affordable-housing strategy. She also included a package of social legislation in this year’s budget, with more funding for home care and an increase to welfare rates.
Asked why her government is fighting the Charter challenge, Ms. Wynne’s office suggested the province is already doing enough on the housing issue.
“Ontario does have an Affordable Housing Strategy,” her press secretary, Zita Astravas, wrote in an e-mail Sunday. A spokesman for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey refused to comment on the court case, but said the government has pledged $3-billion for affordable housing over the past decade.
Alexandra Fortier, press secretary to federal Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney, said that Ottawa has also taken action.
“The best solution to poverty and homelessness is job creation and economic integration. Our economy has created over one million net new jobs since the start of the recession,” she wrote.
Those who brought the court case say such programs have not solved the problem. CERA estimates 250,000 people nationwide have no permanent place to stay. And they argue the case should at least be heard in court, not thrown out before it can be argued.
“We have a group of people who are tremendously poor … but they are being blocked from raising their legal claim,” said Fay Faraday, one of the lawyers on the case. “They are being blocked from bringing their evidence to court.”