Federal Housing Advocate to review encampments and human rights violations of residents

February 23, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

Today, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Josée Houle launched a formal review of encampments in Canada, which have become a human rights crisis in cities across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a visible rise in encampments across Canada. Housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. People are losing their livelihoods and their homes. Many social services and shelters are at maximum capacity. More people than ever before are having to live in tents or informal shelters to survive. Many have nowhere else to go.

Although courts and human rights bodies are increasingly recognizing unsheltered homelessness as a human rights issue, people living in encampments are in some of the most vulnerable circumstances in our society. Their dignity and rights are frequently ignored. They face harassment and violence from police, bylaw officers, and the public. Most do not have access to basic services like clean water or heat. Some have suffered harm or have died as a result of exposure, fire, overdose, and other threats to life and safety.

As a result, the Advocate is very concerned that some governments are not taking the necessary steps to protect people experiencing homelessness, particularly during severe weather. Dismantling encampments during the winter puts people's health and their lives at stake. This is a serious violation of human rights.

All levels of government have an obligation to end this crisis. The conditions in encampments, coupled with the underlying failure of governments at all levels to ensure people can access adequate housing, are a violation of fundamental human rights, including the human right to housing.

With this in mind, the Advocate has launched a formal review into this systemic housing issue. The Advocate's review will focus on systemic solutions to address the factors that lead to encampments, as well as the daily struggles of the people who live there. At the conclusion of the review, the Advocate will submit her findings and recommendations to the federal Minister responsible for housing.

The Advocate's review will include testimony from people with lived experience. Anyone who has lived in an encampment can contribute to the review by making a submission to the Advocate, beginning in April.

Canada must do better at meeting people's vital needs for shelter and safety. Responses to encampments must centre on people's dignity and their human rights, including their right to adequate housing.

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  • The Advocate's review will be guided by the principles of a human rights-based approach. The Advocate will collect testimony from people living in encampments and engage also with civil society organizations that serve them, and experts in human rights and housing. The Advocate will also engage with duty-bearers from federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal governments.
  • To better understand this critical issue, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate led a research project to provide critical information on the issue of encampments in five regions of Canada. The research confirms that a punitive approach to encampments is not working. Clearing encampments is not a solution to the complex realities that our housing system and people experiencing homelessness are facing. The reports recommend five key areas where Canada must do better to uphold the rights of encampment residents:
    1. Stop the use of policing and law enforcement as a response to encampments
    2. Provide funding and services at all levels of government – to support municipalities that are facing the disproportionate impact of addressing the existence of encampments, and to invest in short and long-term housing options and supports for encampment residents
    3. Ensure the meaningful participation of encampment residents in decisions that affect them
    4. Recognize the distinct rights of Indigenous Peoples and include them in the development of policy approaches to encampments
    5. Address the conditions within encampments and provide access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, electricity and heat

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