Committee considered the third periodic report of Canada on the
rights covered by articles 1 to 15 of the Covenant (E/1994/104/Add.14)
at its 46th to 48th meetings, held on 26 and 27 November 1998, and
adopted, at its 57th meeting, held on 4 December 1998, the following
Committee expresses its appreciation to the Government of Canada
for the submission of its detailed and extensive report, which generally
follows the Committee's reporting guidelines, and for the comprehensive
written answers to its list of issues. The Committee notes that,
while the delegation was composed of a significant number of experts,
too many questions failed to receive detailed or specific answers.
Moreover, in the light of the federal structure of Canada and the
extensive provincial jurisdiction, the absence of any expert particularly
representing the largest provinces, other than Quebec, significantly
limited the potential depth of the dialogue on key issues. The Committee
notes with satisfaction that the Government of Canada engaged in
extensive consultation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
in the preparation of the report, that it submitted a core document
(HRI/CORE/1/Add.91) and that it provided supplementary information
during the consideration of the report.
B. Positive aspects
Committee notes that, for the past five years, Canada has been ranked
at the top of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development
Index (HDI). The HDI indicates that, on average, Canadians enjoy
a singularly high standard of living and that Canada has the capacity
to achieve a high level of respect for all Covenant rights. That
this has not yet been achieved is reflected in the fact that UNDP
Human Poverty Index ranks Canada tenth on the list of the industrialized
Committee notes with satisfaction that the Supreme Court of Canada
has not followed the decisions of a number of lower courts and has
held that section 15 (equality rights) of the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) imposes positive obligations on
governments to allocate resources and to implement programmes to
address social and economic disadvantage, thus providing effective
domestic remedies under section 15 of the Charter for disadvantaged
Committee notes with satisfaction that the Federal Government has
acknowledged, in line with the interpretation adopted by the Supreme
Court, that section 7 of the Charter (liberty and security of the
person) guarantees the basic necessities of life, in accordance
with the Covenant.
Committee notes with satisfaction that the Human Rights Tribunal
in Quebec has, in a number of decisions, taken the Covenant into
consideration in interpreting Quebec's Charter of Rights, especially
in relation to labour rights.
Committee notes that, in recognition of the serious issues affecting
Aboriginal peoples in Canada, the Government appointed the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), which released a wide-ranging
report in 1996 addressing many of the rights enshrined in the Covenant.
Committee welcomes the reinstatement by the Federal Government of
the Court Challenges Program, as recommended by the Committee while
reviewing the State Party's previous report.
Committee welcomes the Canadian Human Rights Commission's statement
about the inadequate protection and enjoyment of economic and social
rights in Canada and its proposal for the inclusion of those rights
in human rights legislation, as recommended by the Committee in
Committee views as a positive development the high percentage of
women attending university and their increasing access to the liberal
professions traditionally dominated by men. The Committee notes
that Canada has one of the highest percentages of population having
completed post-secondary education and one of the highest percentages
of GDP devoted to post-secondary education in the world.
C. Factors and difficulties impeding the implementation of the
The Committee notes that since 1994, in addressing the budget
deficits by slashing social expenditure, the State Party has not
paid sufficient attention to the adverse consequences for the enjoyment
of economic, social and cultural rights by the Canadian population
as a whole, and by vulnerable groups in particular.
Committee heard ample evidence from the State Party suggesting that
Canada's complex federal system presents obstacles to the implementation
of the Covenant in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The Committee
regrets that, unless a right under the Covenant is implicitly or
explicitly protected by the Charter through federal-provincial agreements,
or incorporated directly in provincial law, there is no legal redress
available to either an aggrieved individual or the Federal Government
where provinces have failed to implement the Covenant. The State
Party's delegation emphasized the importance of political processes
in this regard, but noted that they were often complex.
the Government of Canada has consistently used Statistics Canada's
"Low income cut-off" as a measure of poverty when providing information
to the Committee about poverty in Canada, it informed the Committee
that it does not accept the low income cut-off as a poverty line,
although it is widely used by experts to consider the extent and
depth of poverty in Canada. The absence of an official poverty line
makes it difficult to hold the federal, provincial and territorial
governments accountable with respect to their obligations under
D. Principal subjects of concern
Committee has received information about a number of cases in which
claims were brought by people living in poverty (usually women with
children) against government policies which denied the claimants
and their children adequate food, clothing and housing. Provincial
governments have urged upon their courts in these cases an interpretation
of the Charter which would deny any protection of Covenant rights
and consequently leave the complainants without the basic necessities
of life and without any legal remedy.
Committee is deeply concerned at the information that provincial
courts in Canada have routinely opted for an interpretation of the
Charter which excludes protection of the right to an adequate standard
of living and other Covenant rights. The Committee notes with concern
that the courts have taken this position despite the fact that the
Supreme Court of Canada has stated, as has the Government of Canada
before this Committee, that the Charter can be interpreted so as
to protect these rights.
Committee is also concerned about the inadequate legal protection
in Canada of women's rights which are guaranteed under the Covenant,
such as the absence of laws requiring employers to pay equal remuneration
for work of equal value in some provinces and territories, restricted
access to civil legal aid, inadequate protection from gender discrimination
afforded by human rights laws and the inadequate enforcement of
Committee is greatly concerned at the gross disparity between Aboriginal
people and the majority of Canadians with respect to the enjoyment
of Covenant rights. There has been little or no progress in the
alleviation of social and economic deprivation among Aboriginal
people. In particular, the Committee is deeply concerned at the
shortage of adequate housing, the endemic mass unemployment and
the high rate of suicide, especially among youth, in the Aboriginal
communities. Another concern is the failure to provide safe and
adequate drinking water to Aboriginal communities on reserves. The
delegation of the State Party conceded that almost a quarter of
Aboriginal household dwellings required major repairs and lacked
Committee views with concern the direct connection between Aboriginal
economic marginalization and the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal
people from their lands, as recognized by RCAP, and endorses the
recommendations of RCAP that policies which violate Aboriginal treaty
obligations and the extinguishment, conversion or giving up of Aboriginal
rights and title should on no account be pursued by the State Party.
The Committee is greatly concerned that the recommendations of RCAP
have not yet been implemented, in spite of the urgency of the situation.
replacement of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) by the Canada Health
and Social Transfer (CHST) entails a range of adverse consequences
for the enjoyment of Covenant rights by disadvantaged groups in
Canada. The Government informed the Committee in its 1993 report
that CAP set national standards for social welfare, required that
work by welfare recipients be freely chosen, guaranteed the right
to an adequate standard of living and facilitated court challenges
of federally-funded provincial social assistance programmes which
did not meet the standards prescribed in the Act. In contrast, CHST
has eliminated each of these features and significantly reduced
the amount of cash transfer payments provided to the provinces to
cover social assistance. It did, however, retain national standards
in relation to health, thus denying provincial "flexibility" in
one area, while insisting upon it in others. The delegation provided
no explanation for this inconsistency. The Committee regrets that,
by according virtually unfettered discretion to provincial governments
in relation to social rights, the Government of Canada has created
a situation in which Covenant standards can be undermined and effective
accountability has been radically reduced. The Committee also recalls
in this regard paragraph 9 of General Comment No. 3.
Committee is concerned that newly-introduced successive restrictions
on unemployment insurance benefits have resulted in a dramatic drop
in the proportion of unemployed workers receiving benefits to approximately
half of previous coverage, in the lowering of benefit rates, in
reductions in the length of time for which benefits are paid and
in increasingly restricted access to benefits for part-time workers.
While the new programme is said to provide better benefits for low-income
families with children, the fact is that fewer low-income families
are eligible to receive any benefits at all. Part-time, young, marginal,
temporary and seasonal workers face more restrictions and are frequently
denied benefits, although they contribute significantly to the fund.
Committee received information to the effect that cuts of about
10 per cent in social assistance rates for single people have been
introduced in Manitoba; 35 per cent in those for single people in
Nova Scotia; and 21.6 per cent in those for both families and single
people in Ontario. These cuts appear to have had a significantly
adverse impact on vulnerable groups, causing increases in already
high levels of homelessness and hunger.
Committee notes with concern that, in all but two provinces (New
Brunswick and Newfoundland), the National Child Benefit (NCB) introduced
by the Federal Government, which is meant to be given to all children
of low-income families, is in fact only given to children of working
poor parents since the provinces are allowed by the Federal Government
to deduct the full amount of NCB from the amount of social assistance
received by parents on welfare.
Committee notes with grave concern that with the repeal of CAP and
cuts in social assistance rates, social services and programmes
have had a particularly harsh impact on women, in particular single
mothers, who are the majority of the poor, the majority of adults
receiving social assistance and the majority among the users of
Committee is gravely concerned that such a wealthy country as Canada
has allowed the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing to
grow to such proportions that the mayors of Canada's 10 largest
cities have now declared homelessness a national disaster.
Committee is concerned that provincial social assistance rates and
other income assistance measures have clearly not been adequate
to cover rental costs of the poor. In the past five years, the number
of tenants paying more than 50 per cent of their income towards
rent has increased by 43 per cent.
Committee is concerned that in both Ontario and Quebec, governments
have adopted legislation to redirect social assistance payments
directly to landlords without the consent of recipients, despite
the fact that the Quebec Human Rights Commission and an Ontario
Human Rights Tribunal have found this treatment of social assistance
recipients to be discriminatory.
Committee expresses its grave concern at learning that the Government
of Ontario proceeded with its announced 21.6 per cent cuts in social
assistance in spite of claims that this would force large numbers
of people from their homes.
Committee is concerned that the significant reductions in provincial
social assistance programmes, the unavailability of affordable and
appropriate housing and widespread discrimination with respect to
housing create obstacles to women escaping domestic violence. Many
women are forced, as a result of those obstacles, to choose between
returning to or staying in a violent situation, on the one hand,
or homelessness and inadequate food and clothing for themselves
and their children, on the other.
Committee notes that Aboriginal women living on reserves do not
enjoy the same right as women living off reserves to an equal share
of matrimonial property at the time of marriage breakdown.
Committee notes with concern that at least six provinces in Canada
(including Quebec and Ontario) have adopted "workfare" programmes
that either tie the right to social assistance to compulsory employment
schemes or reduce the level of benefits when recipients, who are
usually young, assert their right to choose freely what type of
work they wish to do. In many cases, these programmes constitute
work without the protection of fundamental labour rights and labour
standards legislation. The Committee further notes that in the case
of the Province of Quebec, those workfare schemes are implemented
despite the opinion of the Human Rights Commission and the decisions
of the Human Rights Tribunal that those programmes constitute discrimination
based on social status or age.
Committee notes that Bill 22, entitled "An act to prevent unionization",
was adopted by the Ontario Legislative Assembly on 24 November 1998.
The Act denies to workfare participants the rights to join a trade
union, to bargain collectively and to strike. In response to a request
from the Committee, the Government provided no information in relation
to the compatibility of the Act with the Covenant. The Committee
considers the Act to be a clear violation of article 8 of the Covenant
and calls upon the State Party to take measures to repeal the offending
Committee is concerned that the minimum wage is not sufficient to
provide an adequate standard of living for a worker and his or her
Committee is perturbed to hear that the number of food banks almost
doubled between 1989 and 1997 in Canada and that they are able to
meet only a fraction of the increased needs of the poor.
Committee is concerned that the State Party did not take into account
the Committee's 1993 major concerns and recommendations when it
adopted policies at federal, provincial and territorial levels which
exacerbated poverty and homelessness among vulnerable groups during
a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence.
Committee is concerned at the crisis level of homelessness among
youth and young families. According to information received from
the National Council of Welfare, over 90 per cent of single mothers
under 25 live in poverty. Unemployment and under-employment rates
are also significantly higher among youth than among the general
Committee is also concerned about significant cuts in services on
which people with disabilities rely, such as cuts in home care,
attendant care and special needs transportation systems, and tightened
eligibility rules for people with disabilities. Programmes for people
who have been discharged from psychiatric institutions appear to
be entirely inadequate. Although the Government failed to provide
to the Committee any information regarding homelessness among discharged
psychiatric patients, the Committee was told that a large number
of those patients end up on the street, while others suffer from
inadequate housing, with insufficient support services.
Committee views with concern the plight of thousands of "Convention
refugees" in Canada, who cannot be given permanent resident status
for a number of reasons, including the lack of identity documents,
and who cannot be reunited with their families for a period of five
Committee views with concern that 20 per cent of the adult population
in Canada is functionally illiterate.
Committee is concerned that loan programmes for post-secondary education
are available only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents
and that recognized refugees who do not have permanent residence
status, as well as asylum seekers, are ineligible for these loan
programmes. The Committee views also with concern the fact that
tuition fees for university education in Canada have dramatically
increased in the past few years, making it very difficult for those
in need to attend university in the absence of a loan or grant.
A further subject of concern is the significant increase in the
average student debt on graduation.
E. Suggestions and recommendations
Committee recommends that the State Party consider re-establishing
a national programme with specific cash transfers for social assistance
and social services that includes universal entitlements and national
standards and lays down a legally enforceable right to adequate
assistance for all persons in need, a right to freely chosen work,
a right to appeal and a right to move freely from one job to another.
Committee urges the State Party to establish officially a poverty
line and to establish social assistance at levels which ensure the
realization of an adequate standard of living for all.
Committee recommends that federal and provincial agreements should
be adjusted so as to ensure, in whatever ways are appropriate, that
services such as mental health care, home care, child care and attendant
care, shelters for battered women and legal aid for non-criminal
matters, are available at levels that ensure the right to an adequate
standard of living.
Committee calls upon the State Party to act urgently with respect
to the recommendations of RCAP. The Committee also calls upon the
to take concrete and urgent steps to restore and respect an Aboriginal
land and resource base adequate to achieve a sustainable Aboriginal
economy and culture.
Committee recommends that the National Child Benefit Scheme be amended
so as to prohibit provinces from deducting the benefit from social
Committee recommends that Canada's Employment Insurance Programme
be reformed so as to provide adequate coverage for all unemployed
workers in an amount and for a duration which fully guarantees their
right to social security.
Committee recommends that the federal, provincial and territorial
governments address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national
emergency by reinstating or increasing, as the case may be, social
housing programmes for those in need, improving and properly enforcing
anti-discrimination legislation in the field of housing, increasing
shelter allowances and social assistance rates to realistic levels,
providing adequate support services for persons with disabilities,
improving protection of security of tenure for tenants and improving
protection of affordable rental housing stock from conversion to
other uses. The Committee urges the State party to implement a national
strategy for the reduction of homelessness and poverty.
Committee calls upon the State party, in consultation with the communities
concerned, to address the situation described in paragraph 29 with
a view to ensuring full respect for human rights.
Committee recommends that the Government of Canada take additional
steps to ensure the enjoyment of economic and social rights for
people with disabilities, in accordance with the Committee's General
Comment No. 5.
Committee urges the Government to develop and expand adequate programmes
to address the financial obstacles to post-secondary education for
low-income students, without any discrimination on the basis of
Committee urges the federal, provincial and territorial governments
to adopt positions in litigation which are consistent with their
obligation to uphold the rights recognized in the Covenant.
Committee again urges federal, provincial and territorial governments
to expand protection in human rights legislation to include social
and economic rights and to protect poor people in all jurisdictions
from discrimination because of social or economic status. Moreover,
enforcement mechanisms provided in human rights legislation need
to be reinforced to ensure that all human rights claims not settled
through mediation are promptly determined before a competent human
rights tribunal, with the provision of legal aid to vulnerable groups.
Committee, as in its review of the previous report of Canada, reiterates
that economic and social rights should not be downgraded to "principles
and objectives" in the ongoing discussions between the Federal Government
and the provinces and territories regarding social programmes. The
Committee consequently urges the Federal Government to take concrete
steps to ensure that the provinces and territories are made aware
of their legal obligations under the Covenant and that the Covenant
rights are enforceable within the provinces and territories through
legislation or policy measures and the establishment of independent
and appropriate monitoring and adjudication mechanisms.
Committee encourages the State Party to adopt the necessary measures
to ensure the realization of women's economic, social and cultural
rights, including the right to equal remuneration for work of equal
Committee also recommends that a greater proportion of federal,
provincial and territorial budgets be directed specifically to measures
to address women's poverty and the poverty of their children, affordable
day care, and legal aid for family matters. Measures that will establish
adequate support for shelters for battered women, care-giving services
and women's non-governmental organizations should also be implemented.
Committee urges the federal, provincial and territorial governments
to review their respective "workfare" legislation in order to ensure
that none of the provisions violate the right to work freely chosen
and other labour standards, including the minimum wage, rights which
are not only guaranteed by the Covenant but also by the relevant
ILO conventions on fundamental labour rights and labour standards.
Committee calls upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments
to give even higher priority to measures to reduce the rate of functional
illiteracy in Canada.
Committee recommends that the State Party request the Canadian Judicial
Council to provide all judges with copies of the Committee's concluding
observations and encourage training for judges on Canada's obligations
under the Covenant.
Committee also recommends that since there is generally in Canada
a lack of public awareness about human rights treaty obligations,
the general public, public institutions and officers at all levels
of Government should be made aware by the State Party of Canada's
human rights obligations under the Covenant. In this regard, the
Committee wishes to make specific reference to its General Comment
No. 9 on the domestic application of the Covenant.
Committee recommends that the Federal Government extend the Court
Challenges Programme to include challenges to provincial legislation
and policies which may violate the provisions of the Covenant.
the Committee requests the State Party to ensure the wide dissemination
in Canada of the present concluding observations and to inform the
Committee of steps taken to implement these recommendations in its
next periodic report.