Janice Arsenault believes the lack of federal and provincial affordable housing policies led to her becoming homeless, drug addicted and no longer able to care for her two sons after her husband died suddenly a decade ago.
“Had I had access to adequate affordable housing after Mark died, I would have been able to look after my sons,” Arsenault says in her affidavit in a landmark Charter case launched in 2010.
“I wouldn’t have slipped so far that I started using drugs to numb my extreme grief and anxiety as my life fell apart around me,” she says. “Nor would my sons have suffered the trauma of being homeless and losing their mother.”
But after four years of legal wrangling, Arsenault and three other precariously housed Torontonians are still fighting for their day in court.
On Monday, they will be in the Ontario Court of Appeal with the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and a record eight intervenor groups. They will argue that a Superior Court justice got it wrong last fall when he agreed with Ottawa and Queen’s Park that the case has no merit and should not be heard.
“How can the court understand the nature of such a complex case without hearing the evidence?” said lawyer Tracy Heffernan, of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, which is representing Arsenault and the other Toronto individuals in the three-day hearing.
“The number of groups granted intervenor status in our case is indicative of the importance of the issues at stake,” she said.
The intervenors include Amnesty International, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Colour of Poverty campaign and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.
“If this decision is allowed to stand, it will have a chilling effect on all marginalized groups alleging Charter violations,” Heffernan added.
The case alleges that the federal and provincial governments violate the rights of homeless people by failing to implement policies that would eventually eliminate homelessness and substandard housing.
The applicants and intervenors claim that homelessness and inadequate housing violate human rights under sections of the Charter that guarantee “security of the person” and the right to equality.
Government lawyers say the Charter does not include a general right to housing or oblige governments to provide social assistance and housing support. Economic and social policies are political matters beyond the scope of the court, they argued in their successful motion to have the case dismissed before a full hearing.
“This is a case about who gets access to justice,” said former CERA executive director Leilani Farha, who helped launch the case. “If this decision is left to stand, it closes the door on poor and homeless people and says the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not available to you, even if you are dying on the streets of Canada.”
Farha, who now heads Canada Without Poverty, was appointed the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing earlier this month.
Many of Canada’s fundamental international human rights obligations are at stake in this case, said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to adequate housing and commits the government to address homelessness and inadequate housing.
“The Canadian government should be in there and engaged in the court process, making arguments as to how they feel they are living up to our obligations,” Neve said in an interview. “It should not be arguing that the courts have no role to play in ensuring that Canada is living up to its international legal obligations.”
Original article found here.