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'Do I ghost her again?': Quebec minister's office ignores questions on housing as a human right

Quebec Minister Responsible for Housing France-Elaine Duranceau responds to the Opposition during question period, at the Legislature in Quebec City, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot Quebec Minister Responsible for Housing France-Elaine Duranceau responds to the Opposition during question period, at the Legislature in Quebec City, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

The office of Quebec Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau prefers to openly ignore journalists' requests.

This is according to an email obtained by The Canadian Press. The Minister's office was asked about the recognition of the right to housing as a fundamental individual right.

Invited once again to respond a week after an initial request, the press attaché forwarded to The Canadian Press an email that was presumably intended for a colleague: "Shall I ghost her again? If not, general response that doesn't reply to say that housing is a priority for our government?"

It didn't take long for the opposition to react at the end of the day.

"Here's what France-Élaine Duranceau thinks about the right to housing in Quebec," wrote MNA Joël Arseneau on X, formerly Twitter.

"We suspected as much, the reality is even more tragic," he said.

The Canadian Press asked each province if it agreed with the federal housing advocate that housing is a human right, and if it intended to pass legislation guaranteeing it.

As of Friday afternoon, Minister Duranceau's office had still not responded to The Canadian Press' request.

As more and more Canadians struggle to find affordable housing, the country's smallest province is the only one that could benefit from legislation recognizing housing as a fundamental individual right.

Prince Edward Island responded with a link to its Residential Tenancies Act, the first line of which acknowledges that Canada has signed a UN treaty affirming housing as a human right - although critics point out that there's nothing in the provincial legislation to support this right afterwards.

Most provinces did not respond directly to questions, listing a long list of initiatives launched to address the simmering housing crisis.

In Manitoba, the response was that the government recognized "Canada's rights-based approach to housing," and Newfoundland and Labrador indicated that it agreed with federal and international laws recognizing housing as an individual right.

In her report on homeless encampments published on Feb. 13, the Federal Housing Advocate urged each province to recognize in law "the human right to adequate housing as defined by international law."

Marie-Josée Houle wondered in an interview if the provinces simply didn't understand what it would mean to explicitly state that they consider housing a human right.

Houle says that, according to the bilateral agreement they all signed as part of the National Housing Strategy in 2018, this would mean that the provinces would adopt a "human rights-based approach to housing."

For the housing advocate, this means meeting and listening to homeless people and trying to find them housing that meets their needs, rather than deciding what's best for them without their input and forcing them into interim measures, such as shelters, where they don't want to go.

This also includes providing heat, electricity and toilets to people living in homeless encampments if adequate housing is not available, Houle argues.

"Essentially, it's a commitment based on the recognition that homelessness is a systemic problem and that people are homeless because governments at all levels have failed them," she says.

And to the provinces, she says: "We need all the players at the table."

Dale Whitmore, of the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights, argues that the provinces could take a simple first step towards recognizing and respecting housing as a human right by adding a clause to their tenancy legislation stipulating that eviction should be an absolute last resort.

For Whitmore, it is essential that the provinces not only follow Houle's recommendations and adopt legislation that recognizes housing as a human right, but also that they subsequently defend this right. He points out that while Prince Edward Island's Tenancy Act recognizes this right, it offers nothing to enforce it.

"We need regulations that keep rents affordable and protect tenants from rents that are too high," he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 26, 2024. Top Stories

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