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Ottawa forced to recall rights report

Section condemning Ontario rental law accidentally inserted in submission to UN

Globe and Mail - September 18, 1997
By Margaret Philp — Social Policy Reporter

Canada is recalling a report submitted to the United Nations after a passage condemning Ontario's move to allow landlords to refuse to rent to low-income tenants was inadvertently inserted into the text.

The report, sent to Geneva in April as a part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed 20 years ago, lavishes glowing praise on the efforts of Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments to raise living standards of their most disadvantaged citizens in the five years since the previous report was filed.

But in the Ontario government's submission to the report are several lines that parrot the stinging criticism that the province's Human Rights Commissioner, Keith Norton, heaped on the government during hearings into its proposed tenant protection legislation last summer.

"The impact of any regulations that impose rent-to-income criteria on tenants will be based on landlords' current usage and will significantly impair the ability of persons in receipt of public assistance to obtain housing," the report reads.

Bruno Scheire, manager of the federal Department of Canadian Heritage's human-rights program, said the error arose after staff in his office were rushing to file the long-overdue document to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

In scrambling to pull together Canada's report from 11 governments, the staff accidentally appended the critique they had received from the Ontario Human Rights commission to the provinces report. And there was no time to send the finished version back to the provinces for a final read, Mr. Scheire said.

"It's a mistake in terms of the legitimacy of the input of the Ontario Human Rights Commission as being representative of the government," Mr. Scheire said. "Its not what the Ontario government is saying on it..." All we're doing is removing those eight paragraphs from the submission."

The revised report is being reprinted and is expected to be available to the public in a few weeks.

Bruce Porter, co-ordinator of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, a housing advocacy group that has loudly opposed Ontario's landlord tenant bill, insisted it was "completely irresponsible" for the Ontario government to remove a passage that accurately describes the implications of permitting landlords to screen tenants based on their incomes. "the statement they don't like is, if the regulations permit any kind of income criteria, access to affordable housing by people on social assistance is going to be seriously affected. That's absolutely true."

The controversial section of the bill would allow landlord to reject prospective tenants whose rent exceeded a percentage of their income - 30 percent being the threshold many property owners now use. The move would require a change in Ontario's Human Rights Code, which currently forbids discrimination in housing on the basis of being in receipt of public assistance.

Mr Norton, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister chosen by Premier Mike Harris, caught the government by surprise when he slammed the legislated use of income information.

Canada ratified the covenant in 1976 with the consent of the provinces. One of several covenants to spring from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it holds the countries that sign it legally responsible for ensuring various rights such as to work, to have an education and to form trade unions.

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