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Rights matter: A practical guide to ending poverty in Canada

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It's the first of its kind: a human rights guide to ending poverty in Canada. A guide that clearly outlines what human rights mean concretely for policymakers, activists, community-makers and all other anti-poverty stakeholders.

Last week, Canada Without Poverty released our Human Rights and Poverty Strategies, A Guide to International Human Rights Law and its Domestic Application in Poverty Reduction Strategies. This step-by-step guide breaks down international human rights obligations for all levels of government and stakeholders, and brings a human rights focus to poverty reduction work in local communities across Canada.

The thing is, at Canada Without Poverty, we truly believe that we can end poverty.

There are over 4.8 million people in Canada living in poverty, struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and find secure jobs that pay enough to make ends meet. When you look at the statistics, ending poverty seems daunting -- for some it can be easier to shift this priority further down the list, to another day. But poverty in Canada is a crisis. Homelessness is a national emergency. Coordinated, comprehensive action is long overdue.

Local policymakers have an important role to play in taking action to end poverty. Canada Without Poverty's human rights guide is a tool to make ending poverty more accessible for local policy makers -- moving the priority up the list. The guide complements, strengthens and gives greater meaning to the poverty reduction work that is already being done in communities.

The pivotal idea behind human rights is that regardless of who we are or where we've come from, we are entitled to certain rights because we are part of the human family. Practically, to embrace human rights, policy makers need to: meaningfully include people in poverty in the development of law and policy, incorporate human rights standards, promote substantive equality, set goals and timelines in anti-poverty strategies, monitor their progress and remain accountable.

We're not saying that communities should take all these pieces and miraculously implement them in a day. Human rights are about progressive realization -- the idea that you can take small steps, using one piece of the framework at a time -- but we always need to be moving forward toward a larger vision.

In some communities, these pieces of human rights are already in place and appear to be working. For example, in Hamilton, Ontario there has been an increased focus on the meaningful inclusion of people in poverty. Success is due to the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction which brings together people from various sectors with a special focus on people with lived experience of poverty. Together, these key stakeholders identify which poverty related issues are important to them and their well-being.

The incorporation of human rights standards is another element of human rights that has appeared in local policies. In June 2015, Calgary unveiled the Homeless Charter of Rights. This document recognizes that to address the problem we need to understand discrimination, the loss of dignity that comes hand-in-hand with poverty.

Through the realization of human rights, we can end poverty in this country. Human rights empower people living in poverty. They're effective. And for all levels of government in Canada, the realization of human rights are a legal obligation. Some may shrug off human rights as lofty and idealistic. But the reality is that these rights don't just exist in theory, they are guaranteed by several international human rights laws which have been ratified by Canada.

As a community, we need to recognize that poverty is not inevitable. If every level of government -- provincial, territorial, local and federal -- were to take our international human rights obligations seriously, imagine the country that we could become.

We could end poverty in Canada. And the human right guide is the place to start.

Michèle Biss is the Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator at Canada Without Poverty.

Photo: flickr/ Still_life88_second

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