From Geneva

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

UN says Canada failing to improve life of poor - by Bill Dunphy, the Hamilton Spectator - May 24, 2006

Canada has been put on a short leash by a United Nations human rights watchdog group that is concerned that we are failing to protect the basic rights of poor and marginalized individuals.
In a just released report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has issued a carefully worded but stinging rebuke of Canada's repeated failure to meet its treaty obligations and is asking the Canadian government to report on progress annually -- instead of every four years.

"I certainly see that as the committee trying to keep Canada on a shorter leash, and that is a new thing," anti-poverty lawyer Craig Foye said yesterday. Foye travelled to Geneva earlier this month to provide the committee with a report on poverty in Hamilton as an illustration of Canada's failure to provide everyone with an adequate standard of living.
"There was very much a sense of frustration (in Geneva). The committee was saying, 'Look, we made these recommendations in 1993 and in 1998 and you seem to have ignored them,'" Foye recalled of the hearings.

Foye was sent to Geneva by his employer, McQuesten Legal and Community Services, on behalf of the Income Security Working Group.

Foye said he was gratified to see so many of his group's concerns reflected in the committee's report.

"We were very thankful for that. After spending all that money to cross the ocean, to go to Geneva, it's gratifying to know that they did hear our message. We spent a lot of time making sure we got the data, the statistical data they needed to understand the situation in Canada and to ask informed questions. That they chose to make use of it is exactly what we were hoping for."

The UN committee Foye addressed is responsible for reviewing compliance with a 1977 covenant on human rights that Canada signed but has consistently failed to live up to.
Its 11-page report notes six instances of progress Canada has made: increased employment and decreased poverty levels, increased maternity leave, improved aboriginal infant mortality and education rates, equal pay legislation, health-care spending and increased foreign aid. However, it notes more than 30 instances of failure to protect the (mainly economic) rights of all Canadians.

Most of the examples of failing to protect covenant rights or meet goals cited by the committee related to poverty and the way it is felt disproportionately by minorities. Among the examples were:
* long waiting lists for subsidized housing in Hamilton;
* inadequate minimum wage levels;
* social assistance rates that were 50 per cent of poverty levels;
* high levels of homelessness and hunger;
* the failure to prevent the clawback of the National Child Care Benefit.

The committee also criticized Canada for treating the covenant's legal obligations as programming goals and for failing to provide Canadians with a legal recourse when those obligations are not met.

Virtually all of the failings have been the subject of earlier recommendations for correction by the committee and almost none of those recommendations have been adopted by the Canadian government.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Rejean Beaulieu was unable to offer any reasons for Canada's continuing failure to meet its treaty obligations.

"I have no answer for that. We made the decision to be part of this convention with the obligations ... we know there's room for improvement and nothing is perfect and we'll keep taking into consideration their recommendations. Sometimes it may take years, sometimes it may go faster.

"We will keep instituting programs and measures to make sure the rights of the convention are respected and protected."
Some of those measures were acknowledged by the committee, but clearly they felt Canada was capable for more, much more.

"The committee notes the absence of any factors or difficulties preventing the effective implementation of the covenant (in Canada)" the report's authors wrote. While acknowledging that, in general, Canada still ranks at the highest level on the Human Development Index, they expressed concern that that high life is not shared by all.

"The committee is concerned that, despite Canada's economic prosperity ... 11.2 per cent of its population still lived in poverty in 2004. (It) also notes with particular concern that poverty rates remain very high among disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups."
Foye echoed those comments.

"There's nothing stopping us here in Canada. We have the money for this, we're posting record surpluses every year and unfortunately, we're posting those record surpluses on the backs of the poor.

"This isn't pie in the sky, this is something that's doable."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Canada failing to care for poor, disadvantaged: UN report

Canada is neglecting its poor and disadvantaged, a UN watchdog group charged Monday.

The report comes after an examination earlier this month of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, an international treaty that protects such rights.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights notes that Canada ranks at the top of the UN Human Development Index and praises it for improving equal pay for equal work, extending maternity benefits and plans to improve health care.

But it scolds Canada for failing to heed recommendations in two earlier reports aimed at improving the lives of aboriginals, youth, single mothers, African-Canadians, people with disabilities and women.

Poverty rate considered high

Despite Canada's economic prosperity, the report says, roughly 11.2 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2004. That is a drop from 13.7 per cent in 1998.

It says "… poverty rates remain very high among disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups such as Aboriginal peoples, African-Canadians, immigrants, persons with disabilities, youth, low-income women and single mothers."

The report also criticizes Canada's Employment Insurance program, saying in 2001, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians were eligible for EI benefits. Many groups have a difficult time getting benefits even though they pay into the plan, including migrant workers, and part-time workers, especially women, the report says.

Social assistance levels

The committee says federal transfer payments to the provinces for post-secondary education, social assistance and social services are lower than they were in 1995.

"Social assistance benefits … do not provide adequate income to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter," the report says.

More than half of the food bank users in the country did receive social assistance benefits, but said the benefits weren't enough to prevent them from having to use food banks, the report noted.

It recommends raising minimum wages and urges Ottawa to rethink its levels of federal transfer payments for social programs.


There are "significant disparities" between aboriginals and the rest of the population in areas of employment, access to water, health, housing and education, it says.

Aboriginal women still face discrimination when it comes to property, Indian status and band membership, the report continues. It recommends amending the Indian Act.

The report also urges Canada to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prevents First Nations people from filing complaints of discrimination before a human rights commission or tribunal.


Children from families that are low-income, single-mother, aboriginal or African-Canadian are "over-represented" in foster care, the report says. Many women are forced to give up their children because of inadequate housing.

Children make up 40 per cent of the country's food bank users, the report says, while criticizing the deduction of child benefits from welfare cheques

Canada must take heed: advocate

A representative from an advocacy group says Canada must give this report serious attention since its recent inclusion in the new UN Human Rights Council.

"It really needs to take a look at its own human rights record before starting to criticize others," said Emily Paradis, with the Feminist Organization for Women's Advancement of Rights.

Paradis agrees poverty has increased among certain disenfranchised groups and that the gap between rich and poor has increased.

She blames cuts to social assistance, cuts to employment insurance and a low minimum wage," she said.

"All were taken in the last decade in spite of annual growth and annual budget surpluses."

Friday, May 05, 2006

All levels of government fail to protect citizens from poverty: activists - Kevin Werner, Brabant Newspapers

(May 5, 2006)
The United Nations has stated it is every person's right to have an adequate standard of living.
The Canadian government in 1976, endorsed that right and signed the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to make sure the goal was high on the country's political agenda.
Despite the high-minded principles, local politicians and social activists say all levels of government have failed to protect their citizens from poverty after 30 years.
"There is an increasing polarization of income in our community," said Craig Foye, a lawyer for McQuesten Legal and Community Services. "Families are spiraling deeper and deeper into poverty."
Mr. Foye, in a report he delivered this week to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, uses Hamilton as a microcosm of Canada's failure to protect citizens from the crushing burden of poverty. As of September 2005, there were 24,000 Hamiltonians living on social assistance. Hamilton has the highest poverty rate in Ontario.
The report was sponsored by the Income Security Working Group and co-authored by Chabriol Colebatch, Deirdre Pike and Mr. Foye.
Living in poverty
Neil Turner, a member of the Income Security Working Group, who attended Mr. Foye's send-off, said he had just arrived from a breakfast for 70 children living in poverty.
"I wanted to be there," he said. "Some people don't know what poverty is until they go there."
The after-tax income of families in the bottom five per cent of income dropped, while the five per cent of families in the top portion of income has increased.
"It needs to change," said Mr. Foye.
As Hamilton's poverty rate has skyrocketed, it has contributed to higher uses of food banks, crime has increased and homelessness is on the rise, while peoples' health is declining, he told about 50 citizens and local politicians, who applauded his initiative at city hall.
Mr. Foye talked about transforming how social service agencies treat lower income people. Governments must create programs that help people rather than keeping them tied to the minimal payments they receive to survive.
"We can easily create an intelligent social service system," he said. "That we don't is our shame. It has become policy."
The NDP and Liberal politicians added their voices, saying all governments over the years have failed their people.
Hamilton Centre NDP MP David Christopherson said if there was a political will to eradicate poverty, it would happen.
"We didn't get into this situation with one government," he said. "We have allowed our social agenda to be hijacked by an economic agenda."
All the politicians echoed each other's thoughts, saying all levels of government haven't done enough to help the vulnerable.
"If governments embrace (Mr. Foye's report) we will see real change," said Hamilton East NDP MPP Andrea Horwath.
Added Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin: "We need to do more to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor."
Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni said council in an unanimous vote supported Mr. Foye's initiative in February.
"Your message will add weight to the global scale of poverty," he said.
Stoney Creek NDP MP Wayne Marston also attended the event. No Conservative or Progressive Conservative politician attended the morning news conference.
Mr. Foye left for Switzerland April 28 and will return May 6.

Canada moving backwards: UN committee reviews federal government's committment to UN covenant

The UN Committee began dealing with Canada this morning. The Committee is considering both Canada’s 4th and 5th reports this year, as it has been 8 years since she last reported (signatory nations are required to report every 4 years). I think I can safely say that the Committee was fairly critical of Canada in their opening questions, as it did seem that many of the issues of concern from 1993 and 1998 had not been addressed in any way by Canada.

The first question came from Mr. Arirangana Govindasamy Pillay, the committee member from Mauritius. Mr. Pillay structured his question as an overview of the issues of concern and recommendations identified by the Committee in 1993 and 1998, and he went through issue after issue that did not appear to have been addressed by Canada. His questions included reference to the inadequacy of social assistance rates, and many other points with regard to the clearly established right to an adequate standard of living.

As a stark example, Mr. Pillay addressed the ongoing clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement from families on social assistance in most provinces in Canada. The UN Committee recommended in 1998 that the clawback be ended. Mr. Pillay noted that this was a simple recommendation that could have been implemented, "yet it is a dead letter".

For an overview of the National Child Benefit Supplement Clawback issue - click here

On the issue of Canada’s response to previous recommendations, Mr. Pillay noted that some of the factual evidence before him seemed to indicate that the Government of Canada and provinces had engaged in retrogressive measure with regard to some covenant rights. If any deliberately retrogressive measures are taken, the State party has the burden of proving that they have been introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are duly justified by reference to the totality of the rights provided for in the Covenant in the context of the full use of the State party's maximum available resources.

Among the many questions, there were also some questions and discussion around funding for civil legal aid across the country. Gwen Brodsky had presented to the Committee on this issue on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association. Mr. Philippe Texier, the Committee member from France, referred to legal assistance being required to help poor persons with social assistance appeals or rental housing matters. Of course, these are the kind of services that Hamilton’s Community legal clinics offer; but Ontario’s community legal clinics are in a funding crisis, with demand for services high. More worrying is the fact that other provinces in Canada have no such legal aid services at all, thus leaving our most vulnerable members of society without needed representation.

Overall, it is clear that the NGO submissions have been read and considered by the Committee, and critical issues are being addressed. Of course, this has been the goal of all the work this week, so it is a relief to realize that the messages seem to have gotten through, and the factual evidence is being utilized.

This will be my last blog entry for some time. I will be leaving Geneva tomorrow at 7am and returning home to Hamilton. The Committee will continue considering Canada’s reports on Monday, and will continue meeting with other countries until May 19. Later this month, the Committee will release concluding observations on Canada. At that time, the Income Security Working Group and others, including Hamilton’s community legal clinics, will review the document and will advocate that all levels of government implement the recommendations of the Committee and address all areas of concern with regard to the right to an adequate standard of living.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Day Four: Will Canada take responsibility for not providing an adequate standard of living for its citizens?

Today, the Canadian NGOs hosted a number of Members of the UN Committee for a working lunch in the Committee room. Last night, we were all working until about 2am on to provide documentation to the committee. Some of the NGOs had just arrived in Geneva yesterday, and therefore hadn’t slept for over 24 hours. We were all up first thing this morning and headed back up to the UN building to continue frantically preparing documentation for the meeting.

At the lunchtime session, a number of Canadian NGOs had their first opportunity to address members of the UN Committee. These NGO groups included Alain Roy of Amnesty international, Vince Calderhead and Bonnie Morton of the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues, Vincent Greason of la Ligue des droits et libertés, and others.

The Committee members present were quite receptive to the messages from the Canadian delegation,. It seems clear that the Committee is aware that Canada has clearly not followed up on the concluding comments of 1998. There was some discussion from Canadian NGOs around the fact that the committee tasked in Canada with looking at this issue is totally non-transparent, and apparently ineffective. One Canadian NGO commented that they could not find out the name of the members of this secretive committee. The lunchtime session was chaired by Bruce Porter, of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre. Bruce is really one of the moving forces behind the NGO delegation as he and others selflessly organized many issues for the NGOs with regard to the Committee meeting, both here and back in Canada.

Tomorrow, the Canadian government delegation will go in front of the UN Committee, and the Canadian part of the 36th session will continue on Monday. However, tomorrow will be my last day in Geneva. It was thought in planning this trip that it was most important for me to be present in Geneva to present to the Committee, provide information to members as needed, and be involved in generating needed documentation for the Committee.

Besides, I sorely miss my partner Lynn, and am anxious to get home (Lynn, and I are expecting our first child in June). So, I will provide an update on the goings-on at the Committee tomorrow, then I will be leaving on a jet-plane.

The next stage of work on this issue will occur when the Committee issues their concluding observations on Canada later this month. We hope that the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living is addressed in the report, and that Canada is taken to task for ignoring this important UN Committee and this crucial UN Document.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Day Three in Geneva: Keeping Canada Accountable

Today many more Non Governmental Organizations will be arriving in Geneva in preparation for Canada appearing in front of the Committee on Friday. I expect to hear some news regarding the Canadian budget and reactions to the budget. I understand that there was very little in the budget for poor people and that income tax rates may have actually increased for some poor persons and families.

Tonight, many of the NGO representatives attended at the permanent Canadian Mission in Geneva. A number of Canadian government representatives were present at the mission and an informal meeting was held where the Canadian government Human Rights Counsel in Geneva gave a presentation on the planned permanent United Nations Human Rights Council. Canada will be standing for election to the Council in the coming weeks.

There was also some discussion around the Optional Protocol for enforcement of Economic, Social and Cultural rights. Currently, there is no real enforcement mechanism for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. An excellent backgrounder on the Optional Protocol has been written by Bruce Porter and can be found at:

There were a number of questions from Canadian NGOs.

For instance, Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Justice and the National Association for Women and the Law put some very important suggestions to the government representatives about the need for parliamentary and legislative hearings in Canada concerning the concluding observations of UN Committees with regard to Canada.
The Canadian government legal advisor from the Department of Foreign Affairs responded that they disagree with the assertion that the Government of Canada, or the provinces in Canada, do not take seriously the issues raised by Human Rights Committee. This was an expected answer I suppose, but it was particularly surreal to hear after having looked at the Concluding Comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As I have mentioned previously, a great many of the issues of concern raised by the Committee in that document are still burning issues in our Community. As was commented by a member of the UN Committee on May 1st, it seems that Canada has actually regressed on a number of issues of concern from 1998.

There was also a discussion about harmonizing the UN Human Rights Committee system, of which this UN Committee is a part. Such changes have been suggested by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, (and a former Canadian Supreme Court Justice).

Tomorrow, the Canadian NGOs will host a luncheon for the UN Committee at which we will clarify issues and answer questions for the Committee. In addition, many of the Canadian NGOs who have just arrived will have an opportunity to address the UN Committee briefly.

For my clinic colleagues, I might note that I heard some yodeling this afternoon as I ate my lunch outside on the lawn. It sounded like the man was yodeling that Vinay Jain, fearless staff lawyer at Dundurn Community Legal Services, has recently decided to tie the knot. Congrats Vinay.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

From Ottawa -- David Christopherson: "There are Solutions"

Statement by David Christopherson MP, Hamilton Centre
House of Commons, May 2, 2006 -- 2:09 p.m.

Mr. Speaker,

In 1998, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examined the causes of poverty in Canada.

Yesterday, Craig Foye, of the Hamilton Income Security Working Group, presented an update to the UN Committee in Geneva, Switzerland.

His report was shocking. 13,000 of Hamilton's children are living in poverty today, because their parents have too little income to pay for housing and the other necessities of life.
And it found that provincial and federal government policies are at the root of family poverty.

Thanks to Mr. Foye, a lawyer with McQuesten Legal & Community Services, and his co-authors, Chabriol Colebatch and Deirdre Pike, we now understand better the real impact of government cuts on the lives of many Canadian families.

We'll be looking at today's federal budget for some action to end poverty, in Hamilton and across Canada.

Where do we begin? Stop allowing the National Child Benefit Supplement to be clawed back; increase employment insurance eligibility and rates; and invest in affordable housing.

These are real solutions to a real crisis.

Second Day in Geneva

Over 20 Canadian NGOs (non-government organizations) are here in Geneva to present to the Committee and advocate regarding a diverse list of issue falling under the scope of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Today, many of the Canadian NGOs will be meeting to identify overlapping and priority issues, and to educate and inform each other regarding the diverse issues being brought to the table. Due to the number of NGO reports provided to the Committee, and the number of NGO delegations, it is thought that this will be a way in which the Canadian NGOs might communicate most effectively with the UN Committee.

This is probably a good opportunity to talk about some of the other NGOs who are here. I’ll start with some of the people who are in my vicinity, here at the Palais des Nations this afternoon.

Margot Young is a law professor from the University of British Columbia, who is in Geneva on behalf of The Poverty and Human Rights Centre. Their submission can be found at:

Also working in the lounge outside the committee room today is Emily Paradis. Emily traveled to Geneva with Doreen Silversmith, whom many will recognize as the person who is also speaking at the Committee regarding aboriginal issues in Six Nations/Caledonia. However, Doreen is actually pulling a double duty and she also spoke at the Committee on behalf of the Feminist Organization for Women’s Advancement, Rights, and Dignity ("FORWARD"). The Forward submission can be found at: I believe that Emily spoke on behalf of the National Working Group on Women and Housing, and I must apologize that I cannot currently locate her report on the UN website.

Marie Chen and Jim Moriah are here on behalf of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, one of our sister specialty community legal clinics, located in Toronto. Yesterday, Jim and Marie presented to the Committee regarding their report, which can be found at

This is just a taste of some of the NGOs reporting to the Committee for this, their 36th session. Other groups include, The National Anti-Poverty Association ("NAPO"), Amnesty International, The National Association of Women and the Law ("NAWL"), Low-Income Families Together ("LIFT") and others.

With regard to our work in Hamilton, I would like to inform everyone that David Christopherson, MP for Hamilton Centre will be making a member’s statement in Parliament today regarding our report to the UN Committee. I am told that the statement should occur between 2-2:15 pm and that you can watch it on CPAC at

David spoke eloquently and passionately to these issues, as did other local elected representatives, at our press conference last Friday before I left.
I hope that an informal cross-party, multi-level Hamilton caucus on poverty issues will develop. The issues are that important and I believe that our elected representatives recognize this.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Committee Member 'dismayed' at Canada's lack of progress on social assistance rates

Today is the day that the Canadian Non-Governmental Organizations ("NGOs") had an opportunity to make short presentations to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, & Cultural Rights. After checking in with the security station this morning, myself and Chantal Tie, a lawyer who is here representing the Canadian Council for Refugees, headed over to the Committee room to deliver a collection of Canadian NGO reports, and to introduce ourselves to a number of Committee members by way of inviting them to an NGO luncheon this Thursday.

At 3pm Canadian NGOS began their presentations. Presentations today included Doreen Silversmith who spoke about the standoff in Six Nations/Caledonia to the Committee. Information on this 36th session of the UN Committee, including written submissions of Canadian NGOs, can be found at the CESCR website. There were many other great speakers from Canada. Committee members were attentive and interested in a number of issues.

Since we were only given approximately 5 minutes to make our presentation, I focused my presentation on the issue of social assistance benefits. Persons on social assistance largely represent the most economically disadvantaged members of our community, and thus represent a bellweather group of individuals and families for whom the right to an adequate standard of living is clearly not being protected.

Currently, social assistance rates are arbitrary numbers that are not related in any way to the actual cost of basic necessities in the community. As an example, the shelter allowance portion of social assistance rates falls hundreds of dollars below the actual cost of average rents for all family size. Thus those individuals and families face a shortfall every month. This compounded by the fact that the other portion of Ontario Works benefits in particular is much less than the other required needs, i.e. a healthy food basket, utilities, transportation, clothing, etc.

The Portuguese representative asked myself and others about the issue of social assistance rates and she was dismayed that this area of concern had gotten worse since Canada last appeared in front of the Committee in 1998. Hopefully, the Committee will ask some hard questions of the Canadian government delegation on this critical issue.

As a kudo to the Income Security Working Group and my co-authors, our liason with the UN Committee came up to personally thank us for providing such a useful and well-oraganized report after the session today.

Tomorrow is a slow day for the Committee, but the Canadian NGOs will be working on a concise list of issues and questions for the Committee to ask the government delegation when they begin looking at Canada on Friday.

Craig: you left your presentation in the photocopier!

It's 10:03 a.m. Hamilton time on Monday, May 1st - right about the time that Craig will be making his presentation to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ...and we just realized that Craig left his UN presentation in the photocopier. While I am sure he's brought extra copies with him, it certainly gave the gang at McQuesten a good laugh.
posted by Tom Cooper at McQuesten

Arrival in Geneva

Since I have just arrived in Geneva after a long trip, and since there is nothing official planned regarding the Committee at this time, I think I will seize the opportunity to talk about how the Income Security Working group produced the report,, "The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living in Hamilton". I will also tell the story of how a lawyer from Hamilton ended up in Geneva, report in hand, with an opportunity to address the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR). In short, I have been given this wonderful opportunity to represent the ISWG and Hamilton on this issue, due to the tireless work of a group of advocates, and because I have the good fortune to work for an agency whose Board of Directors is interested in seeing the report in Geneva.The report really owes its genesis to the particular opportunities provided by the Income Security Working Group (ISWG). The ISWG provides a wonderful forum and vehicle for individuals, grassroots groups and community agencies interested in working on anti-poverty issues in Hamilton. The Group includes working committees, one of which was the former Human Rights Committee which came together to work on human rights issues as they relate to poverty (the Committee eventually produced the report). After a summer meeting in 2005 with Josephine Grey at Low-Income Families Together in Toronto at which time she provided invaluable advice on putting together a report for the CommitteeNot long after, a young Australian lawyer named Chabriol Colebatch moved to Hamilton and began volunteering at McQuesten Legal & Community Services. It was through Chabriol’s excellent research and organizational skills that we were able to put together the basic plans for a report. Shortly thereafter, the three authors (Chabriol, myself and Deirdre Pike of the Social Planning an Research Council) each took on some specific areas of the report and started writing.I go through the details of the process behind this report to give some credit where credit is clearly due. The report was produced as a team efforts, a draft was read by the entire ISWG, This was an extremely important step as ISWG members made significant additions and corrections to the draft.The report was then presented to a special meeting of the Committee of the Whole at Hamilton City Council on February 10, 2006. Council met that day to hear a major report from the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty and to hear from a number of community agencies, and from individuals, including moving presentations by grassroot activists who were living in poverty.Hamilton City Council endorsed the report unanimously and wrote to the Secretary of the UNCESCR, the Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario setting out their support.It was the volunteer Board of Directors at McQuesten Legal & Community Services who then championed the idea of sending an employee to present the report to the UN Committee. Ultimately, I end up being the lucky stiff who had the enormous fortune to have a Board of Directors interesting in taking a leadership role and further forcing the issue of the right to an adequate standard of living in Hamilton.Here it is. Sorry it isn't more exciting but I am dog tired. Left Hamilton yesterday at 2pm, and it is now 8:30 pm geneva time on Sunday and I haven't slept yet. Gonna hit the sack now for an early morning.
Cheers Craig

"All governments aren't doing enough" - Bill Dunphy, Hamilton Spectator

(Apr 29, 2006)
The politics of poverty makes for strange bedfellows.
A surreal air suffused Hamilton's council chambers yesterday morning as politicians from all three levels of government gathered to praise and applaud a man about to step onto an international stage and excoriate two of those same governments for failing to protect the rights of the poor.
Poverty lawyer Craig Foye is bound for Geneva, Switzerland, where on Monday he will address a United Nations committee and accuse the provincial and federal governments of violating international human rights covenants by failing to ensure an adequate standard of living for Hamilton's -- and all of Canada's -- poor.
During a sendoff yesterday morning, Foye reminded an appreciative audience that the Canadian government has signed an international covenant defining poverty as a human rights issue and called inadequate social assistance levels an "emergency" and "our great shame."
Our low levels of social assistance are "sending thousands and thousands of families spiralling ever deeper and deeper into poverty," Foye said.
His remarks were greeted with prolonged applause from the audience and the politicians gathered to see him off.
"I think it is so important to stand in solidarity (with Foye) here today," MPP Ted McMeekin announced from the podium. "Clearly governments aren't doing enough -- all governments aren't doing enough!"
Those critical comments were echoed or amplified by Mayor Larry Di Ianni, MPs David Christopherson and Wayne Marsden, and fellow MPP Andrea Horvath.
Foye's report -- sponsored by the Income Security Working Group's human rights subcommittee and co-authored by Chabriol Colebatch and Deirdre Pike -- uses census data and research from the Social Planning Research Council to document the dire straits many Hamiltonians find themselves in if they depend on government assistance.
The report also documents the way seniors, immigrants, children, aboriginals and single mothers are disproportionately affected by poverty in this city. The report argues that government policies lie at the root of much of our poverty problem.
"The right to an adequate standard of living is not being protected by either (senior) level of government ... social assistance rates remain arbitrary numbers, numbers not tied to any meaningful costs," Foye said yesterday.
"It's not that we don't know or can't figure out these costs ... it's that we ignore those costs."
Two months ago, the report received unanimous approval from city council and yesterday Di Ianni reminded his political colleagues and the audience that "we don't often get unanimity around this table.
"So many people are disadvantaged in this city, 100,000 or so who have to make the kinds of choices none of us here have to make. We have a very long way to go."
The incongruity of hearing politician after politician praise a report and author, who is so strongly condemning politicians and governments, was dealt with head on by Christopherson.
"Some might wonder why are we so excited by having this (report) put on the international stage," Christopherson said at the start of a short but loud and powerful speech.
"All of us, and I'm the most senior politician in this room, bear responsibility of not doing enough."
He looked around the council chambers and continued.
"We've allowed our social agenda to be hijacked by our economic agenda."
Poverty is an issue that can be tackled, if governments will summon the will, he said.
"Post 9/11, all you have to do is say the word 'security' and there's millions of dollars for whatever you want to do. There are things we can do."
Meanwhile in Ottawa, government officials declined to comment on Foye's report or discuss what Canadian officials would be telling the committee in Geneva next week.
"It's true that we will make a statement to the committee, but we cannot talk about the statement until it is tabled with the committee," said Rejean Beaulieu of the Foreign Affairs Department.
"I'll be happy to send you a copy once it is tabled."
Craig Foye will be filing occasional dispatches from Geneva. You can find them at and at

Friday, April 28, 2006

Mr. Foye Goes to Geneva

Hamilton Poverty Lawyer Craig Foye will address the United Nations about the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living

Craig Foye, a lawyer from McQuesten Legal & Community Services will be making an important presentation on poverty and income security to the United Nations' Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ("CESCR") in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, May 1st, 2006.

The UN committee will hear a report that makes extensive reference to the Hamilton poverty situation and outlines the very desperate circumstances in which many low income members of the community find themselves. The report is available online at

The report was co-authored by Foye, Chabriol Colebatch and Deirdre Pike for Hamilton's Income Security Working Group and takes Canadian governments to task for not meeting commitments to ensure all residents are afforded the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Canada is a signatory nation to the Covenant. Over the next few weeks, the UN committee will be reviewing Canada's commitment to maintaining the covenant's principles that guarantee: "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." The UN committee will hear perspectives from both government representatives and non governmental organizations. Mr. Foye was given the opportunity to attend and present the Income Security Working Group's report.

McQuesten Legal & Community Services' Board of Directors felt the opportunity to tell Hamilton's story was too important to pass by and authorized this extremely rare out-of-country expense. Noted Michael Ollier, Executive Director of McQuesten: "public funds will not be used to pay for the passage, rather all of the expenses will be covered through donated funds from concerned organizations and individuals across the community".

The Report analyzes factual evidence regarding Canada's compliance with the UN Covenant. Hamilton has been experiencing crises with regard to homelessness, poverty and food security for a number of years. Craig Foye said: "local individuals and families who cannot afford to feed themselves must turn to food banks and meal programs in numbers that have not been seen since the Great Depression". It is a sentiment echoed by some politicians as well. Hamilton East MPP, Andrea Horwath noted last week in a Members' Statement at Queen's Park: "Thirty years ago, Canada committed to end poverty-Craig's report tells us how-but today, there's more poverty than ever and it targets women, seniors, newcomers, aboriginal persons, people with disabilities and racial groups". The ISWG report has been endorsed by Hamilton City Council. Mayor DiIannni has sent letters regarding the report to Premier McGuinty and Prime Minister Harper.

On Friday, April 28th, the Income Security Working Group and McQuesten Legal & Community Services hosted a community send-off for Craig Foye. Hamilton Mayor Larry DiIanni joined in welcoming MPPs Andrea Horwath (Hamilton East) and Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot) and Members of Parliament David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre) and Wayne Marston (Hamilton East - Stoney Creek) to Hamilton City Hall for a send-off as all wished Craig well in the important endeavor he is undertaking on behalf of the Hamilton community. - posted by Tom Cooper, McQuesten Legal & Community Services

From Geneva

Craig Foye is presenting to the UN in Geneva.

McQuesten Legal & Community Services has partnered with the great team at the Community Centre for Media Arts to bring you up-to-date information about Craig Foye's undertakings while presenting to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Over the next week, Craig will file daily reports (or blogs) to keep Hamilton updated and bring us a bird's eye view of the deliberations.