Democratic Accountability

This research stream assesses opportunities and challenges to human rights practice under new governance arrangements and altered relations between civil society and the state. Community and academic researchers have been exploring:

  • How to enhance social rights practice in political institutions and engage more effectively with political processes
  • The differences and linkages between human rights practice and other forms of advocacy for social justice
  • How to develop and promote new models of human rights accountability in domestic legislation
  • The potential of new contractual relationships between non-state actors and governments as sites for social rights practice
  • Innovative approaches to asymmetrical federalism and human rights accountability
  • The implications of the “municipalization” of social programs and emergence of new conceptions of municipal citizenship
  • Legislative strategies to encourage the application and implementation of international human rights norms to all levels of government
  • Revitalized roles for domestic human rights institutions in social rights practice

A common feature of all of the social rights initiatives undertaken in the CURA has been the incorporation of strategies to link domestic and international social rights.

Right to Adequate Housing

Bill C-400 (Previously Bill C-304): The Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act

See full text here

CURA community partners, the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation worked with Ligue des droits et libertés and a broad range of community partners in Quebec and across Canada to make this federal bill into a model piece of social rights legislation. The bill as amended incorporates all of the key recommendations of UN treaty monitoring bodies and the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, including recognition of the right to adequate housing, goals and timelines for eliminating homelessness, a complaints procedure for violations of the right to adequate housing and guarantees of effective participation by Aboriginal communities, equality-seeking groups and other stakeholders. It also recognizes Quebec’s formal adherence to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The bill had the support of all of the opposition parties in the previous parliament, but did not come to a vote at third reading before an election was called.

Bill C-304 was reintroduced as a private member’s bill (C-400) in the subsequent Parliament under a Conservative majority. Despite widespread support from civil society organizations, the Bill was defeated on February 27, 2013 though all four opposition parties and two independent members supported it. The extent of support Bill C-304 and Bill C-400 received across the country, within and beyond the housing and anti-poverty communities, and among all but one political party, demonstrates the strength of civil society and public commitment to its underlying rights-based approach.

For further information about CURA involvement with this important legislative initiative click here.

Putting Human Rights Accountability and Commitments to End Homelessness Into Ontario's Housing Strategy / Bill 140

In May 2011, Ontario passed into law Bill 140, the Strong Communities through Affordable Housing Act, 2011, to provide for the implementation of key components of their Long-Term and Affordable Housing Strategy. CURA researchers were concerned that the Bill lacked vital components of an effective housing strategy as recommended by UN human rights bodies and experts. In particular, the Bill made no reference to the right to adequate housing, which Ontario is obliged to implement within its own jurisdiction, had no targets for the elimination of homelessness, no independent monitoring or complaints mechanism, and no commitment to addressing the obstacles facing vulnerable groups. A number of amendments were suggested by CURA researchers and moved by MPP Cheri DiNovo but none were accepted during the Bill’s debate.

See Bruce Porter, "Designing and Implementing Rights-Based Strategies to Address Homelessness and Poverty in Ontario"

For further information and documentation of CURA researchers’ suggested amendments to the Bill, click here.

Advancing Right to Housing Claims in Ontario

CURA researchers worked with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to develop strategies for extending its mandate to address issues related to the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to equality in accommodation. Collaborative research is also being conducted with CURA community partner, the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, on approaches to advancing systemic right to housing claims before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation & Social Rights Advocacy Centre, “Submission to the Ontario Human Rights Commission on Human Rights and Rental Housing in Ontario” (2007)

Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Right at Home: Report on the consultation on human rights and rental housing in Ontario” (2008)

Poverty Reduction

Federal Initiatives

CURA researchers have contributed to the Parliamentary study on the federal contribution to reducing poverty in Canada and the Senate hearings on poverty, housing and homelessness.

For complete details of CURA’s involvement in the development and assessment of poverty reduction strategies in Canada, click here.

Quebec’s Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion

In August 2002, Quebec introduced the first provincial poverty reduction strategy legislation in Canada., the Act to combat poverty and social exclusion. CURA researchers have been involved with assessing Quebec’s Act and Strategy through the publication of academic research papers and development of community workshops. Through CURA community partner organization, Table ronde des OVEP de l’Outaouais (TROVEPO), public education workshops have been held throughout Quebec on the Act and Strategy.

For further information and reserach documents, click here.

Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy

Ontario passed its Poverty Reduction Act in 2009. CURA researchers have been assessing the effectiveness of the strategy and the extent to which the Act conforms with international human rights norms. In collaboration with the Institute for Population Health at the University of Ottawa, CURA researchers are developing concrete proposals for changes to the strategy and to provincial legislation in order to implement an effective, rights-based strategy consistent with international human rights.

See Bruce Porter, "Designing and Implementing Rights-Based Strategies to Address Homelessness and Poverty in Ontario".

British Columbia Poverty Reduction

CURA researcher, Margot Young, worked with a team of researchers from a British Columbia based CURA project to develop poverty reduction plan for British Columbia in the lead up to the 2009 provincial election. BC has some of the worst poverty rates across the country; the plan is an attempt to assist the government in developing a “detailed and accountable strategy with concrete and legislated targets and timelines to dramatically reduce and ultimately eliminate homelessness and poverty in the province.” The criteria developed for an effective strategy to address poverty in that province include: concrete targets, timelines and accountability mechanisms.

International Reviews

Parliamentary Initiatives in the Universal Period Review (UPR) of Canada

As described under international research initiatives, Canada’s human rights record was assessed by the UN Human Rights Council under the new Universal Periodic Review procedure in February 2009. Following the release of the UPR, both Senate yand House of Commons committees held hearings into the results of the UPR. CURA community research partners, the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation provided oral evidence during these hearings. CURA researchers also helped organize follow-up meetings between the Canadian government and NGOs.

For more information and documents pertaining to the national UPR 2009 initiative, click here.

To read about the recent 2013 UPR, click here.

British Columbia CEDAW Group

Several CURA researchers coordinated the B.C. CEDAW Group, a coalition of women’s non-governmental and non-profit organizations that are committed to advancing the equality interests of women and girls in British Columbia. The goal of the coalition is to ensure that governments in British Columbia comply with their human rights obligations to women. THE B.C. CEDAW group made submissions to the United Nations CEDAW Committee at the time of its reviews of Canada in 2003 and 2008. In 2010, the B.C. CEDAW group submitted Nothing to Report: A Report on Progress in Implementing Priority Recommendations made by the Committee in its 2008 Concluding Observations on Canada.

The B.C. CEDAW group also made submissions to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2006, and participated in the preparation of the Canadian non-governmental report for the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Canada in 2009.

Aboriginal Women’s Rights

Bill C-3: An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs)

In 2009, the British Columbia Court of Appeal released its decision in McIvor v. Canada, finding that the sections of the Indian Act that determine Indian status constitute sex discrimination and are thus contrary to s. 15 of the Charter. In March 2010, the federal government introduced Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs). CURA community partners Sharon McIvor, Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day provided research on Bill C-3 demonstrating that it continues the discrimination against many Aboriginal women as transmitters of status. The Bill received royal assent in December 2010. CURA researchers have since filed a petition for consideration under the first optional protocol to the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For further information about Sharon McIvor’s case and Bill C-3, click here.

Guaranteed Annual Income

In response to growing recognition of the unacceptable rates of poverty in Canada, there has been a resurgence in calls for implementation of a Canadian guaranteed income as a way of ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living as a universal human right. CURA researchers have assessed the potential effectiveness of different guaranteed income models, particularly as they might apply to women and individuals with disabilities, working in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Council on Disability’s CURA “Disabling Poverty”.

For further information, see:

Margot Young, “Women's Work and a Guaranteed Income” in Shelley AM Gavigan & Dorothy E Chunn, eds, The Legal Tender of Gender: Welfare, Law and the Regulation of Women's Poverty (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2010) 249.

Margot Young, "Guaranteed Annual Income: A Feminist Approach" in Marjorie Cohen & Jane Pulkinghan, eds, Public Policy for Women in Canada: The State, Income Security and Labour Market Issues (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009).

Margot Young & James P Mulvale, Possibilities and Prospects: The Debate Over a Guaranteed Income(Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2009).

Women and Federal Budgetary Processes

CURA research has supported efforts to disseminate knowledge about how women’s organizations can effectively intervene in public debates, influence policy choices and positively impact the development of the federal government’s annual budget. FAFIA, a CURA community research partner, has analyzed how Canada’s fiscal policies have widened the income gap between men and women, in some cases exacerbating women’s social and economic inequality.

CURA researchers have also been involved extensively with the study of gender budgeting, coordinating a research project to address the connections among macroeconomic policy, public policies that impact the paid and unpaid work of women, and women’s access to human rights. A think tank meeting on Women’s Human Rights and Macroeconomic Policy Choices was organized and held at the Centre for Feminist Research at York University on June 7-8, 2010. Additionally, three community workshops were held in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver in 2010 on “Budgeting for Women’s Human Rights”.

Federal Prerogative and Executive Powers and Human Rights Accountability

CURA research has explored the link between federal prerogative and executive powers and human rights accountability. For further information, see the following sources:

Barbara Cameron. “Accountability Regimes for Federal Social Transfers: An Exercise in Deconstruction and Reconstruction” in Peter Graefe, Julie Simons & Linda White, eds, New Intergovernmental Accountability Regimes: Canada in Comparative Perspective (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).

The Office and Powers of the Governor General: Political Intention and Legal Interpretation” (Paper delivered at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, Wilfred Laurier University, 17 May 2011).

“Accountability Regimes for Federal Social Transfers: An Exercise in Deconstruction and Reconstruction” (Presentation delivered at the conference on Understanding and Evaluating New Intergovernmental Accountability Regimes: Canada in Comparative Perspective, School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto, 5 February 2010).

“Prorogation, Dissolution and the Governor General’s Reserve Powers” (Presentation delivered at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, Carleton University, 27 May 2009)

“Domestic Accountability Mechanisms and Human Rights Implementation: Still Looking for a Sustainable Model” (Panel Presentation delivered at the Gordon F. Henderson Chair in Human Rights Symposium on Feminist Perspectives on Human Rights in Canada, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, 28 March 2009).

The Reserve Powers, Parliamentary Conventions, and the Two-Party Bias of Canada’s Political Traditions” (Lecture delivered at the conference on What Makes a Government Coalition Work: A Canada-European Dialogue, sponsored by the Friedrich Eberts Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ottawa, Ontario, 12 March 2009).

Advancing the Rights of Women Living in Poverty

CURA researchers developed the “Advancing the Rights of Poor Women Project” to increase the capacity for strategic legal advocacy on behalf of poor women in British Columbia. As part of the project, community consultations were held with front-line advocates and lawyers who work with poor women in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince Rupert, and Prince George. The purpose of these consultations was to assess the central issues affecting poor women by touching base with those who are helping poor women to solve problems on a daily basis; and to test the interest of the front line advocates and lawyers in the development of broad litigation and law reform strategies to advance the rights of poor women. A final report was submitted to the Law Foundation of British Columbia in the spring of 2010. For a brief summary of the report, click here. For the final report, click here.

Social Rights Ontario Project

CURA researchers have initiated a research and legal education project, with additional funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, that examines the extent to which social rights are protected provincial legislation and institutions. The research is exploring the ways in which rights claimants can claim social rights in areas of provincial jurisdiction, and how the province of Ontario can be held accountable to international human rights obligations related to housing, poverty and food security. Recommendations of treaty monitoring bodies such as the CESCR, Special Procedures such as the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, or the Universal Periodic Review are being considered as they apply to Ontario. Go to for more information.

Vancouver Olympics

CURA research has assessed the social rights practice that develops in cities in response to the hosting of the Olympics. Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics provided a unique opportunity to examine the use of multi-government and private sector commitments and international / local links as a basis for social rights advocacy. CURA research in this area has also considered alternative approaches to rights claiming including the use of international experts and monitoring bodies, domestic courts, and human rights tribunals.

Margot Young, “The IOC Made Me Do it: Women's Ski Jumping, VANOC, and the 2010 Winter Olympics” (2010) 18:3 Const Forum Const 95. 

Margot Young, “Sex Discrimination at the 2010 Winter Olympics”, Women’s Court of Canada (15 April 2010).

Analyzing Institutional Changes to Human Rights Commissions

CURA researchers have been involved with critically examining the institutional changes occurring in human rights commissions and tribunals across Canada. See the following articles for more information:

Shelagh Day, “Saskatchewan Threatens to Send All Complaints to Court”, Canadian Human Rights Digest 11:3 (April 2010).

Shelagh Day, “Time To Go Into Worry Mode”, Canadian Human Rights Digest 11:2 (March 2010).

Shelagh Day, “Human Rights Under Attack”, Canadian Human Rights Digest 10:4 (May/June 2009).