Ontario Law Foundation Grant to Study Charter Right to Housing

It’s odd, if you think about it, that with the advance of industrial capitalism we’re now born having to pay rent. There’s no place on the planet where you may be simply because you are. At least, I think it’s odd. And so does Tracy Heffernan, it would seem. She’s the program director at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and the recent recipient of a Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship from the Ontario Law Foundation.

According to the Law Foundation press release, her project:

will study the ways in which the Charter has already been used to advance social and economic rights, and will create a new directed research course for students at Osgoode Hall. Her fellowship will culminate in a symposium next year, at which an international group of experts will consider potential next steps towards establishment of a right to housing in Canada.

Heffernan was part of a group of social activist organizations that began an action in 2010 against the Crown and the attorneys-general of Canada and Ontario seeking a declaration that the federal and provincial governments have a duty under the Charter, which they have breached, to:

implement effective national and provincial strategies to reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness and inadequate housing

The application in that action is available online, as are a number of supporting affidavits. I’ve been unable to find out whether the action is in fact proceeding.


  1. Ok I’ll take the bait:

    Why do find “It’s odd, if you think about it, that with the advance of industrial capitalism we’re now born having to pay rent. There’s no place on the planet where you may be simply because you are.” ?

    Seriously, I would like know


  2. Hi Ginger

    Bit of a tall order — to unpack a whole system in an exchange of comments. But let me try some shortcuts into my thinking to see if that gives you an idea.

    The oddness comes from stepping outside the assumptions of our current economic system and looking at things from a different set of assumptions (no “set-free” place, of course). This is a good thing to do from time to time, I think, as much as we’re able; we too easily assume that “is” equals “ought.” Akin perhaps to the Queen’s “as many as six impossible things before breakfast” in Alice in Wonderland, it also takes some practice and requires that you don’t fear silliness. History and other cultures are often good starting places.

    A version of this is to take the assumptions of the system literally. So a newborn must pay rent, as all people must; and of course this is absurd.

    Here’s where the fudge enters. Oh, we say, that sort of thing only applies to adults; the family takes care of children. But, to put it baldly, the family, childhood, motherhood, don’t fit in the capitalist system; one emerges into the economy fully formed as an individual, ready to make his or her way according to the laws of the market. Except, of course, that isn’t so. Some of us are born into money, position, privilege, good health etc. and some of us are not. But all of that is obscured by taking some rather important things — the family, childhood, motherhood — and placing them off to one side as immaterial to the system.

    One of the great “impossible things before breakfast” is John Rawls’s thought experiment called the veil of ignorance. It’s worth trying out.

  3. Is the idea of ‘no place on the planet’ accurate? What of someone born as a qualified ‘status Indian’ on a reserve – does that person not have the right to ‘be’ there? What of someone born on collectively-owned land: would a kibbutz be a valid example? One has to be a member of the collective, but one then has the pure right to ‘be’ in the designated place. I don’t know what rules applied to residents of collective farms in the Soviet era.

    One of the conditions of ‘being’ in this world is earning one’s livelihood. In conditions of plenty, hunters and gatherers may not have needed to exclude others from ‘their’ land, but in conditions of scarcity, some exclusionary rule is probably inevitable, without leading necessarily to *private* or individual ownership of the land. So belonging to a collective is required to obtain the right to ‘be’ there (though the conditions of membership may be more or less open).

    I don’t find this odd.

    I am sceptical of a ‘right’ to housing – since it implies a right to housing of a certain standard. I don’t know how such ‘rights’ work. I understand a political argument that society should provide decent housing to all its members. It’s the ‘right’ part of it that I have trouble with. Perhaps the study for the Law Foundation will help.

  4. Simon


    we too easily assume that “is” equals “ought.”

    Some of us, here, are self-described refugees from the is-ought dilemma. We would never think of mentioning that issue …

    Yeah, well, never mind.

    Anyway,good post to start off the law school year, too.


  5. @David: Yeah, I thought of the law school aspect of that phrase as it fled from my fingertips. Hope you’re all right.

    @John: You clarify things as usual. — I meant no home for those of us operating in the industrial (and post-industrial, I guess) world. Kibbuzim and status “Indians” are special cases and make my point, and yours too, about collectives. — “belonging to a collective is required to obtain the right to ‘be’ there” : exactly. Our disagreement is about whether we have and should have a form of collective nowadays. Clearly it’s not entirely “sauve qui peut” (as in some places in the States, perhaps), but our sense of community and communal responsibility could be stronger in my view. — And I don’t think I disagree with you about the utility of a “right to housing”; I’m too much of a lawyer to be much moved by the rhetorical use of “a right”.

  6. @Simon: Thanks for the stimulating reply.

    I was curious to find out if your statement of fact on housing was based on moral considerations, factual considerations or idealist or metaphysical considerations. Since we are speaking of paradigm shifts or framing issues differently, in other peoples’s terminology, it seems that Popper was of the view that change takes place on the basis of truth verification (or proving it right) while Kuhn was of the view that it is a question of proving it wrong. I sometimes think it may be simply a question of “you can’t beat gravity” or as the Rolling Stones great but seldom played song – “Time waits for no one”. As you point out in your reply (put differently by me though) we are born and live collectively. It is impossible to survive and propagate independent of others. So it seems that at this time of “industrial capitalism” or as some wishful thinkers (self-deceived or delusional!) “post-industrial capitalism” or “knowledge based capitalism” (try not eating for a while or eating programming code or a factum) with the tremendous or stupendous world wide wealth not just national, that some people do not have housing. In your response you mention children. If we leave adults aside, in Canada there are children that are raised in homeless shelters. So thanks for putting the question, it seems pretty clear that housing is not a “physical” question but a metaphysical question or as put above – a question of rights. The same can be said for food. There are too many studies (objective, dispassionate, and scientific) which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that with very few exceptions that famines are not based on a lack of food but a lack of money to buy food. This is another “rights” based problem killing roughly 20,000 per day. Most of these children of disease brought on by lack of food.