The Child-Friendly Housing Coalition has been in the midst of some re-organizing. Previously, the CFHCA started out as a means by which to rally towards protection for children in housing in Alberta. This window of opportunity arose as a result of a January 2017 court ruling on age and the Charter.  The government had agreed that it was obligated to add ‘age’ to the Alberta Human Rights Act. That window of opportunity closed at the beginning of 2018, albeit, prior to its closing, came Bill 23, the Alberta Human Rights Amendments Act.

This bill was a mixed blessing, in that the government acknowledged protection for children in rental housing. Yet, it did provide for a 15-year wait on protections in condos, cooperatives and mobile home site tenancies. Moreover, in order to better facilitate a delay on protections for children in these areas, Bill 23 set up a provision to gnaw away at the previously-existing rights for family status. (See Section 4.2(1) of the Alberta Human Rights Act – a provision that was not present in the prior iterations of the Alberta Human Rights Act, and the predecessor of the Act, with Section 4.2(1) being a provision that serves to curtail the effectiveness of family status protection in the Act, in addition to limiting the level of protection granted by the new protection on ‘age.’)

Yet, at this point in time, this leaves questions as to what areas can the CFHCA pursue presently?

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Possible options include the following:

1)  Advocate for better education, awareness and enforcement of the provisions that exist presently at the provincial level, as they relate to children and housing.

2)  Identify areas by which covert discrimination against children may occur. Examples of this can include abrupt cancellation or non-renewal of a lease in the event of a single noise complaint or creating condo bylaws that would restrict bicycle use and chalk drawings, in a way that would make families uncomfortable. There could be many examples of such.

3)  Advocate for more larger units in new multi-unit builds, such that the larger units would better accommodate families. This may also include advocating for more affordable housing that is accessible to families, including low-income families and/or single parent families. (In addition, there could be the possibility of pressuring the federal government, insofar as when funds are made available for affordable housing, some of those funds could be funds with strings attached so that affordable housing will benefit children.)

4)  Though not something that the CFHCA is in a position to pursue at any time in the near future, it has been brought forward that one option to consider would be investigating the use of a constitutional challenge so as to bring forward protections for children in condos, cooperatives and mobile home site tenancies sooner than the current January 1, 2033 deadline.  By upholding any and all age discriminatory policies in place until 2033, in relation to condos, cooperatives and mobile site tenancies, the Government of Alberta has pretty much stated that Alberta can pick and choose which equality rights apply under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under what situations. In other words, up until 2033, despite whatever Section 15 of the Charter may say about guarding against discrimination ‘based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability,’ Alberta has agreed that age protection is to be upheld, but has stated that the part about ‘age’ has little to no meaning — for condos, cooperatives and mobile home site tenancies – for a period of no less than 15 years.

Just imagine if British Columbia acknowledged that the federal government is completely in the right in determining when and where to place pipelines, and the Province of BC were to agree to unequivocally accept whatever court ruling that determines the Government of Canada to have full jurisdiction in such matters – but only after a full 15-year transition period has elapsed.  (Note: At the time of publication of this post, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline had been just delayed via a decision from the Federal Court of Appeals, albeit this decision was in relation to the National Energy Board and engagement in ‘meaningful consultation’ with First Nations and in terms of the NEB having limited of the scope of the project to not fully consider effects on marine tanker traffic, rather than a question of whether a provincial government would have jurisdiction, as opposed to a federal government.)

Sadly, Charter Rights for some are not cheap. Oddly enough, though we may well define our ‘Equality Rights’ as fundamental parts of being Canadian, when provincial governments balk at honouring the Charter that a past premier has signed, some equality rights may only be achieved through the courts.  To that end, equality rights may be limited to only those with enough funds to achieve them.  In the meantime, children can and will be marginalized.

Though, sadly, the CFHCA won’t be pursuing a constitutional challenge any time soon (if ever), if you would like more information on how and why there would be potential grounds for a constitutional challenge on the limitations of the protections brought forward in Bill 23, please email the CFHCA at hello@cfhca.ca.  For a small advocacy group such as the CFHCA, a constitutional challenge would not be easy and it would not be cheap. If an individual or group were able and willing to pursue a constitutional challenge on this front, the CFHCA would be most interested in learning more.

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This list of priorities is a sort of work-in-progress. It may be far from exhaustive. Moreover, advocacy in the future may be on different levels. In the past, the primary goal of advocacy was in pushing for better access for children to housing at the provincial level. In the future, advocacy may occur at the municipal, provincial and/or federal levels. For instance, the CFHCA could lobby the federal government to take a more active role in monitoring housing discrimination at the provincial level, which could then help in better determining strategies and funding formulas for distribution of funds towards affordable housing. Moreover, the CFHCA could advocate that if funding formulas were set up such that provincial policies that uphold ‘adults-only’ condos (and/or other forms of discrimination) are maintained, then federal funding could be reduced. In doing so, this could set up additional incentive at the provincial level to more promptly end the ‘birthovictions’ and the discrimination that are to remain in Alberta until 2033.

Similarly, federal funding structures could be set up so that provinces might be given more incentive towards better policing housing discrimination.

All the same, if you have ideas for areas of concerns or priorities, please email the Child-Friendly Housing Coalition at hello@cfhca.ca. While we may not be able to respond to every email, we appreciate your input and insights.

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