About the Issue
Gandhi called poverty “the worst form of violence.” Though there is no official measure of poverty in Canada, poverty affects millions of Canadians every year. Stats Canada has estimated that 15 per cent of Canadians live in poverty, and this percentage jumps to 40 per cent when measuring the poverty levels of lone parents, recent immigrants, people with disabilities, and seniors, and to 50 per cent for Aboriginal Children. Poverty has been on the rise in Canada since the mid-1990s due to the rising cost of housing and debt levels. Poverty places a significant burden on our economy, especially through health-care costs.
Why This Matters
Poverty and democracy are antithetical to each other. Poverty deprives an individual from fully and meaningfully participating in the society in which they live. Poverty and inequality go hand in hand. Poverty impacts the portion of our population who already experience discrimination on a regular basis. People of colour, the LGTBQ community, First Nations, immigrants and refugees, single parent families, and those struggling with mental health issues, are more likely to be living in poverty, than other individuals. Furthermore, these groups continue to be oppressed through the ongoing cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape from. The rights and freedoms of marginalized individuals often take a backseat to the reality of living in poverty. Many Canadians are forced each month to choose between paying rent or eating. When faced with the decision between homelessness and hunger, it is difficult to also ensure that your rights and freedoms are intact, which is why addressing poverty is so inherent to the fight for equality.
- CCLA Intervened and successfully argued at the Federal Court of Appeal in the matter of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCS) v. Canada that the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children on reserve by under-funding child welfare services provided to them, and emphasizing that a purposive understanding of equality had to be maintained in line with equality jurisprudence.
- The CCLA intervened before the Supreme Court in R. v. Manning to oppose the position taken by the Crown that courts cannot consider the effect of a requested forfeiture order on the offender and his or her family, or the likelihood that the property in issue will be used for lawful purposes. The CCLA argued that a proper reading of the Criminal Code requires an assessment of the personal circumstances of the offender and affected others.
CCLA’s work in this area has frequently addressed, implicitly or explicitly, the connections between poverty and other fundamental rights. For example, through advocacy in connection with pan-handling, CCLA shed light on the way in which legal restrictions could affect the rights of individuals to express themselves – which is of particular importance if what they are expressing is a need for sustenance. Likewise, CCLA’s legal submission on the invasive questions pursued by welfare authorities highlighted the privacy rights of people who are seeking such assistance.
One issue we are currently monitoring involves “civil forfeiture.” Civil forfeiture programs currently exist in seven provinces in Canada. Typically, under these programs, a province gives itself the authority to forfeit someone’s property if that property has been found to be the instrument or the proceeds of crime. What is unusual about this penalty is that the individual who owns the property does not have the usual protections provided by the criminal justice system: forfeiture orders may be given even if there is no criminal conviction, nor even criminal charges against the individual; there is no requirement for proof against the individual beyond a reasonable doubt; and while courts generally give forfeiture orders, administrative forfeiture proceedings may also take place in certain circumstances.