WWIT for Ottawa to be a Human Rights City?

Cities in Canada, home to 80% of our population, have an outsized influence to take a stand for human rights.


06 April 2017

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Human rights is an expansive topic. As soon as John Packer started weaving the history and complexity for our most recent What Would It Take (WWIT) conversation, I realized how enormous the task had been. Thank goodness we recruited the Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre of the University of Ottawa to help us along, because there was a lot to cover!

John was a compelling and engaging speaker, explaining to the Synapcity crowd that the legislation of Human Rights is relatively recent, that it is further complicated by global trend towards urban migration, and that cities can have an exciting role to play if they are willing to take up the mantle.

Although human rights are legislated by the state, cities are producers of cultures, economies, and shape the environment in which we live together. Cities in Canada, home to 80% of our population, have an outsized influence to take a stand for human rights. Cities offer welfare services, policing, access to technology, and other connections between human rights and our lived experience as residents.

Montreal has taken a leadership role by creating a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities and took it one step further by appointing an ombudsman.  This is evidence of real commitment to human rights outcomes, as the ombudsperson reviews and monitors the city’s actors and actions as they relate to human rights. Packer emphasizes what is sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government as a great place to find advocates and allies: commissions, the press, and people’s interest groups.

But WWIT for Ottawa to be a Human Rights City? We only scratched the surface. Looking at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the group found some consensus around a few Articles that appeared to be essential within the purview of the city:

Article 21: Everyone has the human right to take part in government of one’s country directly or through free and fair elections and access to the public service.

Article 22: Everyone has the human right to social security and to the realization of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for dignity.

Article 25: Everyone has the human right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.

Article 27: Everyone has the human right to participate freely in the cultural life and to share in scientific progress, as well as to protection of their artistic, literary or scientific creations.

We feel there is some momentum to consider this conversation! If you are interested in furthering the discussion, please reach out to and we will organize a phase 2! Interestingly, the work out of Montreal came to be out of a city task force on municipal democracy, perhaps there is some interest in doing the same here?

The next WWIT conversation is happening on April 18, 2017 at Bar Robo (692 Somerset Street West). We’ll be asking, What Would It Take for Coach Houses to have an impact on housing in Ottawa? Join us and Alain Miguelez to discuss. Tickets are $20 and are available on Eventbrite


The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)

Leckie, S. (2003). National Perspectives on Housing Rights. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Leiden.