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Complaint slams Canada for failing human rights in Downtown Eastside

While the deteriorating Downtown Eastside has been debated repeatedly during this year's municipal campaign, Canada's poorest urban postal code hasn't garnered much press in the federal election -- beyond a predictable tussle over Insite.

In what could be a hearty nudge to remind the country about the federal government's responsibility to the neighbourhood, the Pivot Legal Society made a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review that claims "Canada is failing to meet key international obligations on the issue of housing and homelessness in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside."

The submission runs through a list of complaints that includes the fact that Vancouver's homeless population has increased 39 per cent since 2005 to 2,592; and that more than 1,300 low-income Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms have been in the neighbourhood lost since Canada was awarded the 2010 Winter Games.

Pivot blames all three levels of government for the failure to protect rental stock and tenants. But since most of the legal responsibilities lie with the provincial and municipal governments, Pivot's accusations probably won't play in the federal election.

In the past, the UN has raised concerns about the Downtown Eastside's housing crisis, but appears to have had little influence. After visiting the neighbourhood last year, the UN's Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, called on the federal government to set up a national housing strategy – Canada is the only G7 country without one. However, housing is still nowhere near being a campaign issue.

Pivot's submission could make the Downtown Eastside a more prominent issue in the municipal election if the UN comes back with a scathing critique before November. It would then give opposition politicians specific issues to campaign on, such as enforcing the Standards and Maintenance By-law; improving the Single Room Accommodation By-law; requiring police to stop illegal evictions.

Sean Condon edits Megaphone magazine.

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