Budget 2016 and human rights: Small steps towards addressing inequality

Court Challenges Program

PSAC welcomes the government delivering on its promise to reinstate the Court Challenges program. This will improve access to justice for equality-seeking groups.

The former Conservative government cancelled the Court Challenges Program in 2006.  The budget document notes, “This program has been instrumental in bringing cases to the courts that clarify and assert Charter rights”.  However, for the program to be meaningful, it must have adequate funding and resources.

Indigenous Peoples

The government made significant investments: $8.4 billion worth of spending commitments to Indigenous communities across the country. This includes funding for:

  • water and waste water infrastructure
  • on-reserve housing
  • on-reserve waste management
  • health facilities like nursing stations and residences for health care workers in First Nation communities
  • First Nations Infrastructure Fund to pay for broadband connections, energy systems, bridges and other physical infrastructure needs
  • Inuit and Northern housing
  • monitoring on-reserve water quality and to track progress toward ending water boil advisories
  • early learning and child care
  • Aboriginal Representative Organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
  • on-reserve shelters for victims of family violence

While this seems promising, much of the money has been delayed to future years. More funding is needed now to address generations of injustice and neglect.

Child care

The federal government will be leading the development of a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, bringing together the provinces, territories and Indigenous peoples, starting this year. The budget includes $529.4 million from the Social Infrastructure Fund for child care, but $500 million of that allocation will be delayed until 2017-2018. $129.4 million is earmarked for Indigenous child care.  $29.4 million of this is for repairs and upgrades of on-reserve child care and this money starts flowing in 2016-2017.

Immigration and Refugees

  • Proposal to provide $56 million over three years, to support the processing of new permanent residents and increased settlement programming.
  • Provide $25 million in 2016–17 to support faster and more predictable processing times for family sponsorship.
  • Provide $245 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, for the identification, overseas processing, transportation and resettlement of the additional 10,000 Syrian refugees.

PSAC welcomes these changes that will hopefully, reduce wait times and allow for the settlement of more immigrants and refugees in Canada.  However, the government must ensure refugees from other countries are also provided the opportunity to come to Canada, alongside Syrian refugees.   

The government must also provide meaningful workplace protections and access to permanent residence status for all migrant workers and remove restrictions on family reunification.

Accessibility for people with disabilities

Budget 2016 makes two investments to improve accessibility for people with disabilities:

  • An additional $4 million over two years, starting in 2016–17 for the Enabling Accessibility Fund to support the capital costs of construction and renovation related to improving physical accessibility and safety for people with disabilities in Canadian communities
  • The government will consult with provinces, territories, municipalities and stakeholders to introduce a Canadians with Disabilities Act. The budget allocates $2 million over two years, starting in 2016–17, “to support the full participation of Canadians with disabilities in this process.”

These measures will help. However, no funding was provided to address poverty for people with disabilities, who are far more likely to be poor than people without disabilities.

Other measures to address inequality

The budget provides some measures to reduce inequality and improve access to services for marginalized groups, especially racialized and immigrant populations that are more likely to be low income. These include:

  • Improved access to employment insurance for some of the most vulnerable workers
  • Investments in affordable housing
  • Improved access to education for low income students

More funding for human rights agencies needed

  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission has been underfunded for a number of years, and because of the lack of funding, had to undergo organizational restructuring and close its regional offices in 2010. PSAC is disappointed that Budget 2016 failed to address the need to increase funding to the CHRC and restore front line services from the regional offices. More funding is needed to ensure that people have access to recourse when their human rights are violated, and to address discrimination prevention and education.