The Poverty and Human Rights Centre (PHRC) is committed to eradicating poverty and promoting social and economic equality through human rights.

Social and Economic Rights

Canada has ratified international human rights treaties that require governments at all levels to ensure that every Canadian resident enjoys social and economic rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights commits governments in Canada to taking steps to ensure that everyone has an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and shelter. This Covenant also guarantees rights to: just and favourable conditions of work; the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; free basic public education; participation in trade unions; social security, such as pensions and employment insurance; and support for families.

The preamble to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, states that the highest aspiration of the common people was the “advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want.” In this foundational human rights document civil and political rights (to vote, to be free from torture and slavery, to speak freely, to have religious freedom) and social and economic rights (to work, health, education, food and shelter, and social security) were set out together, as interlocking and interdependent rights.

Social and economic rights, although neglected by comparison with other human rights until now, are gaining in importance in Canada and around the world.

Living Up to the Commitments

One of the ways that Canada fulfills its social and economic rights commitments is by creating social programmes, including such programmes as social assistance, legal aid, social housing, medicare, and public education. Thus, there is an important connection between the vigour of social programmes in Canada and the fulfillment of our human rights commitments.

In addition, the Charter and human rights laws are primary vehicles for giving effect to Canada’s social and economic rights commitments.

The Right to Equality

There is a close connection between social and economic rights and the right to equality. The group: “people living in poverty” is predominantly composed of women, Aboriginal people, people of colour, older people, and people with disabilities. Inevitably, the children of the poorest people also suffer. The consistently high rates of poverty of these groups reveal the effects of the various forms of discrimination they face. Programmes and services that enhance social and economic security are essential to their achieving equality.

Mandate of the Poverty and Human Rights Centre

The mandate of the PHRC is to promote compliance with the human rights commitments that Canada has made; to advance interpretations of rights that resist the marginalization of social and economic rights; to develop proposals for law reform and institutional renewal that will assist in the fulfillment of rights obligations; and to educate the public about the human rights implications of government choices that erode social programmes and deepen poverty and social and economic inequality.

The PHRC does its work through research, analysis, writing, and public education, and collaborates with community groups, scholars, lawyers and students.

The Centre produces articles and oped pieces for publication in newspapers, books, and journals, presents papers and speeches in academic and public settings, and develops research resources related to social and economic rights and the right to equality. We collaborate with community groups to prepare briefs and make submissions to international human rights bodies. We also provide analysis and advice to support advocacy before courts and tribunals.


The PHRC began its work as the Poverty and Human Rights Project in 2001 supported by a three-year Major Initiatives Grant from the Law Foundation of British Columbia. Many of the articles and submissions posted on this site, as well as the website itself, were produced with the financial assistance of the Law Foundation.

The Poverty and Human Rights Project was an initiative of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter, Inc. in collaboration with the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies at the University of British Columbia. Directors of the Project were Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day. Angela Cameron was the Project’s Senior Researcher and Co-ordinator from 2001 to 2004. She is the principal architect of this website and the Centre’s Library.

From Project to Centre

In 2004, it became clear that there was a need for ongoing work to advance knowledge of poverty as a human rights issue. The Poverty and Human Rights Project changed its name to the Poverty and Human Rights Centre, and our work continues, with Gwen Brodsky and Shelagh Day as its Directors. In 2004 this work is funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia and by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – Community University Research Alliance Programme.

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