Pushing for human rights is key in holding governments accountable and for poverty reduction, according to a recent lecture by social justice and human rights lawyer Vince Calderhead.
Calderhead is an expert in poverty law and human rights. He works for Pink Larkin, a law firm which fights for law reform to protect the poor.
His lecture at Humber’s North Campus on Nov. 22 argued that eliminating poverty is required under human rights laws.
“Human rights represents a power shift from governments to people. When people have human rights, governments have less power,” he said. “For example, people can no longer be arbitrarily arrested or imprisoned, governments can’t discriminate against people, they must hold elections because of the existence of human rights.”
Calderhead’s lecture focused on the imperatives to solve poverty from a human rights perspective, citing examples from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Roughly five million people suffer from poverty in Canada, which is about one in seven people.
People living with disabilities, single parents and youth are most affected, according to Canada Without Poverty’s website.
“Poverty can be expressed in different aspects of a person’s life, including food security, health, and housing,” its website states.
Calderhead said human rights force the government’s hand when it comes to helping people.
“The idea of accommodation imposes positive obligations on governments to adopt measures to ensure members of historically disenfranchised groups can equally participate in society,” he said.
After the lecture, Calderhead answered questions from the crowd including one about the recent scrapping of Ontario’s basic income pilot.
“When the current provincial government got rid of it, it is saying ‘we don’t know and we don’t care.
We don’t want to know if this policy would work, in fact we may be afraid that it might work,’” he said.
“It mostly has to do with power and wanting not to ensure that the poor have their social and economic rights justified,” Calderhead said.
Calderhead was the final speaker for the President’s Lecture Series this semester. More speakers are scheduled next semester, including author Ausma Khan and animal science professor Temple Grandin.
Melanie Chaparian, part of the President’s Lecture Series committee, said she invites suggestions from students.
“We do strongly encourage students to send us any suggestion that you may have for speakers you would like to see. It is an academic series so we are looking for public intellectuals, who would speak to the interests that our community would have,” Chaparian said.