FREDERICTON (CNB) – The following statement was issued by Randy Dickinson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, on the occasion of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty:

On Monday, Oct. 17, New Brunswickers will be marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which was first declared by the United Nations in 1992.

Poverty is a relatively new human rights issue. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1947 was the first human rights instrument to recognize economic rights. This was an important advance, achieved in no small part due to New Brunswick native John Peters Humphrey, who was the principal drafter of the declaration.

For most people in their daily lives, economic rights can actually be more important than the traditional civil liberties and legal rights found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the American Bill of Rights. For example, jury trials and freedom of speech are important rights, but for most people food, shelter, medical care and education are critical.

The New Brunswick Human Rights Act focuses on such key economic rights as employment, access to housing, and access to public services, including education and medical care. It prohibits discrimination in these economic activities based on 14 personal characteristics such as sex and disability.

Since many of the groups that experience discrimination, such as persons with a physical or mental disability and Aboriginal persons, are more likely to be poor, the Human Rights Act has been particularly important for people living in poverty. Furthermore, the human rights complaint process is free to the complainant, and a lawyer is not needed to participate in the complaint process.

The protection provided to people living in poverty was enhanced in 2005 when social condition was added to the Human Rights Act. Basically, social condition means a disadvantage due to one's source of income, occupation or level of education. While this new ground does not prohibit discrimination against the poor as such, it nevertheless protects a sizable number of people living in poverty. Examples are people who receive income assistance or a worker’s compensation pension; students; and those who do not have a high school diploma.

Based on the census, 13.8 per cent of New Brunswickers lived in poverty in 2006. According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of people living in poverty has been gradually decreasing in New Brunswick and Canada as a whole. Still, about 20 per cent of the Canadian population had a low income for at least one year between 1999 and 2004. This is often due to a job loss, the birth of a child or a family breakdown. Persistent low income tends to be concentrated among single parents, recent immigrants, people with work disabilities, unattached people between 45 and 64, and Aboriginal people.

In 2009, the province adopted Overcoming Poverty: The New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Plan. The plan is a welcome step toward the eradication of poverty. Along with government, non-profit and business leaders, the plan relies on the involvement of people living in poverty themselves, which is a key principle behind the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

At the commission, we have seen the important role that people living in poverty can play in improving their community, and we selected one person in particular who exemplifies this. On Sept. 15, the commission presented its New Brunswick Human Rights Award for 2011 to Émilienne Basque of Tracadie-Sheila. She has worked for more than 40 years to improve the lives of people who are poor, disabled, receiving income assistance or who are otherwise disadvantaged. She has set a wonderful example for New Brunswickers.

Significant progress to eradicate poverty requires the involvement of a broad cross-section of society. As we mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I urge New Brunswickers to consider how they could contribute to the anti-poverty initiatives in their local area.

LINK:

●    New Brunswick Human Rights Commission: www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp