The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires countries that have ratified it (who are known as State Parties to the treaty) to “take steps…to the maximum of available resources” to achieve the “full realization” of the rights.

These rights are to be realized equally for women and men, and without any form of discrimination. They include:

  • the right to self‑determination for all peoples, including the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and dispose of their natural wealth and resources
  • the right to work, including the right of everyone to gain a living by work which he/she freely chooses
  • the right to just and favourable conditions of work, including the right to safe and healthy working conditions, and the right of women to equal pay for work of equal value
  • the right to form trade unions and the right to strike
  • the right to social security, including social insurance
  • the right to protection and assistance for the family, to maternity leave, and to protections for children from social and economic exploitation
  • the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing
  • the right to be free from hunger
  • the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • the right to education, including compulsory, free primary education and secondary and post‑secondary education that is accessible to all
  • the right to take part in cultural life.

Canada has been a state party to this Covenant since May 19, 1976. An Optional Protocol to the CESCR was adopted by the General Assembly in December 2008 and came into force in May 2013. If Canada ratified this Optional Protocol, women in Canada would be permitted to file individual complaints (petitions) with the United Nations if their Covenant rights are violated and they have not been able to obtain a remedy in Canada. However, Canada has not ratified this Optional Protocol.

Canada Review 2016

Canada was most recently reviewed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2016. Many Canadian non‑governmental organizations, including FAFIA, made submissions.

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee criticized Canada for CESCR criticized Canada for failing to recognize social and economic rights as justiciable rights and failing to provide domestic remedies for their violation. For many years, Canada has taken the position that, different from civil and political rights, economic and social rights are aspirational goals, not justiciable rights. This position is rejected by advocates and experts in Canada and around the world, as out of step with international law and with new developments in rights implementation.

In its 2016 Concluding Observations, the CESCR Committee urged Canada to:

Develop and implement a comprehensive national gender equality plan to address the structural factors leading to gender inequality, in close cooperation with provinces and territories, as well as in consultation with civil society organizations.

Other recommendations include:

  • take the necessary legislative steps to give full effect to Covenant rights and provide legal remedies when they are violated
  • implement effective pay equity laws in all jurisdictions
  • repeal discriminatory provisions in the Indian Act
  • provide affordable childcare services across the country
  • improve income supports and employment opportunities for women with disabilities
  • ensure that minimum wage in all jurisdictions allows a decent living for workers and their families
  • step up efforts to prevent exploitation of temporary foreign workers
  • ensure that social assistance rates are raised in all jurisdictions to permit a decent living for recipients
  • address violence against women in a holistic manner, including by recognizing the link between poverty and vulnerability to violence
  • increase shelters for women who are victims of violence, as well as long‑term housing solutions
  • implement a human rights based national anti‑poverty strategy
  • ensure access to legal abortion services in all provinces and territories