A Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship awarded by the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) will explore the potential to reduce homelessness using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other legal tools. Tracy Heffernan, a program director at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), will spend her fellowship at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.
“We clearly need to do more on the homelessness front,” Heffernan says. “One of my key current interests is the use of a rights-based approach to address homelessness and the lack of adequate housing. This fellowship will allow me to research the right to housing in other countries and to analyze how those strategies might apply in Canada. And I’ll work directly with individuals and organizations who may have a role to play.”
Heffernan will study the ways in which the Charter has already been used to advance social and economic rights, and will create a new directed research course for students at Osgoode Hall. Her fellowship will culminate in a symposium next year, at which an international group of experts will consider potential next steps towards establishment of a right to housing in Canada.
Osgoode students participating in the new course will focus on the root causes of homelessness and inadequate housing, and on how the law might be used to address these issues. Heffernan will also provide workshops and guest lectures during her fellowship. Law students will be exposed to issues of poverty and homelessness and will be encouraged to consider what role they can play as lawyers.
Osgoode Hall Dean Lorne Sossin says the law school looks forward to partnering in the advancement of this distinct stream of Charter scholarship. “The Charter has had a profound impact, but its role in developing social rights is in its infancy,” he says. “While at Osgoode, Tracy is going to explore the concept of a positive Charter right to adequate housing, one of the most significant social challenges we face.”
Heffernan says that improved access-to-justice, which is a central aspect of the LFO’s mandate, is very much among the potential benefits she sees a rights-based approach delivering. “Housing is fundamental to people’s ability to work, to raise families, to engage with their communities – as well as to make use of the legal system,” she says.
Community Leadership in Justice Fellowships are one of several LFO granting programs, and one or more have been awarded annually since 2006. They harness the potential of community-academia links to advance justice-related and educational objectives. Fellows are typically leading experts and innovators. Joint applications from public interest groups and prospective host academic institutions are invited each spring.
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