I’m doing my internship at the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate within the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I am working remotely with a team that is cross-country (e.g. there are people in Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, and Victoria). Despite being remote, the work environment is well connected and collegial, I can easily chat or email with colleagues (who all seem to enjoy their work and take time to enjoy vacations over the summer with their families). I have talked with my supervisor the most, who is extremely kind, understanding and organized (we even got to chat over coffee in-person).
One of the best parts is meeting all the wonderful people doing human rights work (which we all know is not done for the money). One of my colleagues has worked decades with women experiencing violence and even helped form the National Housing Strategy and corresponding Act, which is what gave birth to the Housing Advocate (which is a recent office, set up after 2019). I have also met with both of the DoJ lawyers who work with the housing team. They have provided great insight into the role of legal counsel and their career in law. I am constantly trying to make connections and learn about the legal profession through practicing lawyers. I am also working closely with a consultant who has a PhD in law and is very knowledgeable on housing rights and jurisprudence in Canada. I am so grateful that I get to meet so many wonderful people, which include directors of leading non-profits working on housing policy and outreach, a consultant who was a runner-up mayoral candidate in a major Canadian city, and numerous top academics tackling the right to housing in Canada.
The nascency of the office is also what makes it an exciting environment to work in, as processes, procedures and the scope of work are continually evolving. I am working on a review of homeless encampments. My work mostly involves researching cases, reading internal documents, and reviewing international instruments. Now, as I walk around the city, I am much more aware of the homelessness crisis (due to recency bias – like when you are in a car and start to see that same car model everywhere). I am also brought into meetings that my supervisor is hosting with community groups and partners, as well as with colleagues. It’s funny to be a ‘legal expert’ in my team, where most colleagues have careers in policy.
I’ve also been able to bring the knowledge from my courses into the internship. For example, I took a course in International Law of Human Rights. This gave me the basic understanding of legal documents, and how this field of law operates. There are so many acronyms for treaties and protocols that having this background is definitely helpful as I read reports for my work. Another course that has come in handy was a focus week course called the Right to Housing and Gender Equality. This course brought my attention to the different cases on the right to housing in Canada. This jurisprudence is exciting because there is a lot of evolution and room to advance Charter issues. That being said, we are seeing a limit to the judiciary when it comes to these issues, since they often say that the legislation needs to catch up. My background in urban planning has also facilitated my understanding of bylaws, land-use, and property.
Overall, it has been a pleasure to work so closely with stakeholders leading the frontier of the right to housing in Canada, to see the constant evolution of Canadian jurisprudence related to encampments, and to experience first-hand the evolution of the Advocate’s office.