An Ottawa man who was living in a shelter with his wife and two children took the City of Ottawa to a human-rights tribunal last month, alleging that immigrants are given priority over “white Canadians” for public housing.
Kirk Munroe and his family lived at the Carling Family Shelter for months last year while waiting for a public housing unit to call their own. Munroe grew frustrated with the wait after immigrant families at the shelter were offered public housing in only a “matter of weeks.”
In his application to Ontario’s human-rights tribunal, Munroe quoted an Ottawa public housing manager as saying “whites have less chance of getting a home and they have to stay in shelters longer than immigrants new to Canada.”
The tribunal heard that the quick turnaround time for immigrants was in “distinct contrast to the experience of white Canadian families” at the shelter, including his own, who had to wait months for housing.
A lawyer for the public housing agency denied it gives priority to immigrants, and a lawyer for the City of Ottawa told the hearing that the immigrants in question may have been victims of domestic violence, which, he said, would account for why they were offered social housing so quickly. The tribunal also heard that the public housing manager denied saying that immigrants have a better shot at getting public housing.
Eric Whist, vice-chair of the tribunal, questioned Munroe’s account of what the public housing manager told him.
“This statement, characterized as an exact quote, appears to be more of a paraphrase and one from a longer conversation. It is also not evident that this quote, even if accepted as generally accurate, indicates that Ms. Jean Louis (a tenant service manager) was communicating that the reason why whites stay in shelters longer than immigrants was because of the policy of (Ottawa public housing) or others was to give priority to immigrants over Canadian citizens,” Whist said in an interim decision dated March 12.
Munroe’s challenge against the City of Ottawa claimed he was discriminated on the basis of race, colour, disability and reprisal.
The adjudicator of the tribunal dismissed all but one of the grounds in the Munroe application. Ottawa public housing gives priority to victims of violence, the terminally ill and the homeless. The adjudicator considered the disability grounds but while Munroe was diagnosed with an undisclosed “chronic medical condition,” he was not dying and in turn did not qualify for priority housing.
But Munroe’s claims of reprisal—notably that he was subjected to “poorer treatment” in the shelter after filing an application with the tribunal—were not dismissed. In the reprisal section of his application, Munroe also says his family was transferred into the shelter’s smallest room as a punishment for complaining about being kicked out for five days because of his aggressive behaviour.
“The applicant alleged that the decision to expel him from the shelter was discriminatory in that the decision did not appropriately consider that the applicant had mental issues that contributed to the behaviours that led to his being asked to leave,” Whist said.
The lawyer for the City of Ottawa said the adequacy of rooms is an issue for almost everyone and noted that shelters are for emergency housing, not long term.
The adjudicator said Munroe has a “reasonable prospect” of proving alleged discrimination under the reprisal section of his application. The adjudicator directed Munroe to amend his application to include more details about the alleged discrimination.
Munroe could not be reached for comment and the City of Ottawa said that they have yet to receive his amended application.
There are about 15,000 people on a waiting list for public housing in Ottawa.