Economic and social rights
To enjoy fair and reasonable conditions of employment, to have access to education, to enjoy the best possible health, to have a decent standard of living and to have access to social security programs when in need, these are some of the recognized economic and social rights.
These rights are guaranteed for all by international covenants or treaties and by national and regional legislation.
Origin and enforcement in Québec
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR ) proclaimed that human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to all members of the human family.
A declaration does not however have the same status as a law or a treaty. In 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted two international covenants in order that States should be bound by the rights it contained:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR ) protects, for example, the right to life, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and prohibits torture.
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR ) guarantees, for example, the right to free education, to health, to work and to social security.
Economic and Social Rights in Québec: Protected and guaranteed by several laws
Through its commitment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR ) the Québec Government undertook to give effect to those rights.
Québec has signed other international instruments which also reinforce that commitment such as:
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2009)
Moreover, Québec has included economic and social rights in its fundamental law:
- The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975)
Through these commitments, Québec has the responsibility to uphold, protect, promote and implement social and economic rights. It must, for example, adopt laws or put in place laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.
- The Government must ensure that its policies or those of businesses or institution on its territory are not discriminatory and foster the social, economic and cultural participation of all.
- The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse can intervene when those rights are not respected.
- The courts can issue rulings to protect economic and social rights based on the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and other legislation.
For the full recognition of economic and social rights
Although they are included in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, economic and social rights do not have the same status as the political and judicial fundamental rights (sections 1 to 38) that take explicit precedence over all other Québec laws.
The implementation and scope of economic and social rights are limited. Yet, economic and social rights have the same importance as all other human rights and freedoms.
Why? Because respect for these rights is linked to other rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter, including the right to equality and the right to safeguard one’s dignity.
This is the reason why the Commission recommends that Québec reinforce these rights by:
- Giving economic and social rights the same status as other rights in the Charter establishing their explicit precedence over all other laws;
- Making the full realization of these rights a priority;
- Explicitly stating a number of other economic and social rights in the Charter, such as:
- The right to housing
- The right to health
- The right to work
Find out more :
Après 25 ans - La Charte québécoise des droits et libertés. Volume 1 - Bilan et recommandations (PDF, 2 Mo)
International commitments of the Québec State
By ratifying the ICESCR , Québec made several promises, among others, to:
- Prohibit discrimination (direct, indirect or systemic) in the exercise of the rights included in the Covenant. Rights must be exercised without discrimination “based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or any other status.”
- Ensure progressively the full realization of the recognized rights. This includes the obligation to adopt immediate and concrete actions to implement the rights enunciated in the Covenant. The State must then act “by every appropriate means” (through laws, policies, social programs, etc.) and “to the maximum extent of available resources” in order that all can exercise their economic and social rights.
- To refrain from adopting “regressive measures”, that is, to avoid putting in place, laws, regulations or programs, etc. that would “directly or indirectly be a step back” relative to the recognized rights in the Covenant. To do so would require the most careful consideration of all rights ensured and be fully justified based on the available resources.
Did you know?
Québec is the only province – and the only North-American jurisdiction – to have included economic and social rights in a fundamental law, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It takes precedence over all other laws.