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In 2005, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) established the Canadian Reference Group (CRG) on Social Determinants of Health. This initial phase of the CRG focused on informing Canada’s contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health and outlining Commission implications for Canada.

Over the course of the Commission, the CRG played a key role in supporting Canada as a global leader to address social determinants of health and health inequalities. The work of the CRG led to knowledge and action in two key areas:

  1. Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ health; and
  2. Intersectoral action to address the factors that shape health and wellbeing

The Commission’s report, Closing the Gap in a Generation, released in 2008, recognized that effectively working on the causes of health inequalities requires broad intersectoral engagement of policy-makers across government at all levels, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, academic institutions, and business.

To be aligned with the Commission, the CRG started to work on collaborative partnerships and action across sectors and levels of government with civil society, Indigenous groups and the private sector.


Following the publication of the Commission report, the CRG’s mandate was renewed by PHAC in 2009. In its second phase, the CRG expanded its efforts towards developing products and tools to support and inform action on the social determinants of health. The membership for the CRG was broadened to include additional leaders from public health and other key sectors.

The CRG has been Canada’s only national-level multisectoral group focused on addressing the social determinants of health and health inequalities.


The Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health (Rio Declaration) was ratified at the 65th World Health Assembly in May 2012. As signatories to the Rio Declaration, WHO Member States, including Canada, committed to develop action plans to reduce health inequalities.

This global commitment created an opportunity to strengthen the CRG’s mandate in its third phase by anchoring it in the Rio Declaration. In September 2012, the CRG was renewed as the Canadian Council on Social Determinants of Health (CCSDH). The mandate of the CCSDH is to:

  1. advise PHAC on matters relating to the implementation of the Rio Declaration, including planning, monitoring and reporting; and
  2. facilitate and leverage intersectoral action on the social determinants of health through the member networks and targeted intersectoral initiatives.

WORK PLAN 2014-2017

In December 2014, a three year work plan was organized around the broad theme of healthy child development, with a focus on strengthening Indigenous cultural competency and community wellbeing as follows:

Improving Healthy Child Development: Building Capacity for Action

The goal of this initiative is to support your antibiotics action for children, including Indigenous children by equipping sectors with evidence-based resources.

Engaging Across Sectors for Community Wellbeing

The goal of this initiative is to assist sectors to work together to address the issues affecting their communities, including the wellbeing of children.

Intersectoral Action to Address Inequity for Indigenous Peoples

The goal of this initiative is to better engage with Indigenous peoples in collaborative action to address health inequities through cultural competency training.