Thursday, May 17, 2012

Special Rapporteur Spanks Canada

Yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food delivered his preliminary reflections [pdf] on his eleven day trip to Canada. Olivier De Schutter's press conference and report on the state of food security in Canada and our progress on the human right to food spanked Canada pretty good. You could tell how accurate it was by the three members of cabinet that attacked him, claiming he knew nothing of Canada and shouldn't have been here anyway--even though he was here at the invitation of the federal government.

The CBC report on De Shutter's Visit

The reason for the Harper government's upset is mentioned in the report from the CBC: De Shutter's report to the UN Human Rights Commission becomes part of Canada's human rights record at the UN. And the report is quite critical about Canada's food security status.
The Special Rapporteur visited four provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta) and convened eight civil society meetings in which he met with farmer's organizations,food security groups, human rights organizations, academics, researchers, and communities. He also read a number of written submissions from individuals and communities.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was one of the Harper government's attack dogs, saying that as De Shutter had not visited her home community, there was no way he could comment on the food security status of Canada's First nations people. On the CBC program Power and Politics, De Shutter pointed out that a trip to Aglukkaq's home would have involved two days travel each way. In his preliminary remarks, he does mention that he met with First Nation's groups and communities in all four provinces, including the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. He then thanks a number of First Nation's organizations and chiefs, council, and community members with whom he visited. Having failed to travel two days to a remote village doesn't really seem to have affected his meeting with a wide variety and cross-section of Canada's First People.
De Shutter's report doesn't say anything really new--anyone paying attention to poverty and/or food security issues in Canada over the last 35 years will not be at all surprised.
A growing number of people across Canada remain unable to meet their basic food needs. In 2007/2008, approximately 7.7 per cent of households in Canada reported experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity.4 Approximately 1.92 million people in Canada, aged 12 or older, lived in food insecure households in 2007/2008 and a staggering 1 in 10 families, 10.8 per cent, with at least one child under the age of six were food insecure during the same period
Fifty-five per cent of households in which the main source of income was social assistance are food insecure, the result of a huge discrepancy between social assistance levels and the rising costs of
living.6 The failures of social assistance levels to meet the basic needs of households, have resulted in the proliferation of private and charity-based food supplements. In 2011, Food Banks Canada
calculated that close to 900,000 Canadians were accessing food banks for assistance each month, slightly over half of whom were receiving social assistance.
The Special Rapporteur was disconcerted by the deep and severe food insecurity faced by aboriginal peoples across Canada living both on- and off-reserve in remote and urban areas. Statistics on First Nations specific food insecurity are few, however the First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS 2008/10) indicates that 17.8 per cent of First Nations adults (age 25–39) and 16.1 per cent of First Nations adults (age 40–54) reported being hungry but did not eat due to lack of money for food in 2007/2008.
[from the preliminary  remarks page 2]

But the Special Rapporteur's remarks have made it very clear why the Harper government went on the attack so quickly; after pointing out how many strong actions have been taken on the human right to food and food security at the municipal and provincial level, he points clearly to the lack of a national food strategy in Canada. During his interview with Evan Solomon on Power and Politics, De Shutter comments on the strong grassroots commitment and concern over food and food security issues in Canada--a constituency he feels is unrecognized at the federal level.

Evan Solomon interviewing Olivier De Shutter on CBC's Power and Politics

Olivier De Shutter has been the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food since March of 2008, and this was his first visit to a developed country like Canada. I, for one, was pleased that he held Canada to the same standards that he would a country in the developing world. he has also been paying attention to the agroecological movement taking place in the developing world--which he talks about in the following video clip:

Food Secure Canada  has a transcript of the questions asked in the House about the Special Rapporteur's preliminary report. Depressingly low-quality questions and answers.

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