The United Nations' special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, just completed an 11-day investigation into food security in Canada, and his conclusions are stark: "What I've seen in Canada is a system that presents barriers for the poor to access nutritious diets and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and aboriginal (and) non-aboriginal peoples".
Mr. de Schutter found that 800,000 households in Canada don't have the ability to ensure that they're putting proper food on the table. He has called for a national food strategy emphasizing local food production, reforming food subsidies for the North, ensuring a living wage for low-income people, and pulling together the separate attempts being made across the country to defeat hunger.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was unequivocal in his response to the rapporteur's findings, saying, "I think this is completely ridiculous". He commented that "the UN should focus on development ... in countries where people are starving. We think it's simply a waste of resources to come to Canada to give political lectures".
For his part, Mr. de Schutter replied, "it's not because the country is a wealthy country that there are no problems. In fact, the problems are very significant and, frankly, this sort of self-righteousness about the situation being good in Canada is not corresponding to what I saw on the ground, not at all".
During the special rapporteur's visit, the government did not grant him an official access to any cabinet ministers. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who was promoting the seal hunt, did agree to meet with him at the last minute on Wednesday, however. According to Mr. Aglukkaq's spokesperson, "the minister was increasingly frustrated that someone would write about food security in the North without going there". Mr. de Schutter's itinerary included Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and the Island Lakes Region. He did not visit the North.
The UN Right To Food Mission Is Visiting ... Canada? - May 6, 2012
The United Nations has never sent their Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to a wealthy nation before. Usually, Olivier de Schutter, the Special Rapporteur, visits developing countries. But today Mr. De Schutter touches down in Canada, where he will investigate our food system. He will visit Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and the Island Lakes Region, and speak with various civic groups, from May 6-16th.
And why does our food system need investigating? According to Diana Bronson, the Executive Director of Food Secure Canada, "over two million Canadians do not have enough food to eat, and many people who live on government assistance cannot afford a healthy diet".
The Special Rapporteur's meetings will include civil society groups concerned with the right to food across Canada, as well as with Aboriginal peoples who are particularly affected by the issue. He will be investigating issues of access to food for marginalized groups - in a press release, he said, "Challenges remain to ensure that food is adequate, accessible and affordable for marginalized groups, be they poor urban populations or Aboriginal peoples". He will meet with First Nations groups in Manitoba and Alberta.
During Mr. De Schutter's visit, Food Secure Canada will recommend a comprehensive national food strategy to ensure that all Canadians have access to healthy food. The FSC's plan is called 'The People's Food Policy', and you can read it right here.
To promote the Special Rapporteur's trip, Food Secure Canada is tweeting from @FoodSecureCAN, and following the Right to Food mission with the hashtag #Right2FoodCAN.
Canada ratified the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1967, which includes the right to food in the phrase "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care". But the right to food is not entrenched in our constitution or laws, and as The Tyee points out, writing it into our laws could be "problematic in the Canadian context, because social rights, like welfare for example, are provincial responsibilities".
Mr. De Schutter will present his preliminary observations on his visit at a press conference on May 16th at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.
Related stories on Strombo.com: