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Social Issues
UN Envoy Calls Out Federal Gov’t For Not Doing Enough In Fight Against Hunger In Canada
March 4, 2013
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A new report is calling on the federal government to do a better job in the fight against hunger and poverty in Canada.

The United Nations right-to-food envoy, Olivier De Schutter, says a growing number of people are struggling to get by because of the rising cost of housing.

They include aboriginal people and people on social assistance, who either don't have enough food or don't have access to healthy food.

In his report, De Schutter calls on Ottawa to create a national food strategy - spelling out who would do what at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

The feds, however, haven't shown any interest - saying issues related to poverty and housing are best left to the provinces.

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De Schutter is also critical of several policy decisions by the Harper government, including one to get rid of the long-form census.

He argues that without the census, it's more difficult for Statistics Canada to put together a clear analysis of the country.

"... in order to effectively combat hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, it is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of who is hungry, food-insecure and malnourished," the report says.

"The special rapporteur is concerned that changes in the current budget will make the collection and analysis of data more complicated, particularly by changes to data collection through the elimination of the requirement for individuals to complete the long-form census."

The report goes on to say that Canada has done "reasonably well compared to its peers" during the global economic crisis.

But in spite of that, it says "the gaps between those living in poverty and the middle and high-income segments of the population are widening."

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De Schutter came to Canada in May of last year, on an 11-day fact finding mission. It was the first time he investigated what he called "a rich, developed country."

After his investigation, De Schutter had this to say...

"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 non-aboriginal peoples."

"Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in 10 families with a child under 6 is unable to meet their daily food needs. These rates of food insecurity are unacceptable, and it is time for Canada to adopt a national right-to-food strategy," he said.

Those comments didn't go over well with some federal cabinet ministers. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said De Schutter was "a bit patronizing."

She also disagreed with his remarks regarding food and aboriginal people, saying he was "ill-informed in that he doesn't understand that Inuit continue to live off the land today."

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called him "completely ridiculous" and suggested it was a waste of UN money to investigate developed countries like Canada.

"It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada," Kenney said.

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In the report out today, De Schutter also raises concerns about Canada's decision to negotiate a free trade deal with Europe.

The report says initiatives to improve food and nutrition and promote local markets, including "buy local" initiatives, might be negatively affected by the proposed deal.

And De Schutter criticizes Ottawa for not making sure that provinces spend transfer payments on social services.

"The inadequacy of social protection schemes to meet the basic needs of households has precipitated the proliferation of private and charity-based food aid," the report says.

It says Canada is not meeting its obligations under international conventions it has signed, and it calls out Canada for not acknowledging the right to food under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

You can find out more at foodsecurecanada.org or follow them on Twitter @foodsecureCAN.

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