Facebook group plans food price protests

Preparations are underway for protests in Nunavut today against high food prices in the territory.

North West Company says Saturday will be business as usual at its stores

A person enters the NorthMart store in Iqaluit. Preparations are underway for protests in Nunavut on Saturday against high food prices in the territory. (CBC)

Preparations are underway for protests in Nunavut on Saturday against high food prices in the territory.

The Facebook group Feeding My Family is urging its members to gather outside the main store in their community between 1 and 3 p.m. 

Leesee Papatsie of Iqaluit started the Feeding My Family group about two weeks ago, and there are now more than 12,000 members. Many are posting photos of the food prices from the shelves of their local stores.

Papatsie said the response is humbling, scary and amazing.

While some members are targeting retailers, like the North West Company, in their posts, Papatsie has her eye somewhere else.

"My main target is [getting] other Nunavummiut to stand up," she said. "That's my main target. Because this is not [the] Inuit traditional way of doing things."

Michael McMullen, executive vice-president of Northern Canada Retail for the North West Company, said they are aware of the planned protests.

"For us it should be business as usual," he said. "You treat your customers and community with respect at all times, no matter what the circumstances are."

He said the Nutrition North Canada program has saved the company $12 million.

"We are not allowed to participate in the program unless the entire savings are passed along to the customer," he said.

Earlier this week, 30 people gathered at Iqaluit's soup kitchen to share their thoughts about food security with Cowichan-Nanaimo MP Jean Crowder.

The NDP's Aboriginal Affairs critic said her Nunavut visit was prompted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food's interim report. In it, Olivier de Schutter said First Nations and Inuit have limited access to healthy, affordable food.

"After his report came out, we got a flood of emails saying yes, he's right," she said.

But many politicians were critical of the report and the rapporteur, so Crowder said she decided to come up and see the situation for herself.

The protesters want the stores to lower their prices. They also want the government to step in.

The Nutrition North program does help subsidize some food, but Nunavut MP and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said northerners have to keep up the pressure for change themselves.

"I'm very proud that you're standing up to express your concerns related to the high cost of living," she said.