The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has arrived in Canada to investigate the country’s food supply system and policies that affect the right to food. Canada is the first OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country Oliver DeSchutter has chosen to visit.
Although his visits to China, Mexico, South Africa, Syria and Guatemala caused barely a ripple, the Canadian government appears to be feeling sensitive about this one. Most visitors of De Schutter’s stature could expect to meet with ministers, but a report by Sarah Schmidt for Postmedia News indicated departmental officials would be meeting with the special envoy.
[Olivier De Schutter] had requested meetings with the ministers of health, aboriginal affairs, agriculture, fisheries, foreign affairs or international cooperation, as well as departmental experts. The UN’s right-to-food expert, who usually meets with government ministers and technical experts within the civil service during his missions, was informed departmental officials would be available, but no meetings with ministers were arranged, his office said Friday.
Reactions to the visit were swift. Liberal MP Bob Rae (Toronto Centre) placed the blame for Canada’s being in the spotlight squarely on the federal government. In a statement issued May 7th, he said:
The actions of this Conservative government have exacerbated food insecurity across this country. …The fact that Canada is now the first developed country to be investigated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is nothing short of a failure for the Harper Conservatives.
Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada, commented:
Over two million Canadians do not have enough food to eat, and many people who live on government assistance cannot afford to eat a healthy diet. Farmers and fishers are going out of business, and food insecurity rates in many Northern communities are outrageously high. Recent government cutbacks have hit some of the most vulnerable people the hardest. Canada is failing to meet its legal obligations to fulfill the right to food.
Hillel Neuer, writing for the National Post, criticized De Schutter’s decision to visit Canada when so many other countries of the world are experiencing profound hunger.
De Schutter’s consistent argument is that if there is hunger, Western countries are to blame. His attacks on international trade are so ideologically extreme that even Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organization and a member of the French Socialist party, criticized De Schutter’s approach for threatening to drive food prices higher and “exacerbating the negative impacts on poor consumers.”
Countries at the top of the economic heap are generally swift to point fingers at the failings of Greece, France, Syria, Somalia or any other country experiencing political, economic or humanitarian crises. We are less comfortable when the fingers point our way.
A country with Canada’s resources and wealth could solve the problems De Schutter is here to investigate, but we lack the political will. Expect to see some squirming and denial when the final report is issued. A more helpful, but less likely, response from the Conservatives would be actions to end hunger and poverty.
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