The Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable agreed last week to sign on to a letter being signed by over 100 organizations across Canada. The letter calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for his government's treatment of the official's mission to Canada earlier this month.
The Roundtable spent part of its meeting on May 30th hearing from two local residents who have experienced first-hand the hunger and food insecurity of Canadian citizens. Kelly Skinner, a doctoral student at the University of Waterloo, described the conditions of the Aboriginal population of Fort Albany, north of Timmins, Ontario, where her research showed more than 50% of the population experiences food insecurity. Tony Bender, Director of the House of Friendship, shared statistics with the Roundtable on the over 30,000 food hampers his organization distributed last year to the roughly 10% of Waterloo Region's population who experience food insecurity.
The Roundtable, which is made up of 18 representatives of the key sectors and interests in Waterloo Region's food system, unanimously endorsed a motion to endorse the letter drafted by Food Secure Canada.
Greg Michalenko, spokesperson for the Roundtable, expressed deep concern for the way the UN Rapporteur was treated by the government of Canada. "This UN official was invited by the Canadian government to visit the country, had his schedule arranged by the government, and then was insulted for reporting on issues that should be concerning to Canadians."
Below is the news release from Food Secure Canada issued May 30th describing the letter in more detail.
May 30, 2012
GROUPS CALL FOR APOLOGY TO UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON RIGHT TO FOOD
Alongside dozens of well-known and respected Canadians such as Ed Broadbent, Flora Macdonald, Warren Allmand, Lois Wilson and Laure Waridel, representatives of over 100 organizations from across the country have written today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing deep concern about the government’s treatment of a United Nations human rights expert at the end of his mission to Canada earlier this month .
Professor Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, was undiplomatically dismissed by several Government ministers at the end of his official mission to Canada between 6 and 16 May after he expressed concerns about the government’s failure to address widespread hunger in so affluent a country as Canada. He was castigated for wasting time and resources looking into challenges in upholding the right to food in a developed democracy such as Canada and was publicly labelled as “ill-informed” and “patronizing.”
The letter, endorsed by many human rights lawyers and organizations working with families living in poverty and against discrimination, condemns “the unprecedented attacks on [Mr. De Schutter’s] integrity and professionalism” and suggests that the government’s reaction indicates a complete misunderstanding of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and the nature of Canada’s obligations under international human rights law. “It trivializes the evident and continuing food and poverty-related human rights challenges faced daily by hundreds of thousands of Canadians,” said Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada. “We should be seriously looking at how to implement the recommendations in De Schutter’s report, not dismissing them.”
The letter notes that another UN expert, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Professor James Anaya, similarly was derided for speaking out publicly about the dire conditions at the Attawipiskat First Nation reserve in northern Ontario last December.
The letter calls on the Prime Minister to apologize to Professors De Schutter and Anaya. “It is also crucial that Prime Minister Harper reconfirms publicly that his government recognizes the importance of international scrutiny of Canada’s universal human rights obligations,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch. “The government’s treatment of these two Special Rapporteurs sets a troubling example for other countries of unacceptable disrespect for UN human rights experts. That cannot stand.”