UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food generates controversy during visit to Canada

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FoodOTTAWA – “With the environmental impacts of climate change and the challenges of access to nutritious foods in northern and remote communities, First Nations must be fully involved and supported in formulating solutions to protect our traditional foods and secure affordable access to nutritious foods,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.

AFN National Chief Atleo expressed gratitude to Dr. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, for engaging with First Nations leaders and communities in gathering information regarding food security particularly in northern communities.

Olivier De SchutterThe UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter states, “Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in ten families with a child under six 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.”

“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 is much admired for its achievements in the area of human rights, which it has championed for many years. But hunger and access to adequate diets, too, are human rights issues — and here much remains to be done,” cpntinued De Schutter.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s trip to Canada came under fire from the Harper government. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the MP for Calgary Southeast, says that the United Nations “Should focus its efforts on those countries where there is widespread hunger, widespread material poverty and not get into political exercises in developed democracies like Canada. We don’t think that’s a very intelligent use of their resources. I think this is completely ridiculous. Canada is one of the wealthiest, most democratic countries in the world. According to us, we believe that the UN should focus on development in countries where people are starving and we think it’s simply a waste of resources to come to Canada to give them political lecturing”.

“Like it or not, the situation is bleak for millions of Canadians. Food security is a right. Hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable anywhere, but especially in a country as wealthy as Canada,” countered NDP Aboriginal Affairs Critic, Jean Crowder.

The Special Rapporteur noted that on-going land claims across the country have implications for the right to food among Indigenous peoples.

Referring to the situation of fly-in communities in Manitoba and reserves in Alberta that he visited during the mission, De Schutter called for a reform of the Nutrition North Canada program that subsidizes retailers to serve remote communities. He also called for a structural approach to tackling the socio-economic and cultural barriers to opportunities for those living on reserves that result in their not enjoying fully their right to adequate food. He also regretted that neither the federal Government nor the provinces consider that they have a responsibility to support off-reserve Aboriginal peoples in overcoming the structural discrimination they face.

“The Special Rapporteur believes that continued and concerted measures are needed to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones, in consultation and in real partnership with indigenous peoples with the goal of strengthening indigenous peoples’ own self-determination and decision-making over their affairs at all levels,” according to a statement issued by the AFN.

AFN provided a submission to the Special Rapporteur, offering an overview of the current state of food security and advocating for right to food priorities for First Nations in Canada, including the need to develop and implement a National Food Policy reflective of First Nation traditions and values; improved access to affordable and nutritious foods, including addressing rising costs in the North by implementing price regulations for staple foods such as milk and bread; the development and implementation of a national school nutrition program; and protection of the environment to ensure the safety of traditional food sources.

Food security, an important determinant of health, addresses one’s ability to access adequate amounts of nutritious foods. The First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS 2008/10) indicates that 17.8% of First Nation adults aged 25-39 and 16.1% of First Nation adults aged 40-54 reported being hungry but did not eat due to lack of money for food. Comparably, only 7.7% of Canadian households were considered food insecure during 2007-2008.

Lack of access to nutritious foods contributes to growing rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases among First Nations.

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