Canada and the Right to Food

Forgive this bout of nostalgia but when I grew up, fellow Canadians sewed national flags onto backpacks as a way of identifying that they were one of the good guys. While many people continue the tradition, it tends to be less about national pride and more about claiming identity as “not American”.
Now, you see very few flags on the bags of students and wanderers as they weave their way through the capital cities of Europe. Maybe it’s become uncool to identify yourself, maybe the young folks don´t know how to sew. Maybe they feel like international citizens. Or maybe they are embarrassed by their country.
My first experiences with the current conservative government were back in 2006 when I attended the UN Framework for Climate Change Convention (COP 12). In 2005, Canada had been a leader in multilateral climate change negotiations, one year later, Canada was consistently wining “fossil of the day” awards for their policies and stalling tactics.
Fast forward to 2012, and Canada is behaving just as badly, if  not worse. At the recent negotiations on Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, fellow Canadians and I looked at each other disparagingly as Canada refused to support any language related to human rights and Indigenous peoples.
Please don´t get me wrong, this is not a call to nationalism, or to a return to a falsified and romanticised version of what it is to be Canadian and what we deem Canadian values to be. It’s rather a sad lament that a country I continue to call home – despite living several years abroad – can harbour so much wealth, so many resources and yet cannot address social and ecological issues at home, and actively impede international efforts to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Those of you who read this blog know that I am a big fan of the current Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. In his capacity as a UN envoy, he decided to arrange a mission to Canada to examine threats to the right to food. In a fit of arrogance and rejecting international protocol, Canadian Ministers refused to meet with him: evidence of how little respect the current government has for UN processes and dialogue.
In the newsletter sent out by the Special Rapporteur’s  office this week, it states:

What steps must a developed country take to secure the right to food? The Special Rapporteur conducted an official visit to Canada from 6 to 16 May 2012 in order to gain an understanding of the steps taken by the authorities to implement the right to food.
“Canada has taken steps to spread the benefits of economic development across its diverse regions and populations. Yet even where average standards of living are high, it is crucial to examine food systems as a whole, and to ask whether they respond to the needs, and secure food as a human right for all,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur conducted meetings with federal, provincial and municipal officials as well as farmer, food, development and human rights organizations in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton, while visiting Aboriginal communities and meet with their representatives in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
Following the visit he stated: “Challenges remain to ensure that food is adequate, accessible and affordable for marginalized groups, be they poor urban populations or Aboriginal peoples. I am encouraged by the level of mobilization on these issues in Canada, and by the strength of the national conversation on food justice and the right to food. But what I’ve also seen is a system that keeps nutritious diets out of reach of the poor, who depend on social assistance benefits set at grossly insufficient levels, and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and mainstream and Aboriginals. Here, Canada’s reputation as a leader in human rights is at stake.”

Far more diplomatic than the words he used in the press:Canada needs to drop its “self-righteous” attitude about how great a country it is and start dealing with its widespread problem of food insecurity.
Which brings me back to where I started. Canada is an amazing country, but with perhaps the exception of Quebec and some Indigenous peoples, there seems to be real ignorance, arrogance and wilful blindness not only about national policies, but also about the role Canada is playing  internationally.
This is not to ignore the huge amount of work being done to challenge and change the system, something De Schutter points out and applauds. But it brings us back to questions of Canadian culture.. are we too passive? Are we too comfortable? Why are we content on letting the country carry on this way?
My hope is that De Schutter’s report helps to wake people up, but if bailing out of international climate change processes, the environmental and social devastation caused by the tar sands, and rejecting human rights language (along with Russia and China) in multilateral negotiations doesn´t wake us up and spur on social change, I am not sure that a report from an internationally respected scholar and UN envoy can. Prove me wrong, Canada.
Professor De Schutter’s priliminary analysis and press release are now available:

No Comments
  • klem
    Posted at 17:20h, 23 May Reply

    “My hope is that De Schutter’s report helps to wake people up,..”
    It sure woke me up. It tells me that the UN is still full of rich 1%-ers who live on another planet.
    Just think now, this De Shutter guy gets driven around in limos, flies first class only, stuffs his face at big banquests, and then travels to Canada to tell Canadians that they are doing a lousy job with respect to food rights. Canada, a G8 nation. Just since 2005, there have been 13 acknowledged famines, mostly occurring in African nations, and he lectures Canada? WTF?!!!
    Was the real world too hard to face Mr. UN Food Rights guy? Wouldn’t want to have to ride around Africa in a dirty old Jeep, might get your new Savile Row suit wrinkled.
    Only after this rich arrogent jerk visits countries with REAL food rights issues and actually achieves something, only then will he garner any respect from anyone in this country.
    In my view, his visit did more damage to the UN’s reputation than anything the UN has done in years.

    • foodgovernance
      Posted at 17:28h, 23 May Reply

      Interesting reflection. Last time I met with Dr. De Schutter, he had taken the metro to a UN meeting (and was late as a result). His staff were staying at the hostel with the peasant farmer organizations and when we had dinner, De Schutter, a vegetarian, ate spinach and a banana. I think that his report highlighted that there are real food issues in Canada. I agree, they are perhaps less pressing than those faced by other countries, but I do not think we can argue that they do not exist.

  • foodgovernance
    Posted at 23:05h, 23 May Reply

    You may also be interested in reading this open letter from a former Environment Canada scientist:

  • JeroenWUR
    Posted at 07:34h, 24 May Reply

    Interesting blog! I think the same goes up for Europe. The following book, written by one of my colleagues, might be of interest:

  • Pingback:Oh Canada :( | Food Governance
    Posted at 10:32h, 11 April Reply

    […] at the Committee on WOrld Food SEcurity and they have been shameful. I have reflected on it a bit here. Country delegates pass sympathetic looks when they learn I am from Canada. Moans are audible in […]

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