Canada is in the international hot seat yet again, this time over food security for aboriginals.
A U.N. envoy has reviewed the nation’s food infrastructure and found Canada’s to be beyond wanting. Olivier De Schutter spent 11 days traveling through Canada, from inner cities to remote aboriginal communities, and saw “very desperate conditions and people who are in extremely dire straits,” he told Postmedia News. In an interview with Postmedia news he derided the Canadian government for its disregard of international recommendations and mores even as it touts its human rights record.
“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 and non-aboriginal peoples,” Olivier De Schutter told reporters in Ottawa on May 16, according to CTV News. “I have to say my concerns are extremely severe and I don’t see why I should mince my words.”
First Nations, Inuit and Métis alike have agitated about food insecurity for some time. Living off the land, they have seen their food source, game and vegetation, contaminated and sullied by industrial development such as the Alberta oil sands. Supermarkets are hard to come by in far-flung communities, and flying anything in is prohibitively expensive.
The main problem, of course, is poverty, and De Schutter certainly did not mince words on that score.
“It’s even more shocking to me to see that there are 900,000 households in Canada that are food insecure and up to 2½ million people precisely because this is a wealthy country. It’s even less excusable,” he said, according to Postmedia News. “It’s not because the country is a wealthy country that there are no problems. In fact, the problems are very significant and, frankly, this sort of self-righteousness about the situation being good in Canada is not corresponding to what I saw on the ground, not at all.”
Canada did not exactly embrace De Schutter’s words. Both Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called the mission politically motivated and said the U.N. should be focusing on poor countries that completely lack food security.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper did just that on May 18 in throwing Canada’s support behind the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security, an initiative announced by U.S. President Barack Obama that addresses impediments to agricultural productivity in Africa, “as a continuation of our international leadership on food security and agriculture,” he said in a statement.
Aboriginals (aside from Aglukkaq, who said she was offended by the report) were supportive.
“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 Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement.
“Rather than accept the truth of the report and take action, the Government of Canada attempts to discredit the United Nations and the envoy’s report while continuing to do nothing about the issue. Official responses included that the report was a waste of UN money to investigate developed countries like Canada, the UN Special Rapporteur was an ill-informed academic and that there was no hunger issue for indigenous populations since they hunt every day,” the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) said in a statement.
“The AIAI questions whether the Health Minister is the ill-informed one and whether the Peoples of her Northern communities would share her same viewpoint,” the AIAI said. “The Minister also does an extreme disservice to all Indigenous Peoples when she lumps them into the same group. Indigenous Peoples are diverse across Turtle Island and to make a statement that they all hunt is simply inaccurate and a slap in the face.”