Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
How vengeful politics connects poverty, food insecurity and the abuse of human rights

The UN Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter exposed the ‘appallingly poor’ record of the Canadian government on the abuse of the rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples. In a vengeful and contemptuous response the Canadian government withdrew from a United Nations convention that fights droughts and desertification.

Canadians are used to thinking of themselves as good global citizens. It may come as a shock then, to hear the UN applying the term ‘self-righteous’ to our new approach to international relations. In a hard-hitting interview in May 2012 with Postmedia News, UN Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter criticized Canada for its ‘appallingly poor’ record of taking recommendations from UN human-rights bodies seriously and its ‘self-righteous’ attitude. This is indeed appalling given widespread food insecurity and poverty in Canada. (Today’s most commonly accepted definition of ‘food security’ was agreed to at 1996 World Food Summit: ‘Food security is guaranteed when, at all times, all people benefit from economic, social and physical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their nutrition needs and food preferences, so that they can lead an active and healthy life.’)

Over the course of his 11-day mission to Canada, his first to a developed country, De Schutter met with government officials, social justice and community organizations as well as individuals struggling with food insecurity. The much-anticipated final report on his Right to Food Mission was formally presented to the United Nations Assembly in Geneva Switzerland on March 4, 2013. The United Nations Human Rights Council will attempt to encourage this government to take necessary steps to ensure no person in Canada is hungry. [1] Among the report’s findings are:
• 550,000 children lived in food-insecure households in 2010
• 50 percent of Canadians living on social assistance are food insecure
• 36 percent of on-reserve First Nations peoples have high obesity rates
• In March 2011, 1 in 10 of the 851,014 who relied on food banks self-identified as an aboriginal person
• Widening income disparities - average income of the top 10 percent was 10 times higher than of the bottom 10 percent - 2008
• 1.1 million households may now be food insecure (2011).

The government’s response to this report was nothing short of indignation and contempt for the UN - the Conservative government's Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq criticized the UN Rapporteur as ‘ill-informed’ and ‘patronizing.’ [2] Jason Kenny, the Minister of Immigration said: ‘Our contribution to the United Nations should go to helping starving people in developing countries and not to give lectures to wealthy developed countries like Canada … this is a discredit to the United Nations.’ [3]

A few weeks after the report was formally delivered, the Harper government decided to pull out of a United Nations convention [4] that fights droughts and desertification – making Canada the only country in the world outside the agreement. [5] The withdrawal came ahead of a scientific meeting on the Convention that will be hosted in April in Germany. The first word of Canada’s withdrawal was a Canadian Press telephone call to the Convention’s headquarters in Bonn. A spokesman for International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino emailed a statement that ‘membership in this convention was costly for Canadians and showed few results, if any for the environment.’ The Harper Government provided a $283,000 grant to support the convention from 2010 to 2012. [6]

Would it make better sense if Mr Harper and his government planned to use those funds to deal with poverty and food insecurity within Canada’s borders? But one suspects that cabinet members are still seething from being told Canada is in violation of human rights and that its poverty record is a national disgrace.

Meanwhile, the government is preventing the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, from visiting the country in his official capacity. Anaya says that the federal government continues to disregard his year-old request to investigate the ‘human rights situation of Indigenous peoples,’ according to a letter sent to the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Anaya initially made the request in February 2012 and, three letters later is still waiting for a response from Ottawa. [7]

Three mandatory United Nations reviews conducted in 2012 all found ‘very serious human rights challenges facing Indigenous peoples’ in Canada. [8] The report says ‘By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, Indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis.’

As Canadians we should understand that the Harper government that swore an oath to protect and represent our so-called national interests, actually practices vengeful, spiteful, short-sighted and arrogant politics in the international arena. At election time, we need to hold this government to account – not only for its foreign policy posturing and conduct but also for its dismal record on fighting poverty, particularly among aboriginal peoples, at home.


* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.




[3]CBC News May 16th 2012

[4]The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa came into force in 1996

[5]Every UN nation — 194 countries and the European Union — is currently party to the Convention

[6]Harper government quietly leaving UN droughts and deserts convention by The Canadian Press on Thursday, March 28, 2013 6:21am


[8]See Amnesty International December 2012