Opinion

Latimer: United Nations report on food access embarrassing but true

Although it may have been galling to have an outsider come into Canada and publicly criticize our country’s food policies, I believe the United Nations rapporteur was generally right in his assessment of our situation.

After touring Canada for a week and a half, Mr. DeSchutter, a special UN rapporteur on the right to food, announced “extremely severe” concerns about many Canadians’ lack of access to food.

According to his report last week, there are 800,000 Canadian families (comprising some two million people) who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

One in every 10 families with children under the age of six are food insecure for either physical or economic reasons.

DeSchutter claimed Canada is not succeeding at protecting our citizens’ right to food.

In particular, he called attention to the desperate situation in many aboriginal communities where poverty and remoteness can make it very difficult for most people to access enough nutritious food.

Although the facts presented in this report should not have surprised many, our government reacted with outrage and anger and basically accused this UN official of sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.

Our minister for health called him “patronizing” and has tried to discredit his findings because he failed to visit the North.

This week she has acknowledged there are problems with poverty in the North although she still doesn’t appreciate his criticism of our country’s policies when it comes to solving these issues.

The reality is, conditions for many in all parts of our country are abysmal. We might have supermarkets stocked high with food, but there are many who cannot afford to properly feed their families.

Saying that our aboriginal communities are often experiencing crippling poverty and third world conditions is not stretching the truth.

We have all seen the reports on housing, water and other poverty-related issues plaguing many communities—and these issues have been there for decades.

These very communities are quite often far removed from urban hubs and their remoteness leads to high food prices.

Traditional foods may be an option for some, but not all are even able to reliably access these—for a variety of reasons.

We may not appreciate hearing about it from someone who doesn’t live within our borders, but we are part of an international community.

Why is it OK for us to participate in similar programs offering recommendations and advice to other countries and yet we have such a hard time being the recipient of same?

I believe it is time for us to take a hard look in the mirror and work to lessen the growing distance between rich and poor within Canada and ensure all our citizens have access to necessities such as nutritious food, clean water and safe, affordable housing.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.

250-862-8141

dr@okanaganclinicaltrials.com

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