Dr. Dawg

Discourtesy and malnutrition in Harperia

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UN Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter was recently a guest in this country. He was not happy with what he found:

“Canada has long been seen as a land of plenty. Yet today one in 10 families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food needs,” he said, noting that “people are simply too poor to eat decently.”

De Schutter said 800,000 Canadian households are “food insecure” because social assistance benefits and minimum wages have not kept up with the rising costs of basic necessities, such as food and housing.

“Food banks that depend on charity are not a solution: they are a symptom of failing social safety nets that the government must address,” he said.

“Here I have to say my concerns are extremely severe and I don’t see why I should mince my words.”

Well, that’s all data and observation, and we know what the pre-Enlightenment Harper administration thinks of those. Crude bombast, not evidence-based refutation, was not long in coming. De Schutter was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of rudeness from various Harper ministers and their shills in the media.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said De Schutter is simply an “ill-informed” and “patronizing” academic who is “studying us from afar.”

…Immigration Minister Jason Kenney also lashed out at De Schutter, suggesting the envoy wasted both his time and the UN’s resources by spending 11 days here.

“It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada and I think this is a discredit to the United Nations….We think the UN (World) Food Program 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,” Kenney said, mistakenly conflating the work of the WFP with that of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. [emphasis added]

As for Harper’s media lapdogs, take John Ivison (please). He hews so closely to the Harper line that he may as well be drawing his salary from the PMO. Here are some ripe comments from two weeks back, attempting to refute De Schutter’s well-articulated concerns about food insecurity in Canada.

While it’s true that the bottom 20% of Canadian society are worse off in relative terms, a recent Conference Board study suggested that they are marginally better off than they were 35 years ago.

Gosh, what a relief—or is it? Countries aren’t wealthy, after all: people are, especially the 1%, who are not merely “marginally better off” than they were 35 years ago, but a whole lot better off.

But Ivison insists that we shouldn’t worry. After all, food is a privilege, not a right:

Mr. De Schutter also left the mistaken impression that there is a right to food in Canada. It’s true that Canada ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the General Assembly in 1948 (largely the creation of Canadian John Humphrey). Article 25 states that everyone has the right to standard of living “adequate for health and well-being … including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” But this is not part of binding international law. More importantly, there is nothing in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that grants Canadians the right to food.

Let that one sink in for a moment. I for one am left almost speechless by the blatant immorality that underpins it. And Ivison isn’t alone by any means in imagining that he’s made a deft and witty point here.

Then, in keeping with the new conservativism, Ivison wraps up by quoting the Bible.

Among Harper’s tap-dancing ministers, the incompetent Leona Aggukkaq really stands out. A former Nunavut health minister who once considered malnutrition a serious issue, Aglukkaq is presently pimping for the trans-fatty junk food industry. Ludicrously, she attacked the UN Special Rapporteur because his own country, Belgium, which he was not here to represent, opposes the seal hunt.

To his credit, Ivison at least tries to refute De Schutter on the facts, but gets it all hopelessly wrong. He claims, for example, that poverty and obesity are two distinct problems, but the link between them has been known for some time, and isn’t even controversial. Where De Schutter speaks of “malnourishment,” Ivison counters with figures on “undernourishment” (not the same thing) and points to a slight drop in “food insecurity,” which isn’t the same thing either.

But what is immediately noticeable is that Harper’s spokesministers don’t bother to address a single fact or figure produced by De Schutter. This the mind-numbing level of political obtuseness and incivility to which we have descended in Canada: two senior members of Cabinet, neither of whom could even get the Special Rapporteur’s mandate straight, go into immediate defensive mode, hurling abuse like mouthy schoolchildren.

Embarrassed beyond measure by the level of official incivility shown to a guest in this country, more than a hundred organizations have now called for clarification and an apology:

[The organizations], supported by former parliamentarians Flora MacDonald, Ed Broadbent and Warren Allmand, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, calling on him to apologize for the government’s “unprecedented attacks” on Schutter during his 11-day mission to Canada.

Amnesty International Canada and Food Secure Canada, signatories to the letter, also want the government to make clear if it plans to rethink Canada’s openness to UN human rights experts, given the reaction of senior ministers to Olivier’s mission to Canada.

James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, was also similarly derided last December for speaking out about the living conditions at the Attawapiskat first nation reserve in Northern Ontario.

But it’s safe to say there will be no apology, and no clarification. Like paying attention to evidence, common courtesy for this government is considered just another sign of weakness.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 31, 2012 12:19 PM.

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