Manitobans are rushing to the defence of Dr. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food, in the wake of his report and harsh criticisms from Canadian ministers.
“I know that there is some backlash with him coming to a developed country,” said Jasmine Tara, North End Food Security Network co-ordinator. “But the truth is that Canada is a developed country and there are people in the North End and all of Canada that have right-to-food issues.”
Tara was a member of a panel of local food and poverty experts who met with De Schutter at Winnipeg Harvest last Friday.
“The fact that we’re getting politicians to talk about it is great because the food policies (in Canada) have to change,” she added.
The reaction from Government of Canada ministers, however, has been quite severe.
Even before De Schutter delivered his report, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it was “completely ridiculous.”
De Schutter was also called “ill-informed” and “patronizing” by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said he has spent only a half an hour with Minister Aglukkaq in Ottawa and spent two full days accompanying De Schutter as he visited several Manitoba reserves, including Peguis First Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation and Manto Sipi Cree Nation.
Nepinak said he is very disappointed by Aglukkaq’s comments.
“If anyone is ill-informed, I would suggest looking at how many hours they’re spending here,” added Nepinak.
“Attempts to discredit the rapporteur in light of what our children are going through, it shows a real dark side to this government.”
David Northcott, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest, said De Schutter is an internationally respected lawyer and human rights leader who is helping to “move the agenda forward” when it comes to issues of food and poverty.
“If we can make Canada better for people who are low-income, I’m willing to listen to anyone,” he said. “Anything we can learn from the rapporteur is valuable … I’m very much about making Canada better.”