In an effort to dissect the issue of food security that is slowly on the rise in Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada jointly coordinated a visit for the Special Rapporteur on the right to food in Canada from May 6th to the 16th of 2012. The purpose of this visit was to assess the way in which the human right to adequate food was being realized in Canada. During the visit, the Special Rapporteur had met with provincial and municipal authorities ranging from the Department of Health and Social Services, to the Ministry of Agriculture, to Food and Rural Affairs.
In attempting to analyze exactly what is going on regarding the human right to food, the Special Rapporteur spoke to many groups, stakeholders, and individuals in order to fully grasp the extent of the situation. Canada has always been credited for its international participation in countless human rights efforts across the globe, at home on Canadian soil, there has increasingly been a divergence between implementation and policymaking in regards to the protection of economic and social rights.
It is safe to admit that Canadians faired a little better than their neighbors to the South during the economic crisis of 2008. Having said that, the crisis has affected a portion of the Canadian population quite gravely, in particular those we were already within the margins, specifically those on social assistance and Aboriginal communities.
In his report, the Special Rapporteur points out those governmental bodies, particularly the federal government whom must be held accountable for all its recent cutbacks. The cost of living is increasing while social assistance is dormant, thus leaving many on social assistance below the poverty line. Ultimately, those living in poverty cannot afford nutritious meals. It’s a vicious cycle, one that is slowly sucking in many portions of society.
Since the 1950s, Canada has been moving more and more towards large industrialized mechanisms of farming that support trade liberalization. While that may allow Canada to be a key player in the globalization field, it marginalizes and alienates small-scale farmers who are key players in the access to food. Canadian goods are cheaper than goods imported into the country, if the Canadian government were to support local food production and subsidize it instead of subsidizing import tariffs, more Canadian mouths would be fed and less people would be living in the margins.
Social protection of the vulnerable is a Canadian duty, a characteristic that many Canadians take to heart. Alarmingly while Canada is a welfare state that bolsters an image of protection and love for its citizens, 50% of those living on social assistance are food insecure.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Canada has a duty to ensure that it dedicates the maximum amount of available resources to progressively achieve full economic, social and cultural rights, which include the right to food, for the most marginalized members of society. With Canada’s low deficit-to-GDP ratios, it is the ideal time according to the report, to be ensuring that robust measures are taken for social protection.
The report does shed a bright light on Canadian endeavors regarding the country’s contribution to global food security. Canada exceeded its minimum food aid commitments under the Food Aid Convention. With CIDA launching its Food Security Strategy in 2009, Canadians are becoming more aware that food security is a Canadian right, one that all Canadians are entitled to. The report illustrates that although Canada’s international commitments are still strong, domestic initiatives are faltering with very little accountability. It illustrates that there is still much work to be done, after all, it’s a shame that a country that prides itself on its Welfare approach is becoming less and less a welfare state and more and more a capital-driven machine.