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The UN in Canada: bringing together the Eaters and the Producers

Mr. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, made his first official organized stop on his grand 10-day Canadian tour on Sunday in Montreal.

At a panel discussion, held at the Universite de Montreal, there were representatives from People's Unions, Greenpeace, Food Independence groups, and professional food-gatherers' alliances. The main issues identified by the groups included poverty and access to healthy food, Aboriginal peoples, governance, the industrial food model and international issues.

The full-day conference presented testimony to the UN Rapporteur that should make Canadians less concerned about a $16 glass of orange juice charged by a minister and more concerned with the shelf-price of $16 for a carton of orange juice in some northern communities.

The transportation costs of delivering food stuffs to these isolated and under-developed communities creates a scarcity issue which drives up the cost of food on the shelves in communities whose members can least afford it.

A representative from a Northern fishing community in Quebec made some interesting points to the UN Envoy and his team. Fishing, for the members of his community, it's not a job -- it's a life. So, it's not a question of finding a community member a job so they can live their life, it's a question of paying community members for what they actually do.

That enables the money to remain in the community and is spread up, through and by the individual community members themselves. The alternative model, of filtering community money down through a hierarchy from above, has been an implemental failure because of the corruption at each level of middle layer the money passes and gets skimmed through -- making the end result for the actual community substantially less than intended.

This is exactly what happened to create the deplorable conditions in Attawapiskat, where starvation and delinquency ensued when the "filter-down from above" model of intended relief failed because of a middle management who took so much for themselves in operating costs that it left the actual community members without food or schooling.

From other voices the panel heard that in Quebec, local producers want unrestrained access to local markets and that citizens' groups want to be sure that the food they buy on the shelves at local stores is safe and free of any chemical or toxicant irritants.

Poverty, and the lack of accessibility to adequate food resources through purchasing power, was a major issue and theme of the one day full of testimonies in Montreal for the UN Special Rapporteur, and we know the stats: 1 in 5 Canadian children lives under the poverty line in Canadian cities without adequate nutrition or food provisions.

Two things make this especially unreasonable in Canada: 1 Canada has national revenue which is sufficient so that no man, woman or child living in this country should live under the poverty line. 2 Canada actually still sees itself as a role model to partner with developing nations across the world and give them advice on societal development and organization.

Although there are more than a few developed and industrial nations who share the problem of food insecurity for its citizens, including our neighbor to the south, the reason the UN Special Rapporteur chose to make Canada the focus of his first fact-finding mission in an OECD country may indicate a problem with us.

The lack of awareness from Canadians about how their country is run and what problems exist in our own country is staggering, and has begun to affect the relationship between Canada and the way the rest of the world is starting to see Canada and Canadians.

As Mr. de Schutter continues his trip throughout Canada, there is no doubt he will hear the complaints and weaknesses experienced by citizens of this country from coast to coast. It is hoped that he will be able to extend some guidance from the global community to this country through the United Nations' networks -- however, it would be equally important for the majority of Canadians who have no clue about the problems faced by other Canadians living in this country today, that they listen up to the problems that will be explained to the International observer team over the next 10 days, because unless Canadians are aware and start caring about the problems in their own country, no progressive changes will be made.

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