Stung by a UN official’s criticism of the country for allowing some of its people to go hungry, Canada has described Olivier De Schutter as a “patronising academic” and said there are more pressing food concerns in other countries.
“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,” De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“These rates of food insecurity are unacceptable, and it is time for Canada to adopt a national right to food strategy.”
He said 800,000 households in the country are “food insecure”. Canada has a population of 34 million.
De Schutter also raised concerns about the treatment of the country’s aboriginal peoples.
Reacting to De Schutter’s report, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told reporters the country’s federal and provincial governments were focused on improving the lives of Canadians and their ability to provide for themselves.
“There are, what, 193 members of the UN? I think most Canadians would think that spending 11 days in Canada on this issue – his time would be better spent elsewhere,” said Baird.
After De Schutter complained in a newspaper interview that no federal cabinet minister had agreed to meet him, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, from Canada’s aboriginal Inuit population, met him on Wednesday.
But the meeting did not seem to go well.
“I met with the individual this morning and I found him to be an ill-informed, patronising academic studying, once again, the aboriginal people, Inuit and Canada’s Arctic from afar,” Aglukkaq told parliament.
“I took the opportunity to educate him about Canada’s north and the aboriginal people who depend on the wildlife that they hunt every day for food security.”
Canada is the first developed country on which De Schutter has reported. UN spokeswoman Yoonie Kim said Canada had a standing invitation to UN human rights officials to visit.