Do Canadians have a right to food?

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Is it enough?

At the Emergency Food Hamper program, we believe everyone has a right to food. That’s why we do the work we do. Incidentally, the United Nations also believes in the right to food, as its enshrined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Recently, they sent Olivier de Schutter, the special rapporteur for the right to food, (visit his website here) to visit Canada (read about his visit here and see what he had to say on CBC here). A special rapporteur is a fancy name for someone who investigates how well countries are living up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His report (which you can read in full here) criticizes the Canadian government for not doing enough to ensure everyone’s right to food, and outlines what he believes to be some action items the government of Canada needs to take in order to increase food security.

Some of De Schutter’s recommendations really hit home for our program. For example, he recommended raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It’s really tough for people to make ends meet if they have children and are working minimum wage. We frequently see people who are working part time or full time but with children and extra expenses (such as medical costs if they do not have health benefits at work) it can be hard to find room in the budget for food. A living wage can be defined as the amount a single person needs to make in order to live modestly but comfortably in their community. For Waterloo Region in 2007, Opportunities Waterloo Region calculated this to be $13.62 per hour, full time (see their site with articles and resources here). For families or single parents, this amount would need to be a bit higher to accommodate the needs of kids.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that what people received on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program might not receive enough money to be food secure. We certainly experience this every day with people who come into our program, many of whom are on OW or ODSP. After paying rent and other expenses that may come up, there is often very little (if any) money left for people to buy food. As Melissa mentioned in this blog post, the average person on Ontario Works will receive just over $600 per month, while the average bachelor apartment in Waterloo Region costs $600. Hard to afford a balanced diet after this major monthly expense is paid isn’t it?

According to Mr. de Schutter, options exist for you and I and the Canadian government to pursue. He cites some examples from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives around how money is spent and taxed.  As a community we can have our say in the decisions and direction that we want to take.  Not sure who to talk to?  If you know your postal code it’s easy to find here.

Unfortunately, the official response to De Schutter’s recommendations wasn’t positive (read about their reactions here in the Ottawa Citizen).  While hunger is a worldwide issue, De Schutter decided to focus on Canada because of the growing gap between rich and poor, resulting in increasing poverty and hunger. More people than ever are accessing services like ours, and in a prosperous country with the means to reduce this number significantly, the problem only seems to get worse.

If some of the people publicly questioning the merit of De Schutter’s report took a 10 minute drive or a half hour bus ride to the nearest hamper program to parliament (its Overbrook-Forbes Emergency Food, if you’re curious), they could hear first hand some of the same things that De Schutter did on his tour of the country. If you would like to hear some of the things people had to say about hunger, the STOP Community Food Centre recorded some video of presentations made to him at an event they hosted in Toronto.

Let us know what you think.  Comment in the space below.

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