Immigration Minister Jason Kenney waits to speak to the media at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, May 16, 2012.
Credits: Andre Forget / QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA - Conservative cabinet ministers have started a food fight with a United Nations food rights envoy over his warning Canada is flunking international obligations by failing to prevent hunger and obesity nationwide.
On Wednesday, UN special right-to-food rapporteur Olivier De Schutter wrapped an 11-day visit to Canada - his first to a developed country - by handing the federal government a laundry list of recommendations to address "very serious concerns" about food security.
While Canada has an open-door policy for UN rights envoys, several federal ministers made it clear they don't want a lecture from De Schutter.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney decried the visit to Canada as "a discredit to the United Nations" and advised the UN special envoy not to "get into political exercises with developed democracies like Canada."
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who hails from Nunavut, said a meeting with the Belgian rights expert left her doubting his ability to judge the food challenges in Canada's North.
"He's ill-informed," she said. "I found it a bit patronizing - another academic studying us from afar who's going to make comments about the challenges we have."
She said he should turn his attention to activists trying to limit access to traditional northern food sources like seal and polar bear hunts.
De Schutter agreed his visit was political but said the ministers' harsh words "are symptomatic of the very problem that it is my duty to address."
The envoy decried the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Canada, pointing to the 900,000 Canadians who use food banks, rising obesity rates and the high cost of food in the North.
"I am obliging countries to look at themselves in the mirror," he said.
His solutions including the implementation of a national food strategy that promotes local food production, a tax on soft drinks, stricter rules around fat and sodium, and welfare and minimum wage increases.
The final report will be tabled with the UN Human Rights Council, a 47-member body that includes Cuba, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
De Schutter also warned Canada would face tough questions when it gets a peer review of its human rights record next year at the United Nations.