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Groups call for apology from Prime Minister to UN Special Rapporteur on right to food

    May 30, 2012

    Alongside dozens of well-known and respected Canadians  such as Ed Broadbent, Flora Macdonald, Warren Allmand, Lois Wilson and  Laure Waridel, representatives of  over 100 organizations from across the country have written today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing deep concern about the government’s treatment of a United Nations human rights expert at the end of his mission to Canada earlier this month.

    Professor Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, was undiplomatically dismissed by several Government ministers at the end of his official mission to Canada between 6 and  16 May after he expressed concerns about the government’s failure to address widespread hunger in so affluent a country as Canada.  He was castigated for wasting time and resources looking into challenges in upholding the right to food in a developed democracy such as Canada and was publicly labelled as “ill-informed” and “patronizing.”

    The letter, endorsed by many human rights lawyers and organizations working with families living in poverty and against discrimination, condemns “the unprecedented attacks on [Mr. De Schutter’s] integrity and professionalism” and suggests that the government’s reaction indicates a complete misunderstanding of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and the nature of Canada’s obligations under international human rights law.  “It trivializes the evident and continuing food and poverty-related human rights challenges faced daily by hundreds of thousands of Canadians,” said Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada.  “We should be seriously looking at how to implement the recommendations in De Schutter’s report, not dismissing them.”

    The letter notes that another UN expert, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Professor James Anaya, similarly was derided for speaking out publicly about the dire conditions at the Attawipiskat First Nation reserve in northern Ontario last December.

    The letter calls on the Prime Minister to apologize to Professors De Schutter and Anaya.  “It is also crucial that Prime Minister Harper reconfirms publicly that his government recognizes the importance of international scrutiny of Canada’s universal human rights obligations,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.  “The government’s treatment of these two Special Rapporteurs sets a troubling example for other countries of unacceptable disrespect for UN human rights experts.  That cannot stand.”


    John Tackaberry,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    613-744-7667, ext 236