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Right to Food Rapporteur wraps up first week in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food wrapped up his first week in Canada today.

Olivier De Schutter met with civil society groups in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg to discuss a range of issues related to food security; including poverty and hunger, GMOs, migrant worker policies and foreign investment in Canadian farmland.

De Schutter is appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country's situation within a specific human rights context: in this case, the right to food.

It's the first time the UN has sent such a mission to a wealthy nation, a dubious distinction some say Canada doesn't deserve. An editorial in the Calgary Herald yesterday compared De Schutter's visit to a doctor prioritizing a hangnail over a gunshot wound and opined that Harper showed "good sense" in not making ministers available to meet with the special rapporteur.

"Well, he just explained his reasons very clearly for being here," said Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, speaking from a food bank in downtown Winnipeg where De Schutter was meeting with members of the public. "There's hunger amidst plenty, there are very high levels of disease in Canada, and there is the need to be able to have legally binding commitments on the protection of social and economic rights."

Food Secure Canada is an umbrella group advocating for a national food strategy and a national school food program. Bronson told The Tyee she's sat in on six of De Schutter's nine meetings and public events so far. She said there have been "an astounding array of stats presented" as well as personal testimony.

According to Health Canada, 55.5% of people receiving social assistance nationally are food insecure.

The special rapporteur is in Canada until May 16, but is not speaking to the media about his mission until it's over.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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