The Right to Food in Canada: A conversation with the U.N. Special Rapporteur Monday March 4th 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Kanata Village

As many are now aware, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food came to Canada in May 2012. The Government of Canada’s response to his preliminary report last year is disappointing at best. Section 8 of the report is devoted to the impact of the food crisis in Canada within indigenous communities.  On Monday, March 4th, join Food Secure Canada, the Mohawk Workers and others who believe that Mr. De Schutter’s report echoes the voices and analysis of our communities regarding this crisis.  Let’s talk about what can be done from an Onkwehon:we (indigenous) perspective and put our minds together as one.

Health, indigenous rights, and food systems (both land and water-based) issues will be discussed in detail. In particular, Mr. De Schutter has called for the development of a national right to food strategy, which aligns well with long held beliefs held by many of our ancestors and enshrined in culture / traditions too many have forgotten to live by.  On Monday our community elders will remind us how to remember who we are.

Mr. De Schutter will be presenting his report to the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva on March 4, just before he joins us (and others across Canada) live for an interactive web seminar. UN discussions are important, but often far away and inaccessible to the people who need to hear them most. We are thankful to Food Secure Canada and those who are providing this platform for Mr. De Schutter to share his conclusions and for Canadians and Onkwehon:we alike whose rights to food are not being respected to dialogue directly with the UN. This is a chance to show that we are not alone in thinking that Canada’s food system is unjust, unhealthy and unsustainable. This is an opportunity to underline that Canada has a legal obligation to respect the right to food and to showcase some of the innovative solutions that are being deployed right across the country.  Following the seminar, round-table discussions focused on community solutions will take place.

E-mail for more information:

Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and therefore has a legal obligation to respect the right to food. “Yet we have millions of people in Canada for whom this basic right is not respected, and we have an unhealthy and unsustainable food system,” said Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada, who organized the nation-wide interaction. “We need a national food policy, where all actors are at the table, including the hundreds of civil society organizations across this country who are already implementing innovative solutions to hunger, health and sustainable agriculture and fisheries at the community level.” Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada: or (514) 629-9236

Journalists wishing to interview Olivier De Schutter are encouraged to contact his office directly: Yoonie Kim: Yoonie Kim


Human Rights Council

Twenty-second session – Agenda item 3

Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political,

economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development

Addendum – Mission to Canada

 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter

VIII. Indigenous peoples

53.     In Canada, indigenous peoples (the term used in international law) are referred to as Aboriginal peoples, and include all original inhabitants of Canada as recognized by section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982) and comprise First Nations,49 Inuit and Métis. The 2006 Census numbers indicate that there are about 1.1 million Aboriginal people in Canada: 750,000 First Nations, of which over 600,000 are Registered Indians, about 50,000 Inuit across 53 communities, and over 350,000 Métis. In this context, the Special Rapporteur recalls that in human rights terms, indigenous existence and identity do not depend on State recognition or acknowledgment.

54.     Like others, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the decision by Canada in November 201050 to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration affirms fundamental human rights in relation to the particular historical and contemporary circumstances of indigenous peoples.

55.     A long history of political and economic marginalization has left many indigenous peoples living in poverty with considerably lower levels of access to adequate food relative to the general population. Though the percentage of low income among Aboriginals living off-reserve declined in recent years, 21.7 per cent of Aboriginals fall below the low income cut-off after tax as defined by Statistics Canada, compared to 11.1 per cent for the non Aboriginal population.51 Despite  programmes such as the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (including a First Nations and Inuit component); Aboriginal Head Start (includes on-reserve and urban and northern component); the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative; and Nutrition North Canada, discussed in greater detail below, research conducted by the University of Manitoba noted that in 2008-2009, nearly 60 per cent of First Nations children in northern Manitoba households were food insecure.52 The Inuit Health Survey reported that 70 per cent of adults living in Nunavut were food insecure. This is six times higher than the national average and represents the highest documented food insecurity rate for any aboriginal population in a developed country.53 Among off-reserve aboriginal households, approximately one in five households was food insecure, including 8.4 per cent severely food insecure.54 These rates are three times higher than among non-aboriginal households, where 7.7 per cent were food insecure, including 2.5 per cent with severe food insecurity.55 In March 2011, one in ten of the 851,014 who relied on food banks across Canada self-identified as an aboriginal person.56

B. Access to traditional/country foods

62.     Indigenous peoples are also uniquely positioned with respect to food by virtue of their relationship with traditional lands and the natural resources therein, which is a central component of their identity. Accordingly, indigenous peoples are generally recognized as having broader rights to natural resources under international human rights law. They have the right to use natural resources as a means of supporting their cultural integrity through traditional economic activities, such as subsistence agriculture, hunting and fishing, as well as religious or spiritual activities.58

63.     Historically, indigenous peoples have had their own food systems, relying on traditional knowledge of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. According to the Manitoba First Nations Regional Health Survey (2008), approximately 85 per cent of First Nations adults sometimes or often had someone who shared traditional food (also known as “country” food) with their household. In 2006, 65 per cent of Inuit residing in Northern Canada were reported to live in households where at least half of the meat and fish consumed was country foods. A study involving Inuit adults found that diets contained significantly more vitamins A, D, E and B6, riboflavin, iron zinc, potassium and selenium, among others, on days when country food was consumed. These findings highlight the important relationship between access to country foods and health.

64.     Although communities can, and often do, pursue a diet based on traditional/country foods, obtaining this is not without cost. Issues with accessing traditional foods include the impacts of climate change on migratory patterns of animals and on the mobility of those hunting them; limited availability of food flora and fauna; environmental contamination of species; flooding and development of traditional hunting and trapping territories; lack of equipment and resourcing to purchase equipment or inputs necessary for hunting, fishing and harvesting; and lack of requisite skills and time.

65.     Many Aboriginal communities expressed concerns regarding federal government policies that have disrupted and, in some cases, devastated the traditional practices of indigenous people, including through removing control over land and natural resources. Access to country foods represents more than increased nutrition and physical accessibility; it also has significant cultural importance.

C. Access to land

66.     Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982). The expression of those rights is outlined in various treaties and other agreements so as to clarify rights and responsibilities. But concerns have been expressed that the Government has sought to extinguish  existing  titles through negotiations and terms of modern land claims and self-government agreements, as well as through a narrow and reductionist reading of historical treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. Ongoing land claims across the country have implications for the right to food and access to country foods among aboriginal Canadians. Yet, under international law, indigenous peoples have the right to possess and control their traditional lands and resources. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources that they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired (art. 26, para. 1); the right to develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources (art. 31, para. 1); the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned lands, territories, water and coastal seas (art. 25).59 It also provides for States to provide effective mechanisms “for prevention of, and redress for…[a]ny action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources” (art.8, para. 2 (b)).

67.     The Special Rapporteur notes the existence of the Aboriginal Consultation and Accommodation: Updated Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Duty to Consult, a Government policy document on aboriginal consultation and accommodation. In this context, he recalls that the Declaration establishes that, in general, consultations with indigenous peoples are to be carried out in “good faith … in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent” (art. 19). He believes that continued and concerted measures are needed to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones, in consultation and in real partnership with indigenous peoples with the goal towards strengthening indigenous peoples’ own self-determination and decision-making over their affairs at all levels.

68.     The broad range of indigenous rights to possess and use natural resources as stated in the Declaration, extend beyond the scope of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Nevertheless, these rights do provide a point of reference for evaluating questions related to

IX. Conclusions and recommendation

69.     By recognizing access to sufficient and adequate food as a legal entitlement, the right to food provides an important tool for combating hunger and malnutrition. It protects the rights of people to live with dignity and ensures that all have either the resources required to produce enough food for themselves or a purchasing power sufficient to procure food from the market. It imposes obligations on the State, requiring that individuals and communities have access to recourse mechanisms when these obligations are not met. The right to food also requires that States identify the hungry and malnourished by adequate food insecurity and vulnerability mapping, and that they adopt policies that remove the obstacles to its enjoyment by each individual. Consistent with this understanding of the right to food as a human right, the Special Rapporteur offers the following recommendations:

(a) Formulate a comprehensive rights-based national food strategy clearly delineating the responsibilities of public officials at the federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal/local levels, identifying the measures to be adopted and the associated time frames, and ensuring that initiatives adopted at municipal and provincial levels, particularly for the rebuilding of local food systems, are adequately supported; as part of this strategy, create a nationally funded children and food strategy (including school-feeding food literacy and school garden programmes) to ensure that all children, at all times, have access to healthy and nutritious food; launch the process of adoption of a framework law on the right to food, for the regular updating of the Canadian food strategy;

(b) Revise social assistance levels to correspond to the costs of basic necessities required to enjoy the human right to an adequate standard of living, establishing the market basket measure (MBM) as a federal guideline for provincial and territorial social assistance schemes;  revise the system of housing benefits to ensure that the poorest families are not obliged to sacrifice food in order to pay for the non-compressible and non-divisible costs of housing; re-establish a national programme with specific cash transfers for social assistance and social services that includes universal entitlements and national standards and lays down a legally enforceable right to adequate assistance for all persons in need, seeking inspiration from the success of the Old Age Security programme;

(c) Set the minimum wage as a living wage, as required under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and consistent with ILO Conventions No. 99  (1951)  and No. 131 (1970), particularly as regards the requirement that the minimum wage should be fixed taking into consideration, inter alia, “the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, the cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups;”

(d) Accord status to those  Aboriginal peoples unrecognized as such under the Indian Act in order to enable all  Aboriginal peoples to have access to land and water rights to which they are entitled; encourage the federal, provincial and territorial governments to meet, in good faith, with indigenous groups to discuss arrangements to ensure access to land, natural resources, Nutrition North Canada and the right to food, among others; accept the request of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to undertake an official country visit;

(e) In the organization of marketing for agricultural products, institute limits on the allowable size of an operation established with provincial marketing boards and place caps on the value of quotas, as done in Ontario, Québec and the Maritime provinces; consider creative ways to de-capitalize the quotas in order to ensure that supply management can also benefit farmers employing non-conventional (organic) methods, such as establishing separate quotas for speciality products, creating an exemption for direct marketing, or targeting speciality markets in allocating processing; and favour the entry of new farmers;

(f) Apply human rights criteria in reporting as per the 2008  ODA Accountability Act, and human rights norms and standards in determining international cooperation priorities and implementing programmes; take steps to ensure that Canada’s international policies do not have a negative impact on the realization of the right to food.


About Rotinonshonni ónhwe - Tkanatáhere

We belong to families organized pursuant to ancient ways. Ka-nyen-geh-ha-kah (Mohawks) of Grand River support site. "Very simply, frauds and deceit have usurped this war reparation and robbed our people of what is rightfully ours, leaving us with only a Land Claim. Broken deals, fraud, embezzlement and genocide – and worse – all perpetrated at the unclean hands of too many to count at this time. We are (Mohawks) Ka-nyen-geh-ha-kah of Grand River, founders of the Five Nation League and what some call the "Great Peace".

One response to “The Right to Food in Canada: A conversation with the U.N. Special Rapporteur Monday March 4th 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Kanata Village”

  1. William David says :

    A most welcome post! I look forward to the upcoming dialogue.
    I believe the Special Rapporteur has also issued Guiding Principles on human rights and trade and investment treaties, which calls for a human rights impact assessment of such treaties before they are signed.

    Hupacaseth FN is currently challenging one such treaty, with China. Another, with Europe, is in the final stages of negotiation. I assume Canada has not conducted such an assessment, ‘consulted’ with any First Nations, nor even considered indigenous rights in these, or any other trade instruments.

    Just to say that some of the Special Rapps work beyond Ch. 8 should be of interest to indigenous peoples in Canada (and indeed beyond).

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