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

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister 80 Wellington Street Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2
By fax: 613-941-6900
By email:

May 30, 2012

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing this open letter to you as individuals and representatives of organizations dedicated to strengthening the protection of human rights and food security, in Canada and around the world. We are deeply troubled by the Government of Canada’s treatment of the United Nations human rights Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, during his recent mission to Canada.

Mr. De Schutter is an internationally renowned expert on the right to food. He was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the UN Human Rights Council with the support of Canada. The Government of Canada frequently cites its encouragement of missions by UN mandate holders as evidence of its good standing and promotion of human rights – including at Canada’s 2009 Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr. De Schutter came to Canada on mission at the official invitation of your government. The Canadian Government assisted in arranging Mr. De Schutter’s itinerary described in an Aide Memoire which was released publicly in advance of his visit. The government knew that Mr. De Schutter would prepare a report on the mission to the UN Human Rights Council. The government also knew that Mr. De Schutter’s mandate is to promote the right to food in all countries, subject to maximum available resources. It would certainly come as no surprise to your government that Mr. De Schutter would have concerns about the well-documented extent of hunger in a country as affluent as Canada. This has been identified as a growing concern by a number of UN human rights bodies as well as by organizations across the country for many years.

Despite all this, Mr. De Schutter has been subjected to unprecedented attacks on his integrity and professionalism simply for having accepted Canada’s invitation. His mission was described by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration as “completely ridiculous.” He was accused of wasting money that Canada has contributed to food aid by coming here. He was told that he should not get involved in “political exercises in developed democracies like Canada.” The fact that he would write a report that refers to food security issues of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada was described by your Minister of Health as “insulting.”

Your government went beyond attacking the mission itself, however. In a highly charged atmosphere in the House of Commons, your Ministers proceeded to attack Mr. De Schutter personally. He was described as an “ill-informed”, “patronizing” “academic” who engaged in “lecturing”. He was referred to as “this guy from Belgium” and criticized personally for the policies of his “home country” in relation to Canada’s seal hunt. He was attacked for never having “delivered any food to anyone anywhere.” The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that “it is an insult to Canadians and their tax dollars that this fellow came over here to waste the dollars they have contributed.” Government members, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, repeatedly rose to their feet to enthusiastically applaud the portrayal of Mr. De Schutter as an ill-informed meddling outsider.

This was not the first time in recent months that Ministers of your government have exhibited disrespect for UN Special Rapporteurs. James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples received similar treatment when he expressed concern about conditions in Attawapiskat in December 2011. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan characterized a statement from Mr. Anaya, expressing concern about the deplorable housing situation in Attawapiskat, as being a “publicity stunt”.

Prime Minister, there is no line to be drawn between protecting human rights at home and protecting them in the rest of the world. Human rights are universal and do not only apply to developing nations or countries in which there are military dictatorships. Your government appropriately recognized this when Canada’s record was examined through the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process in 2009, noting that: “Canada recognizes that no country, including itself, has a perfect human rights record, which emphasized the importance of every country opening its human rights records to scrutiny, domestically and internationally.”

People in Canada are entitled to the fulfillment of their human rights. In the case of rights such as the right to food or housing, such fulfillment is to be assessed relative to the resources available. To suggest that widespread hunger in so affluent a country as Canada ought not to be of concern to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food because hunger is more severe in some poorer countries is to completely misunderstand the nature of Canada’s obligations under international human rights law and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. De Schutter’s preliminary reflections in fact echo many of the concerns that Parliamentary committees, civil society organizations, independent research institutes, UN treaty monitoring bodies and experts have stated for years: the need to address food insecurity amongst low-income people in Canada; the links between chronic diseases and unhealthy food; the specific concerns of Aboriginal peoples; and the need for a national policy which will respect, protect, and fulfil the right to food.

While there is much to be proud of with respect to the protection of human rights in Canada, there is a pressing need to do better. The human rights of many in Canada, including Aboriginal peoples and those living in poverty, without adequate food or housing, are violated daily. If the UN ignored these violations or failed to hold Canada accountable in the same way as other governments are held accountable, the entire UN human rights protection system would be discredited. When Canadian officials disregard or show disrespect for international human rights experts and mechanisms, other governments can be expected to follow suit.

Prime Minister, if the government disagrees with the recommendations from internationally mandated experts such as Mr. De Schutter, those arguments can respectfully be put on the public record to be discussed. Similarly, if the government has concerns about the timing or nature of media interviews or press statements by Special Rapporteurs, those concerns can and should be addressed in appropriate ways. In all circumstances, concerns and disagreement should be expressed in a manner that makes it clear that Canada recognizes the UN has the authority and the responsibility to examine and uphold universal human rights in all countries, including Canada.

Prime Minister, Canada deserves more and so does the United Nations. We hope you will ensure that UN representatives and human rights experts coming to Canada in the future will be treated with respect. We urge you to apologize to Olivier De Schutter and James Anaya for the unjustified attacks that they were subjected to and to provide assurances to the United Nations Human Rights Council that Canada will cooperate fully with its mechanisms. We expect our government to fully engage with the UN human rights system, recognizing its application to Canada and welcoming the international scrutiny that our signature on human rights treaties rightfully entails.


Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada
Sandeep Prasad, Action Canada for Population and Development
Michel Lambert, Alternatives
Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada
Béatrice Vaugrante, Amnistie internationale Canada francophone
Colleen Cameron, Antigonish Food Security Coalition
Caren Weisbart, Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network
Adrienne Montani, BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Susan O’Donnell, BC Human Rights Coalition
Trish Garner, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
David Eby, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
Steve Stewart, Café Justicia BC
Ihsaan Gardee, CAIR-CAN – Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations
Sandra Bauer, Canada Tibet Committee
Nour El-Kadri, Canadian Arab Federation
Kim Pate, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Lorne Waldman, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
Morel Caissie, Canadian Association of Social Workers
Bruce Campbell, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Ezat Mossallanejad, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture
Kathy Vandergrift, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
Julia Sanchez, Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Wanda Yamamoto, Canadian Council for Refugees
Brenda Wallace, Canadian Federation of University Women
Holly Johnson, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
Jim Cornelius, Canadian Foodgrains Bank
Stan Marshall, Canadian Union of Public Employees
Leilani Farha, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation
Toby Mendel, Centre for Law and Democracy
Vincent Calderhead, Charter Committee on Poverty Issues
Martha Friendly, Childcare Resource and Research Unit
Susan Harney, Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Joan Tremblay, Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté
Michael Kerr, Colour of Poverty
Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers
Stella Lord, Community Coalition to End Poverty
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians
Tony Dolan, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Rob Rainer, CWP Advocacy Network
Donna Franey, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service
Peter Robinson, David Suzuki Foundation
Ailsa M. Watkinson, Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan
Isabelle St- Germain, Équiterre
Joanne Bays, Farm to Cafeteria Canada
Manon Monastesse, Fédération de ressources d’hébergement pour femmes violentées et en difficulté du Québec
Stephanie Hunter, Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy
Karen Hawley, First Hand Climate Stories
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
Diana Bronson, Food Secure Canada
Ian Marcuse, Grandview Woodland Food Connection
Yossi Cadan, Greenpeace Canada
Alissia Lytton, Han Knakst Tsitxw Society
Lee-ann Lee, Harmony House Women’s Shelter
Dr. Monika Dutt, Health Providers Against Poverty
Ken Robinson, Donisa Bernardo, Bonnie Pearson, Hospital Employees’ Union/CUPE
Lucie Lamarche, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
Kenneth Deer, Indigenous World Association
Rita Morbia, Inter Pares
Roch Tassé, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Professor Audrey Macklin, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Annabel Webb, Justice for Girls Outreach Society
Jennifer Henry, KAIROS
Michelle Walker, Kamloops Community YMCA YWCA
Barbara McInerney, Kaushee’s Place/Yukon Women’s Transition Home
Cory Wanless, Law Union of Ontario
Gail Davidson, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
Wyanne Sandler and Jackie McVicar, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network
Jamie Kneen, MiningWatch Canada
Alison Dewar and Anne Levesque, National Association of Women and the Law
Denise Mattock, National Council of Women of Canada
Terry Boehm, National Farmers Union
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Native Women’s Association of Canada
Kathy Campbell, New Starts for Women
Christine Hotz, Nutridemics
Eileen Morrow, Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses
Linda Lalonde, Ottawa Poverty Reduction Network
Robert Fox, Oxfam Canada
Robyn Benson, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Bonnie Morton, Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry
Stephanie Lim, Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute
Steven Staples, Rideau Institute
Bruce Porter, Social Rights Advocacy Centre
Susan Brooke, Social Workers for Social Justice
Marsha Sfeir, Springtide Resources, Inc
Rene Ross, Stepping Stone
Dave Diewert, Streams of Justice
Jean-Paul Faniel, Table de concertation sur la faim et le développement social du Montréal métropolitain
Ishama Harris, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
Doris Hall, The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women
Linda Lalonde, The Ottawa Right to Food Group
Shelagh Day, The Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Nick Saul, The Stop Community Food Centre
Lucille Harper and Christine Sauliner, The Women’s Action Alliance for Change Nova Scotia
Helene St. Jacques, Toronto Food Policy Council
Pamela Harrison, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Treaty 4 First Nations
Bernadette MacDonald, Tri County Women’s Centre
Karen Rothschild, Union paysanne
Hilla Kerner, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
Laurence Fauteux, Vert ta Ville
Kasari Govender, West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
Fergus Watt, World Federalist Movement – Canada

Jennie Abell, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Melanie Adrian, Assistant Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
Sharryn J. Aiken, Associate Dean (Graduate Studies & Research) and Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
A Haroon Akram-Lodh, Trent University
Warren Allmand, Former Minister and President of Rights & Democracy
Constance Backhouse, Professor of Law & University Research Chair, University of Ottawa
Reem Bahdi, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Natasha Bakht, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Amy Bartholomew, Associate Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
Susan Bazilli, Director, International Women’s Rights Project, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria
Chief Perry Bellegarde, Little Black Bear First Nation
Jennifer Bond, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Suzanne Bouclin, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Ed Broadbent, Former NDP Leader and President of Rights & Democracy
Annie Bunting, Associate Professor of Law & Society, York University
Doris Buss, Associate Professor of Law, Carleton University
Michael Byers, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia
Angela Cameron, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law -Common Law Section, University of Ottawa
Chief Dennis Cameron, Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve
Bonnie Campbell, Professeure, Département de Science Politique, Faculté de Science Politique et de Droit, Université du Québec à Montréal
Lynda Collins, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
John H. Currie, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Hugo Cyr, Faculté de science politique et de droit, Université du Québec à Montréal
Aaron A. Dhir, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University
Mary Eberts, Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan
John W. Foster, International Studies, University of Regina
Ellen Gabriel, Indigenous human rights activist, Kanehsatà:ke Mohawk Territory
Elaine Gibson, Associate Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Daphne Gilbert, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law (Common Law Section), University of Ottawa
Amanda Glasbeek, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science, York University
Jula Hughes, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick
Jasminka Kalajdzic, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Christopher Kennedy, Board member, Santropol Roulant
Hugh M. Kindred, Emeritus Professor of Law, Dalhousie University
Douglas C. King, Barrister & Solicitor
Freya Kodar, Assistant Professor,Faculty of Law, University of Victoria
Jennifer Koshan, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary
Ronald Labonte, Canada Research Chair, Globalization/Health Equity Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa
Kathleen Lahey, Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
Nicole LaViolette, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Michael Lynk, Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario
Flora Macdonald, Former Minister of External Affairs
Vanessa MacDonnell, Assistant Professor, University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law
Kathleen Mahoney, Trudeau Fellow, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; Barrister and Solicitor; Professor of Law, University of Calgary
Pacifique Manirakiza, Law professor and Commissioner, University of Ottawa and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Peggy Mason, Senior Fellow at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) and former Canadian United Nations Ambassador for Disarmament (1989-1994)
June McCue, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia
Errol P. Mendes, Editor-in-Chief, National Journal of Constitutional Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Janet Mosher, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Mary Jane Mossman, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School
Sophia Murphy, Food Policy Analyst and Senior Advisor to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Ken Norman, Professor of Law, University of Saskatchewan
Darren O’Toole, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Katrina Pacey, Litigation Director, Pivot Legal Society
Debra Parkes, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba
Heather Passmore, Community member
Yvonne Peters, Human rights lawyer
Trevor Purvis, Assistant Professor, International Law, Carleton University
Denise Reaume, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Sean Rehaag, Assistant Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Graham Riches, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of British Columbia
Cecilia Rocha, Director and Associate Professor, School of Nutrition, Ryerson University
Sanda Rodgers, Professor Emiratis, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Rakhi Ruparelia, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Sara Seck, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario
Martha Shaffer, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toronto
Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa
Peter Showler, The Refugee Forum, University of Ottawa
Penelope Simons, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Bill Skidmore, Instructor, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University
Joanne St. Lewis, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Katie Sykes, JSD Candidate, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
François Tanguay-Renaud, Associate Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School; Director, Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security
Sophie Thériault, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Laure Waridel, Sociologist and author
Christopher Waters, Associate Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Patricia Williams, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Policy Change, Department of Applied Human Nutrition, and Director, Participatory Action Research and Training Center on Food Security, Mount Saint Vincent University
The Very Rev. the Hon. Lois Wilson, Former Senator, Former President World Council of Churches
Stepan Wood, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School
Margot Young, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia
Kathleen Ruff, founder of, former director of the Canadian Court Challenges Program and former director of the BC Human Rights Commission

CC: Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and Minister of the Northern Economic Development Agency
John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jason Kenny, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party
Bob Rae, leader of the Liberal Party
Daniel Paillé, leader of the Bloc Québecois
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party