Exposing the Ugly Truth About Poverty in Canada

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By Jacquie Ackerly

For years the sad truth about poverty in Canada has gone unheard. Anti-poverty activists have gone to every level of government and they just haven't listened. Then we went to the United Nations in Geneva, where pomp oozes out of every crack in those marble halls, and there, at last, we were heard.

It has been evident to those of us working against poverty that over the last decade our governments federal, provincial and territorial -- have not only quit moving toward full economic rights, but have been dismantling the social safety net.

The former Canada Assistance Plan rights included:

  • the right to an adequate amount of welfare when in need
  • the right to not have to work for welfare
  • and the right to appeal a decision made about your welfare

We have not been silent.

We have met with government officials, made endless submissions to governmental and non-governmental bodies, written letters to the editor, held press conferences and demonstrated.

The dismantling continues and we are dismissed as "misguided", "misinformed" and "special interest". Meanwhile, all around us the number of homeless people increases.

There are more food banks than McDonalds restaurants and 1 in 5 children live in poverty.

I went to Geneva to appear before the UN Committee as the representative of the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO), where I was joined by people from eight other Canadian non-governmental organizations.

My report to the UN covered issues such as the loss of the Canada Assistance Plan, the rising cost of post-secondary education and the gutting of Employment Insurance. I also talked about the lack of human rights to protect for the poor, and government tolerance for "poor bashing".

Other Canadians that came spoke of aboriginal living conditions, the treatment of refugees, homelessness and the negative effect trade agreements like the MAI and NAFTA have on our country's ability to provide social programs.

"It is one thing to beat the budget deficit, but not at the expense of bringing about a very harmful, a very inhumane revolution that is taking place now," said UN Committee member Mahmoud Ahmed when the Canadian government representatives gave the national deficit as the reason for cuts to social programs like health and education.

"A country that is considered one of the richest in the world, a country that is one of the G-7 countries: why go through all this enormous suffering needlessly?"

The Committee also spent a lot of time grilling the Canadian representatives about the cancellation of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) and the loss of the CAP rights.

When Canadian representatives said over and over that there never were any rights guaranteed under CAP, committee member Virginia Dan-Dan quoted earlier Canadian reports that showed the opposite to be true, and then asked, "Were you lying then or are you lying now?"

It was hard to sit quietly while the Canadian government representatives evaded answering, gave misleading answers and relied on such excuses as "studies are underway" and "talks are ongoing", but the whole experience was made worthwhile when the Committee issued its findings in early December.

Jacquie Ackerly is Second Vice-President of the National Anti-Poverty Association.

National Anti-Poverty Association
440-325 Dalhousie Street
Ottawa ON K1N 7G2
Tel: (613)789-0096
Fax: (613)789-0141

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a blistering attack on Canada's record over the last five years, saying the country has not ensured Canadians enjoy economic and social rights guaranteed by a UN covenant to which Ottawa is a signatory.

The committee's report painted a picture of a country that isn't taking care of citizens living at the low end of the economic spectrum, highlighting "crisis"' levels of homelessness, skyrocketing usage of food banks, deep cuts in welfare rates and inadequate funding for battered women's shelters.

The committee was also highly critical of the federal government for effectively shelving the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Source: Canadian Wire Services

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