Canada stonewalling UN on poverty & inequality, UN committee says

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 29 Nov 1998 18:58:29 -0400


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http://www.nationalpost.com/news.asp?f=981128/2057795&s2=world
FWD  (Canada) National Post - Saturday, November 28, 1998

CANADA SLOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS ON POVERTY, UN SAYS

Vague to answers: Delegates grilled on homelessness,
welfare and other soical problems

Helen Branswell - The Canadian Press

Canada was accused yesterday of attempting to stonewall a United Nations
committee studying the country's record at alleviating poverty and social
inequality.

The Canadian delegation's performance during two days of testimony before
the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights left members
shaking their heads in disbelief.

Canadian replies were vague to specific and pointed questions about
homelessness, reductions in welfare payments, living conditions of First
Nations communities and other social problems.

"Maybe they haven't done their homework properly or they're embarrassed at
answering the obvious -- that there is a great deal of poverty in Canada
and yet it's such a rich country," suggested committee member Ariranga
Pillay, who is chief justice of the supreme court of Mauritius.

"We've tried but there's a lot of waffling and sometimes you get the
impression they don't want to answer. When they're cornered, they just move
on and that's that."

Another member had no doubt the Canadians were stonewalling in an attempt
to avoid answering questions that would embarrass the federal government.

"What can they say? Poor diplomats," said Mahmoud Ahmed, a retired
ambassador from Egypt who once served as his country's representative to
the UN.

"When they are sent out on a mission like this, they are torn between two
fires. On the one hand, the glaring facts, on the other hand, their duty
towards their government."

Philip Alston, the chairman, refrained from questioning the Canadian
delegation.

But he warned them the imprecision of their replies could hurt the country
when it comes time for the committee to write its report.

That document, which is virtually certain to be damning of Canada's lack of
progress in terms of eliminating poverty among women, the disabled and
First Nations people, is expected to be released Dec. 4.

Mr. Alston reminded the Canadian delegation that non-governmental
organizations concerned about the issue had flooded the committee with
information which formed the basis of its questions.

"What we are left with is a great pile of specificity on one hand and a
great pile of generalities on the other," Mr. Alston said.

Canada was appearing before the committee to report on how it is doing at
upholding the international covenant on economic, social and cultural
rights, which came into force in 1976.

Signatory countries like Canada pledge to respect the rights of their
citizens to work, social security, adequate standards of living --
including housing -- and the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard
of physical and mental health.

And they must present a report card on how they are doing every five years
to this group.

The committee wanted answers on why, during a time of economic recovery,
the poverty rates among single mothers had risen, why the level of welfare
benefits had been cut, why Ottawa had designed an unemployment-insurance
scheme that covered fewer people, why women weren't showing much progress
in achieving economic equality, why First Nations people were still living
in appalling conditions and why 1.5 million children still live in poverty.

Many of the replies relied heavily on the fact programs like welfare fall
under provincial jurisdiction and the federal government is powerless to
act.

At one point, Mr. Alston urged committee members not to belabour the same
questions because there was no point if the Canadian team was not going to
reply -- a remark to which the head of the Canadian delegation took
exception.

Later, Mark Moher insisted the Canadian team answered all the questions it
could. The issue wasn't that it hadn't given replies, just that they
weren't the answers committee members might have wanted to hear.

"I don't have any difficulty if someone says they wish they had a different
answer or they wish they had a longer or more detailed answer -- that's a
legitimate comment. But to say that we didn't try to answer was the point
that I expressed concern about," said Mr. Moher, ambassador to the UN in
Geneva.

"We feel we did."

The committee didn't.

Over the last two weeks it has heard similar reports from a number of other
countries including Germany, Switzerland, Israel and Cyprus. But the
answers provided by the Canadians were "of much greater generality" than of
the others, Mr. Alston said.

The Canadian delegation would not acknowledge any particular problems and
gave answers so generic they could apply to any number of countries.

During their nine hours before the committee, the Canadian team
occasionally admitted to problems in Canada, but it was rare.

For the most part, the team talked in non-specific terms about federal
programs or objectives in a way that clearly angered nearly everyone on the
U.N. committee.

"I got the impression we were being shown a wood but not the trees," said
Jaime Romero of Ecuador.

"We ask very specific questions and they give us such vague answers and
they contradict themselves so much," added Virginia Bonoan-Dandan, of the
Philippines.

END FORWARD
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receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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http://www.nationalpost.com/news.asp?f=981128/2057795&s2=world

FWD  (Canada) National Post - Saturday, November 28, 1998


<paraindent><param>right,left</param>CANADA SLOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS ON
POVERTY, UN SAYS


Vague to answers: Delegates grilled on homelessness,

welfare and other soical problems


Helen Branswell - The Canadian Press 

</paraindent>

Canada was accused yesterday of attempting to stonewall a United
Nations committee studying the country's record at alleviating poverty
and social inequality. 


The Canadian delegation's performance during two days of testimony
before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights left
members shaking their heads in disbelief. 


Canadian replies were vague to specific and pointed questions about
homelessness, reductions in welfare payments, living conditions of
First Nations communities and other social problems. 


"Maybe they haven't done their homework properly or they're embarrassed
at answering the obvious -- that there is a great deal of poverty in
Canada and yet it's such a rich country," suggested committee member
Ariranga Pillay, who is chief justice of the supreme court of
Mauritius. 


"We've tried but there's a lot of waffling and sometimes you get the
impression they don't want to answer. When they're cornered, they just
move on and that's that." 


Another member had no doubt the Canadians were stonewalling in an
attempt to avoid answering questions that would embarrass the federal
government. 


"What can they say? Poor diplomats," said Mahmoud Ahmed, a retired
ambassador from Egypt who once served as his country's representative
to the UN. 


"When they are sent out on a mission like this, they are torn between
two fires. On the one hand, the glaring facts, on the other hand, their
duty towards their government." 


Philip Alston, the chairman, refrained from questioning the Canadian
delegation. 


But he warned them the imprecision of their replies could hurt the
country when it comes time for the committee to write its report. 


That document, which is virtually certain to be damning of Canada's
lack of progress in terms of eliminating poverty among women, the
disabled and First Nations people, is expected to be released Dec. 4. 


Mr. Alston reminded the Canadian delegation that non-governmental
organizations concerned about the issue had flooded the committee with
information which formed the basis of its questions. 


"What we are left with is a great pile of specificity on one hand and a
great pile of generalities on the other," Mr. Alston said. 


Canada was appearing before the committee to report on how it is doing
at upholding the international covenant on economic, social and
cultural rights, which came into force in 1976. 


Signatory countries like Canada pledge to respect the rights of their
citizens to work, social security, adequate standards of living --
including housing -- and the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health. 


And they must present a report card on how they are doing every five
years to this group. 


The committee wanted answers on why, during a time of economic
recovery, the poverty rates among single mothers had risen, why the
level of welfare benefits had been cut, why Ottawa had designed an
unemployment-insurance scheme that covered fewer people, why women
weren't showing much progress in achieving economic equality, why First
Nations people were still living in appalling conditions and why 1.5
million children still live in poverty. 


Many of the replies relied heavily on the fact programs like welfare
fall under provincial jurisdiction and the federal government is
powerless to act. 


At one point, Mr. Alston urged committee members not to belabour the
same questions because there was no point if the Canadian team was not
going to reply -- a remark to which the head of the Canadian delegation
took exception. 


Later, Mark Moher insisted the Canadian team answered all the questions
it could. The issue wasn't that it hadn't given replies, just that they
weren't the answers committee members might have wanted to hear. 


"I don't have any difficulty if someone says they wish they had a
different answer or they wish they had a longer or more detailed answer
-- that's a legitimate comment. But to say that we didn't try to answer
was the point that I expressed concern about," said Mr. Moher,
ambassador to the UN in Geneva. 


"We feel we did." 


The committee didn't. 


Over the last two weeks it has heard similar reports from a number of
other countries including Germany, Switzerland, Israel and Cyprus. But
the answers provided by the Canadians were "of much greater generality"
than of the others, Mr. Alston said. 


The Canadian delegation would not acknowledge any particular problems
and gave answers so generic they could apply to any number of
countries. 


During their nine hours before the committee, the Canadian team
occasionally admitted to problems in Canada, but it was rare. 


For the most part, the team talked in non-specific terms about federal
programs or objectives in a way that clearly angered nearly everyone on
the U.N. committee. 


"I got the impression we were being shown a wood but not the trees,"
said Jaime Romero of Ecuador. 


"We ask very specific questions and they give us such vague answers and
they contradict themselves so much," added Virginia Bonoan-Dandan, of
the Philippines.


END FORWARD

-

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

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