Why I Am Fasting From March 25th to April 1st, 1996

The Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) goes into effect on April 1, 1996.  It abolishes 4 of the 5 economic rights in the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) which it replaces, and cuts $7 billion in transfer payments to the provinces for health, post-secondary education, and social assistance.

Gone are the right to income when a person is in need, the right to adequate income, the right to appeal, and the right not to have to work for welfare.  The only CAP right maintained in the CHST is the right to income assistance regardless of the province a person is from.

The CHST will place Canada in a position of breaching international human rights law expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976), and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), all of which Canada has signed.

Under the CHST provinces will not be obliged to have financial assistance programs for persons in need.  National standards for social assistance will be gone, and so will one more building block of Canadian unity.

A fast is a reminder that hundreds of thousands of Canadians, many of them children, do not have enough to eat.  A fast is an expression of solidarity with those who are hungry.  There’s a great deal of denial that unemployment, poverty and hunger are serious problems in Canada.  Business lobby groups try to prove that 8% unemployment is full employment, and that poverty is not a major concern.  However, the growing need for food banks is proof that something is terribly wrong with our economy.  The public safety net is collapsing, and with the abolition of national standards for social assistance, the way is open for third world poverty in Canada on a large scale.

A fast is a way of grieving for Canada, the second richest country in the world, where:

(a) the infant mortality rate is increasing.

(b) the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.

(c) the number of homeless is increasing.

(d) official unemployment is close to 10%, and will continue at that high level for years to come.

(e) the suicide rate for teens between the ages of 15 to 19 is the third highest in the world.

(f) universal health care is being eroded, and a two tier health care system is developing.

(g) our schools are being ravaged by cuts, and many post-secondary students cannot afford a university education because of high tuition fees.

A fast is a way of grieving for the numbness and paralysis of many Canadians in the face of growing injustice.  We see long food bank lines, and we get used to them.  We see more and more homeless people, and we get used to them.  We know that increasing rates of poverty and unemployment cause increasing rates of family breakdown, infant mortality, child abuse, malnutrition, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, homicide, rape, property crime, youth alienation, and we get used to it.

A fast is a way of grieving for our political and economic leaders who have become dehumanized by the structures they themselves manipulate, and whose acquisitive, aggressive way of being in the world is the opposite of being in the world for others.  They are unable to grasp that it is not just that some people are rich and others poor.  It is that some people live and others die.

A fast is a way of grieving for those who speak out against injustice, knowing full well that the principalities and powers that warp and brutalize our society are so strong that it is necessary to pay a price to oppose them.

A fast is also an act of protest, a powerful action by a powerless person, a time of reflection, an act of penance for oneself or for those who are destroying our country, a way of demonstrating commitment to something beyond one’s personal comfort, and a symbol of hope.

We were proud of ourselves after the Second World War, for we had seen what we could do in a national emergency.  We thought of ourselves as a people with a common democratic purpose, and we even dreamt of having our own flag.  Our dreams were not so different from the dreams of many other people in the world, and were expressed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  It included the right to decent work, decent income, adequate food, clothing and shelter, respectful relationships, and the opportunity for each person to participate fully in the life of a healthy community.

Today Canadians fear the loss of hard-won social democracy in the global economy of competitive impoverishment.  We long for community that lifts being-in-the-world beyond the predatory stage of human development.  We do not want our success to depend on another’s failure, nor our prosperity on another’s poverty.  We want to be in control of our lives, to belong to our land, to live with our traditions.  This dream is worth fasting for.  This dream is worth fighting for.

~ Sandy Cameron

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