Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 4, 2000
Children in poverty a national scandal
Roche, others rail against 'shredded social safety net'
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The fight against child poverty in Canada is a "scandalous failure," Senator Douglas Roche said at a Nov. 24 protest at Edmonton's City Hall.
In 1989, the House of Commons unanimously resolved to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by 2000.
Since then, Canada's population of children living in poverty has increased by 402,000 or 43 per cent, Roche said. The grand total today is 1,338,000 poor children in Canada.
"That's an outrage," said Roche, founding editor of the WCR. "It is a scandalous and spectacular failure on the part of governments across this country. We ought not to put up with this."
Some 60 people attended the noon hour protest sponsored by various Edmonton faith groups and community agencies. The purpose of the action, called A Test of Truth, was to protest government inaction on promises to address poverty.
"We are here today to raise our voices in protest against the scandalous level of poverty in the very country that the United Nations has said repeatedly is number one in the world," Roche told the crowd.
The senator blamed the rise in child poverty on the deficit cutting of the 1990s, whose legacy has been "a shredded social safety net, badly eroded public services and now the lack of any collective response to the critical needs that have arisen."
He called for strong collective action on the issue, saying hope is no longer enough.
"We must do more than hope, and demand that Canada's political process responds to the voices of the marginalized calling for social reinvestment and the building of a more inclusive foundation for the future development and well-being of Canadians."
Linda Winski of the Edmonton and District Council of Churches, called child poverty "the most scandalous injustice of our times," blaming it on government indifference, unemployment and low-paying jobs.
She said groups must pressure governments to "put people first" and thus "chart a new future for our children."
Many of the speakers echoed Pope John Paul's repeated calls for the wealthy to spread their wealth and help eliminate hunger.
"If some people freed themselves from the habit of excessive consumption, they would give freedom to others who could thus avoid the devastating scourge of hunger and malnutrition," the pope said in his World Food Day message in October.
Publisher Mel Hurtig, who hosted the Edmonton protest, noted that today one in seven children live in poverty, compared to one in five in 1989.
"In other countries they have adopted social programs to bring people out of poverty," Hurtig said. "In our country, politicians and corporate leaders really don't give a darn about poverty."
Cori Chuippi, principal of St. Patrick's School in the inner city, knows what poverty does to children.
Many of her students don't have things like colouring books, pencils and erasers. They come to school but don't have a desire to stay in class. They have poor coordination and have a hard time concentrating.
Some lack language skills because they spend a lot of time alone as their parents hold two or three jobs to make ends meet.
The school has a high rate of absenteeism because poor children tend to get sick a lot.
"We don't ask our students what they did or where they went over the summer holidays because most never leave their neighbourhoods," Chuippi said.
St. Patrick provides high-protein items in its morning snack program because many students come to school with no breakfast and no dinner the night before. There is also a hot lunch program at the school.
Probably the hungriest students at St. Patrick are the kindergarten students, Chuippi said, noting that some stuff themselves during lunch on Fridays because they know they won't be well fed at home.
But for all the disadvantages they face, St. Patrick's students are some of the most resilient, powerful and spirited children around, the principal said.
A report now being completed by the Alberta Quality of Life Commission shows poor children generally lack access to recreation, cultural activities and organized sports.
Almost none of the children interviewed for the report "had played in organized sport teams or had access to music programs," noted commission spokesperson Pat McGoey.
The commission's Listen to the Children report will be released in January, McGoey said.