Human security an issue in developing world and Canada

First published:
June 19, 2002

Five teenagers were arrested last Tuesday for six weekend carjackings, involving guns, beatings, and kidnappings. Some of the victims were forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from bank machines. In another case, two women were stripped and locked in a portable toilet. Others were left in deserted areas. Another was locked in the trunk of a car and driven around for two-hours while the perpetrators discussed whether to kill him or not.

It was deeply unnerving news. But it came during a week of disturbing reports of many kinds.

The Ministry of Environment stunned the province by announcing people living 67 municipalities were drinking water that was not properly tested according to government’s standards. While the vast majority was in southwestern Ontario, public and high schools in the Hastings and Prince Edward region were told to hand out bottled water to students until further testing was completed. This suddenly made the story a lot closer to home.

Heck, we couldn’t even enjoy the Victoria Day weekend in May because a shipment of pasta salad was contaminated and making people sick.

This is not a long list of complaints. In fact, these things are all tied together in a very important way. These stories are contributing to a growing feeling of insecurity.

It comes to us as a result of getting into our car and worrying whether some crazy teenagers might pull a gun and take us for a joy ride.

The same holds true when we take a drink of water. Despite all the assurances from every level of government, it is not the same anymore.

Or sit down to eat a meal without some nagging feeling. Reaching into the fridge we are no longer certain about the quality of food. Eat a meal and feel sick.  It could be minor food poisoning. Or not. But the thought of contaminated food comes more quickly to the front of mind these days compared to the past.

Fear of violence. Poor water. Contaminated food. It all sounds like something from a developing country, not Canada.

And that brings us to the crux. When we talk about these conditions: freedom from fear, it is usually done in the context of international development. In that context it is called human security. It deals with the ability of people to live in conditions where they will not face violence. They will be able to drink good water. Eat decent food. And they will be able to work and contribute to their community and country. There will be no barriers to these basics of life.

To think that these problems are a continent away is foolish. These problems sit on our doorstep, just as we have seen over the past few weeks. In fact, the solution to some of these issues is the topic of discussion for a group of people in Cobourg on June 18.

Horizons of Friendship hosts the event. Cobourg is one of eight communities in Ontario chosen for this deliberative dialogue on food security. Rather than debate the problems, they are going to try and work to a consensus as to what must be done by the federal government and communities like ours to make sure we have enough good, healthy food to eat. It will also try and look at it in the context of trade and the impact any Canadian policies might have on other countries.

The discussions will also be broadcast live over the Internet by Loyalist College. Further debate will be continued online for the next year. (If you think this is a conflict of interest, take it out)

If you don’t think this is important, just talk to a farmer. The United States farm bill passed last month threatens to put every family farm out of business. Since agriculture is the largest contributor to the economy in Northumberland, then you better start breaking a sweat. This is going to make the coming of Wal-Mart look like the Miss Canada beauty pageant.

In the past, policy makers deal with these problems in isolation. We will pass clean water legislation. We will hire more police officers. We will improve food inspection. But this fails to see the complex nature of the issues. And it makes them seem like something that happens in isolation. These things take place elsewhere and not here.

There may have been a time in our history when Northumberland residents could sleep at night not worrying about too much. We lived in a time without fear. That is not the case anymore. Sitting back will serve no purpose. We must push our municipal, provincial and federal leaders to move swiftly to address the issue of human security – not just in the case of developing nations, but for Canada too.