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Food bank usage across Canada hit all-time high, report says

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A record-setting number of people across the country used food banks this year, with high inflation and low social assistance rates cited as key factors in the rise, according to a new report from Food Banks Canada.

The annual report released Thursday said there were nearly 1.5 million visits to food banks in March, 15 per cent more than the same month last year and 35 per cent more than in March 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Linda Godin, a 72-year-old living on a fixed income in Edmonton, is among those who have had to turn to food banks given the rising cost of living.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes to make ends meet,” she told CBC News. “I try to budget as much as I can but sometimes the budgeting doesn’t work.”

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The Food Banks Canada report is based on data from more than 4,750 food banks and community organizations. The report said the skyrocketing cost of food and housing, as well as high inflation and low social assistance rates, have contributed to the rise in food bank usage.

“What we are seeing is the combination of long-term effects to a broken social safety net combined with the effects of inflation and high costs driving more people to use food banks than ever before in Canadian history,” said Kirstin Beardsley, the CEO of Food Banks Canada.

“Behind each one of these numbers is a person who is struggling too much to get by.”

 

‘This is the toughest time in our history’: Food Banks Canada CEO

1 hour ago

Duration 5:22

Food Banks Canada CEO Kirstin Beardsley says agencies across the country are seeing more people ‘who never thought they would be’ seeking food assistance.

Seniors, students relying more on food banks

Fixed-income groups like seniors and employed but low-income people such as students have been hit harder because their paycheques can’t keep up with inflation, Beardsley said.

“We have got people like seniors, who have been able to afford to live, suddenly having to turn to the food bank for the first time in their lives because it doesn’t all add up,” Beardsley said.

“And students are the same; often they are on a very limited income, and so when the costs go up, the way we have seen, you just can’t stretch the dollar.”

Ottawa Food Bank CEO Rachael Wilson said she’s seeing those same challenges playing out locally.

“Students are really struggling,” she told CBC News Network.  “When you look at the cost of education, as well as the cost of rent here in Ottawa — I know it’s similar in Toronto and across the country. The cost of food is incredibly challenging.”

The report also said that around 500,000 food bank clients — about one-third — are children, who make up around 20 per cent of the country’s total population.

A report released Thursday said there were nearly 1.5 million visits to food banks in March 2022, 15 per cent more than the same month a year earlier. Above, a volunteer places products on shelves at the Kanata Food Cupboard in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Struggle to meet demand

The surge in demand has made it difficult for some food banks to keep up. The food bank at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus, for example, had to close temporarily because it had nothing left in stock.

“The demand over the past few months has just been more than we could have possibly predicted,” said Matt Pike, the food bank’s volunteer co-ordinator.

Pike said use of the campus food bank in August — about 150 clients — usually increases by 50 per cent in September as students head back to class, but this year it doubled. He said the food bank served about 300 clients in September and 360 in October before it was forced to close.

Beardsley called the report a “wake-up call” that should trigger moves to tackle food insecurity and the issues that contribute to it.

The report suggests long-term and short-term solutions, including creating a universal minimum income floor for lower-income Canadians and providing more affordable and rent-assisted housing.

It also suggests reforms are needed to employment insurance and the Canada Workers Benefit programs.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar

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British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Major biodiversity conference opens in Montreal amid hope of hard conservation target

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A major international conference on preserving the world’s biodiversity is to open Tuesday with speakers including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

COP15 in Montreal brings together 196 countries to refresh the Convention on Biological Diversity and is seen as a crucial attempt to reach a global deal on saving the world’s ecosystems and the plants and animals that depend on them.

Mary MacDonald of the World Wildlife Fund Canada said COP15 could provide for biodiversity what the Paris Agreement created for climate change: hard targets for preserving nature.

“What we’re looking for is something like an acknowledgment by all countries in the world that we need to have a nature-positive 2030,” MacDonald said. “That means there’s more healthy nature on this planet by 2030 than there is now.”

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Diplomats have hammered out 22 targets for the negotiations, which include halting the spread of invasive species and reducing the use of pesticides and plastics.

But the main objective will be to agree on a minimum amount of how much of the world’s ecosystems should be protected and conserved.

Scientists suggest preserving 30 per cent of the globe’s remaining lands and oceans is vital to stop increasing threats of extinction and achieving international targets for reducing greenhouse gases. They say biodiversity and climate change are closely linked.

A 2019 paper in the journal Science concluded: “If current trends in habitat conversion and emissions do not peak by 2030, then it will become impossible to remain below 1.5 (degrees Celsius).”

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says Canada has four main goals for the final agreement: meeting the 30 per cent threshold, reversing biodiversity loss by 2030, providing money to developing nations to allow them to meet those targets and ensuring Indigenous people are fully involved.

Guilbeault acknowledges meeting those goals won’t be easy. He said the last draft of the convention he saw contained 1,200 places where the final text hasn’t been agreed on.

The event will create a small city within Montreal for the next two weeks, with 17,000 registered attendees and 900 reporters accredited to cover their deliberations.

The COP15 conference lasts until Dec. 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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