Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food speaks to the media at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, May 16, 2012 after his tour of Canada. (Andre Forget / QMI AGENCY)
OTTAWA -- Amnesty International is demanding a mea culpa from the federal government after cabinet ministers lambasted a UN rights rapporteur during a recent visit to Canada, calling the visit "ridiculous."
The rights group said it was "deeply troubled" by the senior Conservatives' dismissal of UN special right to food rapporteur Olivier De Schutter, who spent 11 days in Canada in early May.
In the "highly charged atmosphere" in the House of Commons, "government members, including the minister of foreign affairs, repeatedly rose to their feet to enthusiastically applaud the portrayal of Mr. De Schutter as an ill-informed meddling outsider," they said in a open letter addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"When Canadian officials disregard or show disrespect for international human rights experts and mechanisms, other governments can be expected to follow suit."
The letter was signed by rights and social advocacy groups across Canada, as well as individuals including former NDP and Liberal elder statesmen.
Harper's spokesman Andrew Macdougall rebuffed calls for an apology Wednesday.
"The government has made its views clear. Those views have not changed," he said.
At the end of his fact-finding mission, the Belgian academic chastised Canada for flunking out of international obligations by failing to prevent both hunger and obesity nationwide.
In a media interview, he told Canada to drop its "self-righteous" attitude and admit it has widespread problems with food insecurity.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called De Schutter's visit -- his first to a developed nation -- "ridiculous."
The rapporteur's final report will be tabled at the UN Human Rights Council, which includes Cuba, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.