Toronto Action for Social Change

P.O. Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. W

Toronto, ON M6C 1C0

(416) 651-5800; e-mail





October 15, 1997

Mr. Currie,

We are writing to you on the eve of your Order of Canada ceremony with a number of concerns related to poverty and hunger in our province.

On Saturday, October 11, a small group of non-violent community activists gathered at the Loblaws store at Christie and Dupont to offer suggestions on ending hunger in Ontario. Within minutes, we were accosted by store management, members of Metro Police, and an unidentified individual who filmed our every move for the two hours we were there. (Although he refused to give us his name, this anonymous camera person was quite friendly with your managers and police). One of your staff members went so far as to threaten us with a lawsuit for slander.

We were told to keep our distance from the store entrance or face arrest, thereby preventing us from handing out information on ending hunger to most of your customers. We were limited to those we could reach from the sidewalk. In a democracy, such heavy-handedness is disappointing at best. In a situation where we clearly stated that we too were against hunger, the refusal of your managers to permit peaceful leafleting was insulting and against the "spirit of sharing" which you have been promoting throughout the food drive.

We thought we would send along some of the information which was in the leaflet to you for comment. Because we believe in the honest and open sharing of information, we have addressed this to you as an open letter, and hope that you will respond in a similar fashion.

As examples, our leaflet pointed out:

• "Loblaws owes almost $40 million in deferred, unpaid taxes." As someone who will receive the Order of Canada for his work on the business of food, we're sure you can appreciate how much good that money could do in the form of community programs which are aimed at ending the causes of hunger, not simply providing a canned-goods bandaid.

•"Loblaws parent company, Weston Foods, gave the maximum allowable contribution to the Harris Tories." As you must know, the massive cuts to social assistance carried out by the Tory government have dramatically increased the levels of hunger and homelessness in Ontario.

•"Richard Currie, president of Weston Industries, earns $1.4 million a year and received a $1 million bonus in 1996. Currie also holds stock options valued at $15 million at the end of 1996." In the spirit of sharing, we were wondering how these figures are justified at a time when 36% of Metro children live in poverty. The Harris government has advised those on social assistance to eat on $90 per month.

The flyer goes on to explain that Weston is home to billionaire Galen Weston, one of a group of the 50 wealthiest Canadians whose total wealth is equal to that of 5 million low-income Canadians. Contrast this with the fact that, despite the best efforts of the dedicated food bank volunteers and the donations of good-intentioned individuals, 30% of all adult food bank recipients report going without food at least 2 days per week.

We also note that every time we buy food at Loblaws to donate, Loblaws make a profit from that generosity, a profit, interestingly enough, not shared by other food chains who seem to be noticeably absent from the seasonal food drives. Corporations are constantly crowing about their community support, yet figures show that corporations spend far more for meals and entertainment ($392 million for meals/entertainment vs. $75 million in charitable contributions, according to recent figures).

We have heard the rhetoric that food banks and hostels are temporary solutions to a growing problem. However, they have become permanent and institutionalized, in large part due to the greed of corporations and individuals who preach sharing but don't practice it. People want equality and justice.

We encourage people to donate to food banks but also to explore alternatives such as community kitchens and gardens, non-profit food distribution efforts, community bakeries and other alternatives to food banks and profiting from food banks. We encourage participation with coalitions demanding that Canada uphold international covenants on the right to housing and the abolition of poverty -- social problems that create the need for food banks in the first place.

We also encourage political action against governments carrying out the policies increasing misery in our communities. We would hope to hear your voice among the chorus protesting the Harris and Chretien policies which have contributed to this misery.

As you are set to receive what many consider the highest civilian honour of the land, this letter contains some painful realities: hungr, greed, denial of democracy. As a group of activists who follow in the path of the suffragists, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., we believe no man (and 99% of the rich are men) can be so blinded by greed that he cannot eventually find the clarity in his own soul to listen to, feel, and act upon the suffering around him.

We are now placing this food for thought on your table, offering you a chance to work for real change in our society. The first step in that process is an honest appraisal of the concerns we have raised.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Brian Burch

Sandra Lang

Sara Mackenzie

Frank Showler

David Kappler-Burch

Matthew Behrens

Toronto Action for Social Change

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