Child poverty unchanged 20 years later

Trevor Nichols – The Aquinian

Documentary viewing Tuesday night

Twenty years ago, the government of Canada made a colossal promise.

On Nov. 24, 1989, the House of Commons passed a resolution promising to completely eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

Twenty years later, the number of Canadian children living in poverty has not changed.

This does not sit well with Megan MacBride, a fourth-year psychology student at St. Thomas, honouring in interdisciplinary studies.

She has been working overtime for the past two weeks spreading the word about the release of Four Feet Up, a documentary by filmmaker Nance Ackerman that draws attention to child poverty in Canada.

It will be released nationwide on Nov. 24, in reaction to the federal government’s failure to live up to its 1989 promise.

Speaking from a makeshift office in her basement, MacBride sits in a musty chair sipping tea.

Her desk overflows with posters and notes related to the film.

Along with Susan Reid and the Centre for Research on Youth at Risk, MacBride has organized the Fredericton screening of Four Feet Up, and put together a panel to discuss child poverty.

The film follows the life of young Isiah, and is an intimate look inside the life of a child forced to cope with poverty daily.

Isiah is a bright and spirited child, but is clearly affected by his limited opportunities.

MacBride thinks the film is a moving look at a very important issue. Isiah’s story brings a human element to the issue of poverty, and illustrates how complex it can be.

“Is poverty not having something to eat,” MacBride said, “or is poverty not being able to join the basketball team? Where do we draw that line?”

Poverty, she said, is different for every family, and the government needs to consider that when dealing with the problem.

“We need to be more than just a number, we need to be [a name], and we need help that is individual to our circumstances,” she said.

Debbie Reimer, a social worker in Nova Scotia, agrees.

She appears in Four Feet Up, and knows Isiah’s family well.

Speaking from her home in Canning, she explained that stigma around poverty is very real in Canada.

Many believe that poor parents are bad parents, and Reimer insists that these ideas keep people from looking at what poverty really means.

“We need to have some really deep conversations about the stereotypes that exist and the beliefs that allow poverty to continue,” she said.

Reimer believes that Canadians need to start seriously considering why many families still struggle to survive.

“It’s not like this country doesn’t have the money to lift everyone out of poverty,” she said. “Poverty exists in this country because it serves a purpose. You have to have people who are willing to do the shit jobs, and it’s people who are the poorest who you can force to do them.”

Like Reimer, MacBride does not hesitate to express her anger. She feels the government has not committed to ending child poverty.

“Me as a person, me as a youth, I can’t be a bargaining chip,” she said. “When [the government] made this promise they made it to you and I. They made it to every person here at St. Thomas and it was broken. We should be really pissed off.”

Still, some progress is being made.

MacBride points to focus groups being held throughout New Brunswick, gathering information about what low-income families need.

Reimer is pleased that seven of Canada’s provinces now have poverty-reduction strategies. Both say, however, that Canadians need to be doing more.

They hope that Four Feet Up will open people’s eyes to how real poverty is and initiate real progress towards helping children in need.

The film will be shown Tuesday, Nov. 24, in the Noel Kinsella Auditorium, in Margaret McCain Hall at 7 p.m.

Immediately following will be the panel discussion, featuring Chris Whalen, the Senior Legal Council for N.B. Ombudsman, Leah Levac, a doctorate student at UNB, and MacBride.

Admission is free.

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