Nunavut makes it easier to donate food to charity

New law protects Nunavut food donors from civil lawsuits


(updated 7:20 p.m.)

Members of Nunavut’s legislative assembly unanimously passed a new law that protects people and companies from being sued over food that is donated to charity, after a Committee of the Whole meeting Feb. 26.

The Donation of Food Act, or Bill 46, was introduced by Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott as a private member’s bill. By unanimous consent, MLAs pushed the bill through three readings in one day.

The bill says a person who “donates food or who distributes donated food is not liable for disease, injury, death or other harm resulting from the consumption of that food, unless the person intended to harm the recipient or acted recklessly in donating or distributing the food,” Elliott said in a news release.

The purpose of the bill: to “encourage the donation of food to our territory’s most vulnerable residents.”

“Similar provisions will apply to the directors, officers, agents, employees and volunteers of corporations and organizations involved in the donation or distribution of food,” Elliott said.

All other Canadian provinces and territories already have similar legislation.

“I was very pleased that support for my private member’s bill was one of the formal priorities for action adopted at the recent Nunavut Food Security Symposium,” Elliott said.

Elliott also tabled letters of support he’d received from Feeding My Family Nunavut, the Skills Nunavut-Skills Canada Cooking Club, the Qayuqtuvik Society, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Frobisher Inn, the North West Company and Arctic Co-operatives Limited.

But Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk wanted to know more about whether the food act would include store-bought food and country food or just store-bought food.

“It’s for all foods, whether it’s country food or food brought up from the South,” said Elliott, who talked about the difference between the words “rotten” and “aged.”

Fermented walrus or narwhal are foods Elliott described as “aged” and not rotten. Another example he gave was blue cheese.

When a food item is aged, it’s fit for human consumption, when it’s rotten, it isn’t, Elliott said.

Tapardjuk wanted to know if meat harvested by hunters would be inspected before a donation and if a hunter could be liable if someone got sick after eating donated meat he had harvested.

But Elliott said there are already processes in place to look after public safety.

And Iqaluit West MLA Monica Ell said that at first glance the donation of food act may be seen as not needed “given that food sharing is an integral part of Inuit culture,” she said during the Committee of the Whole meeting.

“In fact, many Inuit I spoke to could not understand upon first hearing a scenario where a food donator might be sued if someone had become sick from eating donated food. It is just not our way,” she said.

Inuit could not have lived without the tradition of sharing food, and in doing so, showing respect to elders, one’s parents and others, Ell said.

Ell said one of the traditions she is most proud of in her culture is sharing food within communities.

“Those who could not hunt for whatever reason were never in need, as we all shared. However, recently, an elder and a hunter mentioned at the Nunavut Food Security Symposium that times have changed,” she said.

Elders now longer get as much food as they used to, because hunters sometimes sell their catch for gas, bullets, and to pay their household bills.

However, she ended up supporting the private member’s bill.

“Inuit are famous for their adaptability to new circumstances and for being able to blend the best of Inuit societal values into the reality of today’s life…this private member’s bill will bring Nunavut into line with many other jurisdictions which have already enacted similar bills.”

“This bill will permit retailers, hotels, and businesses that have foodstuffs which are fit to eat to donate it without fear of possible legal action,” Ell said.

Copies of Bill 46 are available on the Nunavut assembly’s website.

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