President’s report 2016-2017

LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD, WITH LOVE & JUSTICE IN ACTION!!

President Margaret Rao at the March for Science in Toronto, Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Another year has come and gone and I look back with gratitude to the steadfast members of the Board on whom I could count for thoughtful direction from week to week and month to month. Special thanks to the Board’s Acting Secretary Marlene Koehler. Marlene’s attention to detail and expertise in policy-making were welcome gifts to our Board this past year. Alas, Marlene is moving on in the world and the Board is seeking someone to replace her. Marlene would be happy to help make that transition as smooth as possible for any aspiring volunteer Secretary. The Board meets monthly online, except during the summer.

Our high-spirited Joy Silver has been wearing two hats, as Membership Chair and Listserv Manager over the years, and she has wisely decided to extend one of her hats to a new member of the Board, Lynn Armstrong. Lynn is coming to the Board at a perfect time. And of course, Joy has offered to lend a helping hand wherever it is needed. Joy is certainly a joy to work with, with her positive, can-do attitude with every task she takes on.

Another long-time member of the Board, Ellen Papenburg, has decided to step down from her role as Webmaster. Ellen has handed this mantle to the more than capable, tech-savvy Web editor Cym Gomery. Cym seems to manage both roles with ease and I for one, am mightily impressed and appreciative of Cym’s talents. She manages to keep on top of the latest social media news, and with her pithy and witty website headings and comments, Cym has made the CUSJ website entertaining as well as engaging. Cym was also instrumental in bringing the latest CUSJ chapter to the fold – the Quebec Chapter. This regional Chapter includes members from three congregations, the Unitarian Church of Montréal, UU Estrie and the Lakeshore UU Congregation, plus one non-affiliated member. This is how we build up CUSJ’s national network, one member and one chapter at a time.

I’m also thrilled to announce the start-up of another new chapter, the Thunder Bay Chapter, in northern Ontario. One of its members, Sally Palmer-Woods, went the extra mile and has agreed to sit on the CUSJ Board. Thank you Sally for coming on ‘board’ at such a critical time in our nation’s and civilization’s history. This is how we build up CUSJ’s national network, one member and one chapter at a time. Thanks to everyone for strengthening the local, regional and national ties that bind us in this vast land that we call home.

And lastly, a plug for our brand new banners: They are light and bright and guaranteed to be put to good use at rallies and marches in the weeks and months to come. We at CUSJ Toronto have raised our banner many times already this year—for climate-change, (most recently, the March for Science and the People’s Climate March) anti-pipeline, anti-Islamophobia, anti-free trade, pro-fair trade, pro-democracy, electoral reform, national housing and international women’s solidarity demonstrations. The cost to members is a grand bargain at $50.00, less than a third of the actual price. We also have matching red and white t-shirts so that we Unitarians truly stand out in a crowd. What a fine way to build our Unitarian brand and recruit new members to our progressive faith with its values of love and justice!

DEMOCRACY – PROMISES TO KEEP!

CRA REFORM

CUSJ was one of hundreds of charities and non-profits that made a formal submission to the Canada Revenue Agency on charities’ political activities and the critical role they play in Canadian society in matters of public policy debates. CUSJ also wrote a letter to the Minister of National Revenue, Ms. Diane Lebouthillier, reminding her of her mandate to modernize the rules governing the charitable sector. As there is strength in numbers, CUSJ joined the Friends of Canadian Charities Coalition (FCCC) as well, which wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister and offered a sample letter for concerned Canadians to write to their MPs. in turn. Most recently the FCCC wrote a letter and press release commending the Expert Panel’s latest report, calling for legislative reform based on the panel’s recommendations.

Update: On May 8th, we learned that Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier had announced that the Charities Panel Report has included many of the recommended changes. Importantly, the report asks that the rules governing the freedom of Canadians to speak be enhanced by removing prohibitions on participation in public policy development by the charities they support.

ELECTORAL REFORM

Last September, CUSJ, along with hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, submitted a brief to the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE). We urged the government to address Canada’s democratic deficit by enacting proportional representation. Despite the high participation and recommendations made by its own Special Committee, the Prime Minister suddenly and unilaterally reneged on this key election promise. The electorate is more determined than ever that electoral reform will be implemented before the 2019 election. Many have signed on to Leadnow’s campaign (‘Be a democracy hero!’), to contact our MPs and to canvass door to door.

MP Nathan Cullen is also leading the charge with a parliamentary petition and is conducting town hall meetings in Liberal ridings across the country. There is still a chance to salvage the reform process when the ERRE’s report comes up for a vote in the House of Commons in May. Twenty Liberal votes is all it would take to right the wrong of their leader and bring in a new voting system in time for the next election.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Last October, Jack Dodds and I presented a brief, authored by Jack, on the National Security Framework, to the federal government’s Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU). We concluded our presentation by asking the Committee to heed the words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

‘Humankind’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but its inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.’

We also submitted a brief in response to the proposed National Security and Intelligence Oversight Committee, Bill C-22, urging Parliament to bring democratic control to Canada’s security agencies. The long-awaited report recommends further restrictions on and greater oversight of Canada’s spy agencies.

Disappointingly, the government chose to reject SECU’s amended version of the bill, which now has First Reading in the Senate. CUSJ has written twice to Senator Mobina Jaffer, the Deputy Chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (SECD). We also sent a letter to the 22 Senators who voted against Bill C-51 (the Anti-Terror Bill) in the last Parliament, asking them to take action to restore the SECU amendments. You can find our letters on the CUSJ.org site. CUSJ members are encouraged to take action by writing to your MP and the Senate Committee currently studying the Bill.

CUSJ submitted a third brief to the Public Safety Canada Consultation on National Security in December, with several recommendations. The final report is soon to be released.

Our latest brief, (also authored by Jack), was submitted in March to the Public Safety and National Security Committee (SECU) on the proposed Pre-clearance Act for US Customs and Border Protection, Bill C-23. This new Act would give the US government the power to make a USCBP agent immune from Canadian criminal law. A detained person at Canadian air, rail and cruise ship terminals would not have the right to withdraw. The federal government has been pressed to explain the need for this new legislation but has not adequately done so. The brief stated that the government is compromising its own legitimacy, thereby damaging Canadian democracy.

ALLIES IN DEMOCRACY

CUSJ regularly endorses letters by our partners and allies for democratic reform and responsible stewardship of the land. CUSJ’s latest endorsement was the Voices-Voix letter to the PM, registering our dismay that the government has decided to delay needed reforms to Canada’s Access to Information Act, despite repeated promises of action, and several consultations and recommendations from the Office of the Information Commissioner and others. Transparent government is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy. Together, we will hold our government to its promises. The electorate expects significant reforms to be enacted by the end of 2018.

HUMAN RIGHTS

CUSJ members and supporters on the Hassan Diab Support Committee have been championing his case since 2008, when Dr. Diab was first detained by the Canadian government. Dr. Diab was extradited to France in 2014. Even though the Canadian judge concluded that the alleged evidence against Dr. Diab would not hold up in a Canadian court of law, he felt obliged, under Canada’s current extradition laws, to send him to a French prison. The French judges have reached the same conclusion, and called for Dr. Diab’s release six times now, only to have the ruling overturned, time and again, by the Court of Appeal.

CUSJ has written to the Prime Minister, to Foreign Affairs Minister Ms. Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of Justice Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould, twice in the past six months. Sample letters to the Ministers can be found at diabsupport@gmail.com. Please share the letters and parliamentary petition with family and friends. Justice delayed is justice denied. Shame on Canada!

MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IN DYING (MAID)

An open letter was written to the federal government prior to the passage of the ‘Right to Die With Dignity’ legislation, Bill C-14. CUSJ’s Lobby Kit on Medically-Assisted Dying is still relevant for irremediable chronic and degenerative diseases such as ALS and Alzheimer’s. Provincial governments need to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to ensure patient rights over institutional rights and to find the balance between ‘right of conscience’ and compassionate care. Under Bill C-14, the federal government is required to collect MAID related data with an open and transparent reporting mechanism. For more information and to become involved, contact Dying with Dignity Canada.

ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

The official 2016 Liberal Party platform called for Canada to ‘commence negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would ban nuclear weapons.’ But when the actual UN Nuclear Weapons Convention was called to order, the Canadian government was nowhere in sight. In fact, Canada was one of 35 countries that voted against the UN resolution to negotiate a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, claiming that US nuclear weapons are essential for its security.

Our letter indicated that as a middle power, Canada still has a chance to redeem its reputation by attending the UN Convention when member states meet again in June 2017. When it comes to a nuclear weapons strike, there will be no second chance for humanity.

PEACE IN ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Both last year and this, CUSJ wrote letters to the Prime Minister, asking him to overturn the government motion condemning those who support the grassroots Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a non-violent campaign to pressure Israel to cease its expansion of Jewish settlements and to stop violating international law and Palestinians’ human rights. Israel’s Parliament has since passed a law barring entry or residency to non-Israelis who advocate boycott.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, was detained for five days and threatened with losing his residency status. CUSJ, a member of the Canadian BDS Coalition, along with the BDS National Committee, published an open statement of support for Mr. Barghouti, noting that Israel’s latest attempt to criminalize the boycott movement and intimidate activists will only serve to further the cause of freedom and justice for Palestinians.

Earlier in the year, Israel passed a so-called ‘Regularization Bill’ (a.k.a. Expropriation Bill) which retroactively legalizes more than 50 settlements–a provocative action, roundly condemned by Britain, France and Germany. Even the Israeli Attorney General stated that the Bill contravened both Israeli and international law. It was also condemned by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. The outgoing US Secretary of State stated, “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

Now that the two-state solution is apparently no longer an option, what will Canada, in concert with the international community do to help bring a just and lasting peace in the Middle East? CUSJ also wrote a letter to Global Affairs Minister Ms. Chrystia Freeland on this matter but has yet to receive a response.

CUSJ recently joined the ‘No Way to Treat a Child’ campaign, on behalf of children and youth detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts. CUSJ stands in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners currently on a hunger strike to highlight the mass detention and inhumane treatment of men, women and children in the hope of a peaceful resolution and a negotiated end to the occupation.

ISLAMOPHOBIA IN CANADA

In light of the deadly attack on a Quebec mosque by a home-grown 27 year old ‘terrorist’ on January 29th, and a parliamentary e-petition, signed by 70,000 Canadians, condemning all forms of Islamophobia, Motion M-103 was tabled by Iqra Khalid on February 15th, condemning ‘all forms of racism and discrimination, including Islamophobia’. Following a heated debate, the motion passed. To his credit, Conservative MP Michael Chong made a strong statement in favour of the motion.

The mosque shooting left six men dead, and more than 30 family members bereaved. CUSJ sent a message of sympathy and solidarity to Mohamed Yangui, the President of the mosque that was targeted, and to his congregants.

CUSJ Toronto Chapter has taken part in two anti-Islamophobia rallies to counter public rallies led largely by white supremacist groups. In a world of divisive politics and increasing intolerance towards ‘the perceived other’, civil society must be ever vigilant to stand up for diversity and inclusion and ‘the inherent worth and dignity of every person’. (UU First Principle)

INDIGENOUS ALLIES

CUSJ supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. The Kairos Canada Winds of Change campaign invites Canadians to send an e-letter to their provincial MPPs/MLAs regarding Call to Action #62, in favour of implementing an age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and Indigenous peoples’ contributions to Canada. You can find the link on our website. Without understanding our collective past, we will not be able to walk together into a better future. Canadians are also encouraged to meet with their federal and provincial representatives to request full implementation of such a curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve. Education is the key to reconciliation. Kairos staff will visit your schools and congregations to offer an experiential Kichi blanket exercise. Everyone is invited to take part in a blanket exercise on Parliament Hill on June 2nd, 2017. Kairos Canada invites you to download and circulate the petition calling for the implementation of Call to Action #62.

Indigenous people are vastly overrepresented in Canadian prisons. 68% of federally incarcerated female inmates are indigenous. 60% of the indigenous population in prisons live with mental illness. Incarceration is the adult version of residential schools. Please contact the Rev. Frances Deverell (webeditor@cusj.org) to work on the issue of ‘prevention, not detention’.

EMPLOYMENT AND LABOUR RELATIONS

In the changing labour market of precarious employment, faith leaders in Ontario (ordained and lay), including many Unitarian ministers and yours truly, signed a Faith Leaders Statement demanding greater fairness for low income workers and offering recommendations to the government review of two critical laws: the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. Faith leaders in Ontario also endorsed the current Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign for a fair minimum wage and laws to protect vulnerable workers. If you live in Ontario or wish to expand the campaign to other provincial jurisdictions, contact 15andfairness.org and join the movement for fair wages. This is what love and justice in action looks like!

THE ENVIRONMENT

The climate crisis is the greatest challenge our civilization has to face. As Unitarians, we believe that we have a moral imperative to act. CUSJ is facing this challenge through practical actions such as lobbying MPs against pipelines, encouraging congregational divestment from fossil fuels, and supporting alternative energies.

In a February letter to the PM, we pointed out that his government’s approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain Project and Line 3 pipeline makes a mockery of Canada’s ratification of the COP21 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 % above pre-industrial levels. Instead, Canada will now miss its 2030 target of reducing carbon emissions by 91 megatonnes and put the west coast in peril of further oil spills and earthquakes. Over a hundred First Nations are opposed to this pipeline as are cities on the West Coast and beyond. Inspired by our principle of “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” we are determined to do what we can to demonstrate our strong opposition. CUSJers can take the pledge and become a Coast Protector to stop Kinder Morgan’s expansion.

There are ample alternatives to the fossil fuel-based economy, such as hybrid and electric vehicles, public transit, conservation, and investing in renewable energy. As a Board member of Climate Action Network Canada, affiliated with CAN-International and also a longtime member of Climatefast, I understand how important it is to think globally and act locally. Cities account for 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Climatefast has been hosting workshops on how to make deputations at City Budget Committee meetings to great effect. To create the political will for ‘system change not climate change’, concerned citizens, from all walks of life, need to work together to create the political space for governments at all levels, to enact policies now for a sustainable future for generations to come.

THE ECONOMY – INTERNATIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS

On Feb. 3rd, 2016, Canada’s International Trade Minister, Ms. Chrystia Freeland, signed the 12 country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. CUSJ’s Board members, Leslie Kemp and Cym Gomery wrote a cover article on the TPP in last year’s spring edition of JUSTnews, roundly condemning the latest ‘free trade agreement,’ stating it would surpass NAFTA in ceding powers to corporations. The hope was that the deal would never be signed. Since that time, more than 60,000 Canadians took part in public consultations with the International Trade Committee – 95% of whom opposed the TPP. Most agreed that negotiations take place ‘behind closed doors’ and mostly benefit large businesses. One of the main concerns was the Investor-State Dispute mechanism, whereby private corporations can and do sue governments for loss of profit, resulting in financial burdens for governments and fear of regulating policies in the public interest. Thankfully, one of US President Donald Trump’s first acts was to remove the United States from the TPP. Given that Minister Freeland has indicated the TPP is no longer politically viable without the US, its fate in the ash heap of history is all but certain. As for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe, Britain’s exit from the EU also changes everything. At the public consultations I attended in Toronto, many people voiced their opposition to CETA. Hopefully, the Minister Chrystia Freeland was paying attention.

As for renegotiating NAFTA with the current US President and his ‘America first’ agenda, Canadians want no more backroom deals that put the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of people and the planet.

THE HIDDEN ECONOMY – Dark Money

The lead article in the latest issue of JUSTnews, a sermon by Rev. Steven Epperson, exposes the dark side of the economy–offshore bank accounts and shell companies, set up by law firms and financiers dedicated to concealing the identities of their wealthy clients and multinational companies to avoid paying taxes. We learned from the bestseller, The Panama Papers, that the burden of taxation has been placed on ordinary people. It is estimated that the Canadian government is being cheated out of $6 billion of taxable revenue every year. Meanwhile, taxpayers bail out banks, suffer through austerity budgets and cuts to social safety nets, healthcare, infrastructure, alternative energy, housing and education and other essential public goods and services. “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” (US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.)

Reverend Epperson provided us with a sample letter to write to the Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau. There are two asks: First, create an effective system for the automatic global exchange of information about bank accounts; and second, establish a globally transparent register of all companies listing the real owners of companies, foundations and trusts. The U.K. has created the world’s first open-data corporate registry system to crack down on wealthy tax evaders. Canada must follow suit. As the good Reverend points out, what better way to ‘make real our Unitarian values and beliefs in truth, justice, equity and the democratic process’ than to work for a fair and just political economy.

The Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER)

The previous paragraph spoke to fiscal reform (taxing & spending). As a Board member of COMER, we work towards monetary reform (money creation and control). The Bank of Canada was nationalized in 1938 and mandated ‘to regulate credit and currency in the best interests of the economic life of the nation.’ Between 1939 and 1974, the government borrowed from its own central bank funding the War effort, public services and major public projects such as the Trans-Canada highway and the St. Lawrence Seaway. In effect, the Bank of Canada acted as our public infrastructure bank. Government debt was low as the government borrowed from its own central bank. The national debt shot up in 1975 following a ‘closed door’ meeting with the Bank of International Settlements (BIS – the central bank of central banks) in Basel, Switzerland. From that time onward, the Canadian government began borrowing from private banking institutions instead, at compound interest. The federal debt today stands at 640 billion, of which the government pays 25 billion in interest annually, the 4th highest expense, after healthcare, seniors pensions and program expenditures.

The COMER lawsuit launched against the government in December 2011, to restore the Bank of Canada Act to its original constitutional purpose, is being appealed at the Supreme Court of Canada, after earlier appeals were exhausted at the Federal Court. An article by the late co-founder of COMER, the late Dr. John Hotson, was published in the winter edition of JUSTnews. He asked the obvious question, ‘Could anything be more insane than for the human race to die out because we couldn’t afford to save ourselves?’ The Council of Canadians is now supporting the COMER campaign for monetary and economic reform. We need more Canadians to join the cause and get to the root of the rot that ails us – the financial system!

NEWSFLASH – The Supreme Court has dismissed COMER’s request to appeal, stating it is a political decision, not a legal one. So be it! Let’s get political!

A NEW ECONOMY

An earlier JUSTnews discussion paper (2013-14) penned by our own CUSJ editor, Philip Symons, calls for a new economic and political system that takes into account the human-made climate crisis. Philip proposes a progressive taxation system and a limit to annual spending. He points out that research has shown that as income rises, so does happiness, up to a certain income level, beyond which happiness plateaus, regardless of increasing wealth. Philip suggests taxes would increase to 50% as income increases, but when a person’s income after taxes rises above, say $200,000, the surplus is banked by the government for that person’s use later in life if desired. In the meantime, the surplus in the bank could be used to pay for a Guaranteed Liveable Income for the unemployed. A GLI would guarantee each adult enough purchasing power to afford basic food and shelter, which would be progressively taxed back as a person’s income increases. In addition, the government could offer business loans to stimulate green investment for a sustainable economy. In the same JUSTnews edition, author and activist George Monbiot opines that a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) would offer ‘a spark of hope’ for the poorer half of the population barely making ends meet in these inequitable times. Finally, Philip calls for tax shifting – taxing what we don’t want while removing taxes on what we do want. Do Philip’s radical solutions spark some radical ideas on your part? Where there is political will for radical change there is a way forward!

Standing on the Side of Love and Justice!!

 

Your appreciative President,

~ Margaret Rao

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