President’s report 2017-18

WORKING TOGETHER: LOVE AND JUSTICE IN ACTION!!

Another year has come and gone and what do we have to show for it? Plenty, as it turns out! Our federal government continues to make and break promises and to stall on commitments to climate action, progressive trade agreements, fair elections, affordable housing, daycare, peace and real security, and a feminist agenda to tackle gender, race, class and other inequalities. Meanwhile, civil society organizations are taking the lead, on the streets, on social media and in the halls of political and corporate power. Ordinary citizens are standing up for democracy and dignity for all beings. It is no coincidence that the Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo and Times Up women’s empowerment movements are converging at this critical moment in human history. LGBTQ rights, gender and animal justice, environmental and economic justice, and the global peace movement are interconnecting in new and creative ways.

On a smaller scale, within our own UU congregations, CUSJ Chapters and eco-social justice groups are coming together, determined to protect and serve the interdependent web of which we human beings are but a part. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. Unity in diversity! In the words of Lotta Hitschmanova, founder of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, “We are all brothers and sisters, aiming at one single goal: to help make this torn, crying, bleeding world of ours a peaceful shrine for everyone; … Are we not on earth to make it a better, a kinder world for all?” Dr. Lotta’s words ring as true as ever in these turbulent, transitional times. As my elder activist neighbour and mentor often opines, “We humans are going in two directions at the same time; it’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out.” She and I may not live long enough to see that day, but in the meantime, we stand on the side of the willing, as our UU choir often sings at Sunday service;

I am open and I am willing, for to be hopeless would seem so strange. It dishonours those who go before us, so lift me up to the light of change!

Together, we will support, inspire and lift one another up as UU change makers of the world!

On that musical note, I would like to add that you meet the nicest people when you sit on a Board of justice-minded UUs. One who exemplifies this is Philip Symons, our recently retired JUSTnewseditor and longest serving member of the Board. Philip’s words of advice to our new editor, Leslie Kemp, encapsulate the attitude we need to cultivate for the work ahead; “Enjoy the job – a lot!… If it’s not fun it isn’t sustainable.” On another grateful note, I would like to extend my thanks to Cym Gomery, our webmaster and web editor. Cym’s incisive wit and web-savvy ways, raises our website and our consciousness to a whole new level. Cym was also instrumental in bringing the CUSJ Québec Chapter into the fold, adding linguistic and cultural diversity to the mix.

On a final note, I would like to extend my thanks to the entire Board, each of whom is a pleasure
to work with and generous with their time and talent, in our common striving for the ‘greater good.’ We would love to grow our team and build a larger UU presence in towns and cities and regions across this vast land. If you feel called to join us in this great endeavour, come ‘on board.’ Together, we will be the change we need to be!

ALLIES IN DEMOCRACY

CUSJ has been signatory to many of our partner organizations campaigns in the past year. Some examples:

  • Democracy Watch: called on the Commissioner of Canada Elections Act to rule Prime Minister Trudeau violated federal elections law by baiting voters with a false electoral reform election promise.
  • Voices-Voix: a joint letter to Scott Brison, the President of the Treasury Board to address a number of serious problems in the Access to Information reform bill C-58. This bill fails to extend the ATIA to the Offices of the Prime Minister and Ministers, as promised by the Liberal party during the 2015 federal election.
  • The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group issued a Civil Society Statement and open letter to Minister Goodale to amend Bill C-59, An Act Respecting National Security,in order to protect our Charter Rights and Freedoms and to ensure our national security agencies do not engage in mass surveillance, including the mass collection and storage of our public information. Dozens of organizations have submitted briefs on Bill C-59, including CUSJ. In the new year, Jack Dodds, (the architect of this and previous national security briefs), and I met with Minister John McKay, the new Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in his constituency office.

CRA REFORM

A Liberal-appointed panel issued a report a year ago calling for changes to the Income Tax Act to delete any reference to the political activities of charities. National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier stated that the government’s response to the report could be expected by summer 2017, but this did not happen. Meanwhile, federal lawyers defended the ‘status quo’ in a recent submission to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, prior to an April 23 hearing on a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge launched by Canada Without Poverty. This anti-poverty organization argued that the 10 per cent advocacy rule for charities violates the Charter’s freedom-of-expression guarantee. Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray and representatives of 13 other environmental charities also met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau but there were no commitments made. They concluded that the issue is not a priority for the Cabinet Minister.

ELECTORAL REFORM

CUSJ supports 100% Fair Vote Canada’s federal and PR4BC campaigns for electoral reform. PR is a democratic principle specifying that people should be represented in proportion to the popular vote. Under a PR voting system, no single party would be able to attain a majority government with 40% of the vote. Cooperation and compromise would become the norm. Liphart Arend’s work on electoral systems and democracy in 36 countries over 25 years, found that countries with PR had considerably lower levels of income inequality and spent an average of 4.75% more on social expenditures.

This November, British Columbians will have a referendum on PR, as promised by the NDP government and supported by the Greens. Our current Prime Minister had promised a more democratic voting system, but after months of public consultations and hundreds of written briefs to the all-party electoral reform committee, he suddenly and dismissively broke that promise. We are more determined than ever that this needed reform will be a vote-determining issue in the next election.

HUMAN RIGHTS

CUSJ, together with Hassan Diab’s Support Committee, (honourable mention is due to Ria Heynen of Ottawa First), were elated to learn of Dr. Diab’s release from a French prison in January. We have since written to the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister, asking for a complete review of the Extradition Act and disclosure of the procedures that led to Dr. Diab’s dismissal from two universities and his lengthy incarceration, (including house arrest) both in Canada and overseas. The First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa held a homecoming party for Hassan, his wife Rania and their young family, soon after his return. Justice delayed was finally served. Hassan’s supporters are calling for a public inquiry into Hassan’s ten year ordeal based on baseless allegations, so that no other Canadian experiences this cruel violation of justice.

CUSJ is a longtime supporter of Mohamed Harkat and his wife Sophie as he continues to face deportation to his native Algeria following a Supreme Court decision that the ‘security certificate’ regime is constitutional. Canada’s criminal justice system is long overdue for major reform, especially in regards to the detention of immigrants, refugees, Indigenous peoples and vulnerable individuals. The acquittal of Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, with the defence lawyers arguing that the discharge of the rifle was a freak accident, undermines one’s faith in the justice system. A public inquiry into this case would bring a measure of justice to this young man’s family and community.

ISRAEL – PALESTINE, BUILDING BRIDGES, NOT WALLS

In the past year, CUSJ, a member of the Canadian BDS Coalition, co-signed a letter, calling on the Canadian government to condemn the inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli military prisons and to commence incremental sanctions against Israel until such time as detainees are given basic human rights.

CUSJ also joined the Canadian No Way to Treat a Childcampaign, to highlight the prosecution and ill treatment of children in the military detention system, in partnership with Defense for Children International-Palestine and Amnesty International. CUSJ signed a joint letter calling for the end to Canada’s complicity in such crimes and to hold Israel accountable for grave violations under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

More recently, CUSJ was also signatory to a letter condemning Israel’s use of lethal force to suppress non-violent protest in Gaza and to demand an independent investigation into the killing and wounding of unarmed protesters by Israeli Defense Forces. CUSJ also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and Opposition leaders, calling on the Canadian government to denounce Israel’s violent suppression of a civilian population and to impose appropriate economic sanctions, including an arms embargo, until such time as the blockade against Gaza, the continued appropriation of the Occupied Territories and the illegal settlement building end.

BUILDING INDIGENOUS & NON- INDIGENOUS RELATIONS

Both Toronto First and CUSJ offered moral and monetary support to the grassroots Indigenous women holding a four month vigil in front of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office. The demand was for federal action on child and youth suicide (#NOMIC, Not One More Indigenous Child). It culminated in a December march, rally and gathering of Indigenous youth, elders and allies. CUSJ members in Ottawa also took part in the Have a Heart Valentine’s rally on Parliament Hill, along with 500 schoolchildren, demanding proper funding for education, child welfare and health services for First Nations children on reserve. CUSJ wants right relations with Canada’s First Nations, and advocates for justice for murdered and missing indigenous women (JMMIW), land rights, respect for treaties, right to self-government and free, prior and informed consent to natural resource projects on traditional Indigenous lands.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

CUSJ, along with Canada Without Poverty’s ‘Dignity for All’ campaign and other social justice organizations, has long advocated for housing as a human right. The federal government announced a national housing strategy but the budget for it is inadequate and relies entirely on provinces, municipalities and private investors to co-invest – plus it won’t really bear fruit before 2020. Meanwhile, homelessness in Canada and the rise of the precariat (where employment is increasingly low-paying and precarious), even among the well educated, (many with student debt) is on the increase. The good news for the lowest income earners is that the minimum wage has been raised to $15.00 in Ontario and elsewhere, and the largest and arguably, least affordable city in Canada, namely Toronto, has implemented inclusionary zoning which requires some affordable housing in new residential developments. Vancouver is on its way to doing the same. Montreal, the second largest city in Canada, has long maintained a more affordable rental housing market but the prospect of becoming a new home owner in any town or city these days, has been greatly reduced for the average family.

The other piece of good news is that the federal government has promised to release a poverty reduction strategy at the end of June. You can sign on with ‘Dignity for all’ to call and arrange to meet with your MP this month.

There’s also good news on the Basic Income (Guaranteed Annual Income) front in Ontario. As income inequality increases and jobs are lost to new technologies and downsizing in an uncertain economy, governments are realizing that a good way to fight poverty and increase human health and dignity is to offer a decent wage to low-income individuals and families. The pilot project, enlisting 4000 people, is already making a big difference in people’s lives, as did the ‘Mincom’ project in the seventies, funded jointly by the Manitoba and federal governments under Trudeau Senior. Basic income: a simple solution to myriad problems. Just do it! (Check out cusj.org.)

DAMN THE MEGADAMS

CUSJ wrote a letter to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, entreating them to cease all activity on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, as it failed to properly consult the Innu and Inuit communities that would be negatively affected, contrary to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The project is clearly not for the benefit and well-being of the general population. Moreover, journalists and peaceful protesters were arrested at the site for performing their duty to protect the land. On May 7th, Indigenous elders and demonstrators on Parliament Hill were also arrested for breaching the designated barrier, including Raging Granny Ria Heynen (another honourable mention)!

CUSJ also wrote a letter to newly elected B.C. Premier Horgan, calling his decision to proceed with the controversial Site C dam megaproject a betrayal of the people who had voted for him. CUSJ challenged Premier Horgan to take a generational opportunity to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through renewable energy partnerships and shared stewardship of B.C.s precious land and waters. Mega dams are not a green alternative, as they release large amounts of methane and methylmercury into the atmosphere. There are other, decentralized, alternative energy options.

PIPELINE PROJECTS

On April 17th, CUSJ wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Carr reminding them of the Liberal election platform that, “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” Communities from coast to coast are voicing a resounding ‘No’, in the courts and on the streets, to this environmentally and economically risky plan. It is not in our ‘national interest’ to further expand the Trans Mountain pipeline. That Ottawa and Alberta would consider a taxpayer bailout to Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based pipeline company, under threat of a pull-out, adds insult to injury. The Canadian government can expect more protests, blockades and widespread opposition, as well as the Secwepemc Nation and other First Nations and subnational governments having their day in court.

CUSJ also signed on to a civil society letter (60 organizations) to the Prime Minister underlining the Trans Mountain pipeline project’s threat to B.C.s rivers, coastal waters, coastal economy and marine life. We also reminded the Prime Minister of his stated commitment to climate action and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. For a lively discussion on this controversial issue check out cusj.org.

CLIMATE PARTNERS

Members of CUSJ have also been part of Climatefast, a small activist group, striving to build political will and to persuade politicians to work toward urgent and substantial action on climate change since its inception in 2012. Initially, a lobby group on Parliament Hill during the Harper regime, Climatefast now focuses on lobbying the City of Toronto to fully fund the city’s ambitious ‘Transform TO’ annual and long term plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. We are also focused on the June 7th Ontario election to vote in a climate-action friendly government. Think globally! Act locally!

As President of CUSJ, I have the honour of being a member of the Board of CAN-Rac (Climate Action Network-Reseau Action Climat), a growing network of 100+ climate, faith, youth, health and union member organizations from coast to coast. CAN Canada is currently advising the federal government on its role as the 2018 leader of the G-7. CAN also recently led a delegation of member organizations, including CUSJ member Ahti Tolvanen, to the Climate Change Conference in Bonn. CAN encourages the Canadian government to inspire true leadership and to deliver on its international commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. Leadership matters, not just to climate activists but to every Canadian and to the world’s most vulnerable communities.

PEACE PARTNERS

Longtime Co-Chair of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) and UU, Janis Alton has led delegations of women to the annual Status of Women Conference at the United Nations for over 20 years. VOW’s focus is on demilitarization and the inclusion of women in all decision-making processes. This objective coincides with the UN’s commitment to reach full gender parity by 2028, especially in peacekeeping missions. VOW was honoured to have Hiroshima survivor, Setsuko Thurlow, leading figure in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW), awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, as VOW’s keynote speaker and one of five peace award recipients at this year’s gala dinner. The good news is that 123 nations adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The bad news is that Canada, as a member of NATO, not only boycotted the treaty negotiations but also voted against the UN resolution for a nuclear-free world. CUSJ wrote letters before and after the fact, highlighting our deep disappointment with the federal government and its capitulation to U.S. demands.

Steve Staples, founder of the Rideau Institute and Ceasefire.ca invited peace organizations, including VOW and CUSJ to Parliament Hill to celebrate ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize. A number of Canadian organizations, including CUSJ, became members of the IPB in the past year. As a result, IPB President, Reiner Braun, is coming to Canada in mid-May to meet with us and to network and strategize on next steps for the peace movement.

World Beyond War, a peace organization based in the U.S., will be holding their 3rd Annual Conference in Toronto on September 21-22, culminating in a ‘Blue Scarf’ march downtown. The Blue Scarf movement, begun by a brave group of women in Afghanistan, stands for a border-free world under one blue sky. Their slogan is ‘Enough wars! Enough global warming! Enough inequality!’ CUSJ is one of the sponsors. This year’s theme is Designing a World Beyond War: Legalizing Peace. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, is one of several outstanding speakers on the roster. To find out more, go to worldbeyondwar.org/nowar2018/.

NAFTA – DEAL OR NO DEAL?

The North American Free Trade Agreement is ‘less than free, and more than trade’, as my elder activist friend has long maintained. For years we have seen the negative impacts of NAFTA. Chapter 11, the corporate-friendly dispute resolution tribunal, has cost Canada millions of dollars and eroded our environmental and public policies from the start. The latest trilateral report, NAFTA 2.0: For People or Polluters?published by the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Mexico and Sierra Club U.S., details how NAFTA binds all three countries to fossil fuel futures. The report’s economic modelling shows that NAFTA’s energy proportionality rules would lock in 1488 megatonnes more greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This would preclude any chance of Canada meeting its Paris Agreement commitments on climate change. With Donald Trump’s belligerent ‘America First’ agenda, the auto sector is a key factor in negotiations. The U.S. President is attempting to retool the rules in order to bring jobs and investment back north from lower-cost Mexico. Despite months of talks, the sides remain far apart. To save face before two upcoming elections, the three countries might agree to a NAFTA deal in principle. If this and other corporate-friendly ‘Free Trade Agreements’ come undone, it would not be the worst outcome.

COMER

The Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform is now a member of the International Movement for Monetary Reform (IMMR) with members on every continent! On June 10th, Switzerland will be the first country in the world to have a national referendum (direct democracy) on the introduction of Sovereign Money. If passed, the Swiss National Bank will be the only bank to create money, including electronic money. Commercial banks will no longer be allowed to ‘print’ electronic money. Today, about four-fifths of the money created by private banks flow into the financial markets; only one-fifth ends up in the real economy, where jobs, products and services are generated. The campaign is designed to end the debt-based money system and to limit financial speculation, resulting in booms, busts and taxpayer-funded bailouts. Ironically, the Bank of Canada, upon joining the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the Central Bank of central banks, in 1974 in Switzerland, stopped lending near interest-free loans to all levels of government for infrastructure spending (including education and health care), and instead began borrowing from chartered banks at compound interest. This unconstitutional change has caused Canada’s debt to skyrocket to over $1.3 trillion. Canadian governments collectively spend on average $60.8 billion on interest payments annually. Although the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear our case, after six years of litigation, we are more determined than ever to restore the Bank of Canada to its original purpose of serving the people of Canada. Tell Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, that we already have a Canada Infrastructure Bank – We don’t need a new corporate-friendly public-private financial institution.

The good news is the monetary and economic reform movement is also growing exponentially. We will take our case to the politicians (contact your MP) and to the people. Inform yourselves by reading Joyce Nelson’s book, Beyond Banksters, which exposes the major players privatizing the world (Blackrock, Goldman Sachs etc.) and those responsible for corporate trade deals such as NAFTA, which will limit our ability to control banks and investment corporations. Hot off the press is Joyce’s second book,Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule. It’s an empowering guide to what’s wrong with our political economy and what we can do about it.

In the meantime, if you live in or near Montreal,be sure to register for the June 15-16 conferenceat Concordia University: The Future is Public: Building a Pro-Public Movement for Everyone. With the power of love and justice in action, we will seek less to blame than to find sustainable solutions to our systemic problems. Systems change, not climate change!

Standing on the Side of Love and Justice!!

Your appreciative President,

Margaret Rao