CUSJ President’s report 2015-2016

CUSJ President, Margaret Rao

We  need  to  imagine  a  future  world  brimming  with innovation and hope, where the climate crisis is being tackled, the solar revolution is underway, neighbourhoods  are  flourishing,  and  a  new  green  economy  is taking shape that is vibrant, socially just and ecologically sustainable.

With such a beautiful vision in place many new people will be attracted, strengthening our belief that we can do it: that we can indeed build a better world.

The power of our vision needs to be twenty times stronger than the power of our fears.


Many thanks to the dedicated members of the Board who meet monthly online or by phone for the purpose of maintaining and further developing our national Unitarian social justice network. A special thanks is in order for our trusted Treasurer Bob Staveley, who has done a stellar job of keeping account of CUSJ’s finances for the past ten years. So dedicated is Bob to the well being of CUSJ, he readily agreed to stay on for another term as a Board member at large. A big thank you is also due to Joy Silver, CUSJ’s Membership Coordinator and Listserve Manager, who willingly took on the added task of booking rooms, tables and meals to ensure our annual gathering is a big hit with all of our members.


Our democracy took a big hit of another kind under the previous government.  To undo the democratic deficit of the past decade we need to call our current government to account on election promises made. To that end, CUSJ  signed a petition asking the federal government to end political audits of progressive charities, such as the CUC, and to keep its commitment to reform our country’s charitable laws. The first part of this promise has been kept. The government will need to work closely with the charitable sector to uphold its promise in full.

CUSJ voted unanimously for a resolution on proportional representation at last year’s AGM and extensive writing was done on various forms of PR in JUSTnews, both prior to and following the election. CUSJ supported Fair vote Canada’s January ‘Meet Your MP Campaign’ and some of our members recently took part in a webinar hosted by FairVoteCanada, now available online. We signed a petition to the House of Commons to ensure Canadians have a fair electoral system in place before the next election. The new government has agreed to hold public consultations to amend the Canada Elections Act. We must hold them to their promises.

CUSJ endorsed ‘Evidence for Democracy’ and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada’s joint letter calling for a Science Integrity Policy. It includes the right of all government scientists to speak out publicly about their research and the promotion of greater transparency and collaboration so that the government will achieve its stated goal of improving evidence-based decision-making. The process has begun but we must hold the government to its word.

CUSJ was a recent signatory to the Declaration of the Voices-Voix Coalition, calling on the government to promote political advocacy and public policy consultations with civil society groups and citizens. The Declaration also called on the government to protect public servant whistleblowers, support marginalized communities and establish a true nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, among other demands.  Voices-Voix continues to welcome our input on its research papers.

CUSJ signed on early to ‘The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another’. The Manifesto encourages countrywide roundtable discussions and webinar participation on its vision to expand Canada’s social safety net, achieve justice for First Nations, welcome refugees , reduce economic, racial and gender inequalities and fight climate change by moving in the direction of a 100% clean economy by 2050. The call for societal transformation ends with the theme of our UU conference in this leap year – “Now is the time for boldness. Now is the time to leap”.


Many CUSJ members took part in the People’s 100% Possible People’s Climate March in late November to encourage our government to do us proud at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, which it did, but it is our task to hold our government to its lofty goals.

I continue to sit on the Board of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of 100+ organizations. CAN submitted a comprehensive renewable energy plan and an Environmental Bill of Rights to both the federal government and its provincial counterparts, followed by a letter to the newly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.  A pan-Canadian climate package to include a national price on carbon emissions has been promised. Let’s hold our government to account and ensure Canada meets its global climate commitments.

I’m also a member of small but mighty Climatefast, which regularly hosts educational workshops as well as a first of the month fast(food and/or carbon)    and letter-writing campaign with sample letters on our website. We are planning to lobby MP’s and Senators in Ottawa in early May and welcome others to join us. Our climate action plan is based on our latest joint letter with Kairos, endorsed by CUSJ and others, outlining a 6 point action plan for holding global temperatures to a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise.  CUSJ also recently endorsed another 6 point Interfaith Climate Change Statement to the U.N. in advance of the ratification of the Paris Agreement on Earth Day.

Climatefast was recently contacted by hunger striker, Kristin Henry, at the Site C dam in the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C. This BC Hydro project would flood 100 kilometres of fertile river valley land, home to Treaty 8 First Nations and other landowners. The Peace Valley Environmental Association hosts regular webinars for the public and has a link to send a personal message to the Prime Minister.

The Liberal government promised to reform the National Energy Board (NEB) process for reviewing pipelines. Natural Resources Minister Carr and Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna announced interim measures for conducting environmental assessments. Existing reviews show a lack of adequate aboriginal and general public consultation. A letter initiated by and endorsed by CUSJ and others, requested clarification on recent statements purportedly made by the Prime Minister on the priority of pipelines. We believe that the government’s commitment to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to strive to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is incompatible with expansion of the oil sands. Let’s hold our politicians to their lofty promises.

CUSJ members from coast to coast will be taking part in ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ May 13/14 actions against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline in the west and Trans Canada Corp.’s ‘Energy East’ pipeline. CUSJ is co-sponsoring the Toronto action. Together, we will persuade our government that the time has come to be bold and brave and make the needed shift to renewable energy.

CUSJ became Canada’s first faith-based group to pass a resolution (in 2015) on carbon pricing which supports ‘revenue recycling – especially to lower income households – in order to reduce income inequality and stimulate local economies. Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission’s ‘Choose Wisely Report’ recently arrived at similar conclusions – put a price on carbon while being fair to households.


The Council of Canadians, sent an open letter, signed by CUSJ and a number of allies, to federal party leaders urging them to end the drinking water crisis in Indigenous communities. 73% of First Nations water systems are at risk.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Canada is a signatory, includes the human right to water and sanitation.

CUSJ supports Kairos ‘Winds of Change’ campaign to ensure First Nations History is included in curricula at all levels in all provinces. Frances Deverell, CUSJ’s webmaster, posted the Globe and Mail article “Prisons are the Adult Version of Residential Schools.” She asks others to join her in reforming the Criminal Justice system and stopping the over-incarceration and mal-treatment of Aboriginal peoples. 


CUSJ has been a longtime supporter of the ‘Secret Trial 5’, the five Arab Canadians detained for years without due process of law on government security certificates. CUSJ passed a resolution calling for a review of the current laws relating to security certificates and the suspension of a deportation order for Mohammed Harkat initiated under the previous government. We also sent a letter to John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Ralph Goodale, Ministerof Public Safety, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to release Mr. Harkat from all forms of custody and surveillance.

CUSJ also passed a resolution and sent letters to the relevant Cabinet Ministers calling on the Canadian government to request the French government guarantee a timely and fair trial to  extradited Canadian professor, Dr. Hassan Diab and to bring him home. Ottawa members of CUSJ have worked tirelessly on Dr. Diab’s support team since the beginning of Hassan’s family’s ordeal.


The Board of CUSJ passed a resolution in December joining the growing global movement, including churches, calling for a boycott of products and companies operating in the Occupied Territories, as well as a ban on federal and provincial state-funded lending to such companies.

Boycotts are a peaceful means of putting pressure on the State of Israel to comply with international law and protect human rights.

In a February letter to the Prime Minister, your President urged him to overturn his government’s motion condemning those who support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign. The BDS campaign constitutes a legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, which allow for the continued expansion of Jewish settlements and demolition of Palestinian homes and villages.

Contrary to the wording of the government’s motion, the BDS movement in no way promotes “the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel”. Such divisive rhetoric only serves to undermine the efforts of those who are attempting to bring about a just peace in the Middle East. The freedom to criticize and challenge the actions of any country, including our own, is a cornerstone of our democracy and must be safeguarded at all costs.

CUSJ also endorsed a letter by Independent Jewish Voices of Canada condemning Premier Kathleen Wynne’s upcoming trade mission to Israel and the West Bank for the purpose of strengthening commercial and diplomatic relations with Israel, while turning a blind eye to its discriminatory policies towards non-Jews.

In my CUC Sunday workshop ‘Seeking Justice in the Holy Land’ I will be recounting my encounters with Jewish, Palestinian and International Peace and Justice groups and also families affected by Israeli government policies.


‘The TPP: Integrity Litmus Test for the Liberals’ is the title of JUSTnews latest lead article co-written by CUSJ Board members Leslie Kemp and Cym Gomery. The bad news is that Canada’s International Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, signed the massive twelve-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Pacific Rim Agreement.The good news is that it will be another two years before MP’s will be asked to ratify it. In the meantime, the government has pledged to “hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.” Despite similar promises, the Liberals supported previous NAFTA-like trade deals in the past. Canadians must inform ourselves on the details of this investor- and corporate-friendly treaty and hold the government to account. Hope remains.


The Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER) launched a lawsuit against the Government of Canada in 2011 to restore the powers of the Bank of Canada, which between 1938 and 1974, provided largely interest-free loans to all levels of government to build infrastructure and fund social programs. Governments at all levels have since borrowed from chartered private banks, costing Canadians over 1 trillion dollars in interest on the national debt alone.         In the latest court decision of February 8, 2016, Justice Russell reversed his earlier decision, overturning the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision. COMER filed a third appeal in March and constitutional lawyer, Rocco Galati, is committed to taking the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, if need be.


The Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW) enlisted CUSJ and others to endorse a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, asking him to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament and to take global leadership in the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons. The government of Canada has publicly and consistently supported this goal. Let us encourage the government to follow through with its stated goal.

CUSJ endorsed a letter from the Council of Canadians to Minister McKenna to reject Ontario Power Generation’s application to build a nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear site next to Lake Huron. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin is one integrated watershed and the source of drinking water for about 40 million people, in two countries. The Minister has since requested further studies on the environmental assessment for this project, giving communities more time to let her know that Canadians want to protect the Great Lakes from nuclear waste.


CUSJ and the CUC crafted a mutual covenant this past year. The signatories are Vyda Ng, the Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council and myself, Margaret Rao, the current President of Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice.

As Unitarian Universalists we recognize our separate and common purposes.   We best achieve our purposes and do more for our movement by establishing an effective relationship based on mutual cooperation, and grounded in trust, respect, and clear communication.

Both the CUC and CUSJ are engaged in developing and furthering social justice initiatives and voices; the CUC through its monitoring groups and the work of CUC staff and volunteers; and the CUSJ through individual membership and chapter development.   

We covenant to consult with one another on high profile social action issues and to share how each might work together.

This is a living covenant open to review and renewal, at the request of either the CUC or CUSJ.