The 2010s: A Decade of Growth and Focus

For CPJ, the 2010s began with a good-bye. We were blessed by Gerald Vandezande’s presence and participation at the 2011 AGM in Toronto. A CPJ co-founder, member of the Order of Canada, and tireless Christian activist, Gerald passed away less than two months later, leaving a legacy of the faithful pursuit of justice.

Meanwhile, we were growing into our space in Ottawa and clarifying our role in the federal political scene. CPJ resolved to focus our efforts on three key policy areas: poverty in Canada, ecological justice, and refugee rights.

In 2013, CPJ marked its 50th anniversary. Celebratory events were held across the country and new initiatives began.

The winds of change blew through Ottawa in 2015. In the spring, CPJ collaborated with the Canadian Council of Churches for a Justice Tour, gathering concerned Christians in cities across Canada to consider ways forward to a more just Canada.

That June, Pope Francis released his bold encyclical on the environment and climate change, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and caught the attention of many Christians worldwide.

In the early days of September, concern about refugee rights erupted in response to the heart-wrenching photo of Syrian toddler, Alan Kurdi. In the weeks that followed, global attention was drawn to the urgency of addressing poverty – in rich and poor countries alike – with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This was the context within which CPJ helped to coordinate On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada, a Canadian inter-faith declaration supported by over 65 organizations representing the country’s largest faith communities.

Seemingly from one day to the next, CPJ’s priority issues went from being obscure outliers in popular Canada discourse to front and centre.

Then, in the 2015 general election, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada won a landslide victory.

A major part of the new government’s agenda was engagement with Canadians. Through 2016 and 2017, CPJ met with cabinet ministers, policy analysts, and government officials to present a vision for a just and caring society into Canadian public policy.

Reflecting on the tremendous legacy of Christian engagement in advocacy, in 2018 CPJ published Joe Gunn’s Journeys to Justice: Reflections on Canadian Christian Activism. This collection of inspiring and challenging interviews was one of Joe’s final contributions as CPJ’s executive director. In January 2019, Willard Metzger, an ordained pastor in Mennonite Church Canada, became the fourth executive director in CPJ’s 56-year history.

Over the past ten years, important policy gains have been made thanks to the faithful advocacy of CPJ staff, members, and partners.

Poverty Elimination

Between 2011 and 2014, CPJ and the Dignity for All Campaign co-hosted a series of summits on six policy areas central to poverty eradication. Following these consultations, the Dignity for All model National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada was released early in 2015.

CPJ also focused on amplifying the voices of people of faith in the Canadian anti-poverty movement. In 2011, we published the ecumenical worship and action guide, Living Justice. Representatives of various Christian traditions contributed to the book, exploring the ways in which poverty impacts us all, and inviting prayerful contemplation and action to end poverty in Canada.

In October 2013, Dignity for All launched its flagship advocacy campaign, Chew on This! with a small group of organizers who wanted to mark October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, by calling for a national anti-poverty plan. Each year since, engagement in this campaign has grown.

Eventually, we started to see movement. A decade of research, mobilization, and advocacy culminated with the 2018 announcement of Opportunity for All, Canada’s first national poverty reduction strategy. It was followed in 2019 with legislation of the Poverty Reduction Act.

“It is an important step forward for the federal poverty reduction strategy to see the Poverty Reduction Act pass,” said former CPJ socio-economic policy analyst Darlene O’Leary. “Legislation of the strategy has been a key demand of our campaign from the very beginning.”

Ecological Justice

Ecological justice is a thread that that is woven through CPJ’s history. In 2010, we committed to making it a major focus.

Early work led to the 2011 “Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change” for which CPJ executive director Joe Gunn was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In 2013, CPJ released Living Ecological Justice to further the engagement of Canadian Christians in ecological and climate justice through theological reflection and action.

CPJ’s annual pre-budget brief in 2013 contained our first climate justice recommendation: that the federal government put a price on carbon. In 2015 CPJ hosted a national prayer chain; Canadians prayed for 296 consecutive hours during the Paris climate talks (COP21) and a global agreement was successfully reached!

In response to government’s 2016 climate strategy consultation, CPJ submitted “A Public Justice Vision for Canada’s Climate Action Plan.” We also facilitated the submission of citizen stories and recommendations directly to the government.

Then, in December 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the establishment of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. It was unprecedented – and included a carbon price – but it wasn’t nearly enough.

In response, CPJ launched Give it up for the Earth! in 2017. Christians across Canada marked Lent by taking action to reduce their personal greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, they sent postcards to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna calling for more ambitious climate action. Later the same year, CPJ’s senior policy analyst, Karri Munn-Venn, attended the UN climate conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany.

Progress to address climate change has been relatively steady, but exceedingly slow. A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented the scientific imperative for substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In light of this, we continue to push for urgent change.

Refugee Rights

The theme of our 2014 AGM was “The State of Refugee Health Care: A Prognosis for Public Justice in Canada.” CPJ joined the Canadian Council for Refugees and wrote letters calling on the federal government to rescind cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, Canada’s health coverage for refugees and refugee claimants.

As 2016 began, CPJ welcomed news that the government would fully reinstate refugee health care. All refugees – no matter where they are in Canada, where they are from, or who sponsors them – now have access to health care.

Recognizing the need for increased capacity in our policy work, especially on refugee rights, CPJ expanded the public justice internship program in 2016, and for the first time offered two paid placements for recent university graduates.

In April 2017, CPJ released A Half Welcome, a major report on private refugee sponsorship. Sponsors expressed concern that Canada is one of the only Western countries that demands refugees repay travel loans. CPJ wrote twice to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen asking him to waive this burden.

Following months of petitioning and collaboration by dozens of faith communities from coast-to-coast, CPJ and partners celebrated a partial win in 2018 when interest payments on refugee travel loans were waived.

Building on the excellent work of our refugee rights interns – including the reports Reclaiming Protection: Advocating for an end to the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (2018) and The Most Vulnerable, An Intersectional Approach to Refugee Policy and Advocacy (2019) – CPJ hired Stephen Kaduuli as our first refugee rights policy analyst in March 2019.

Looking Forward

As we look back, we can see that public justice in Canada has come a long way this decade.

Much remains to be done, but as we enter the new decade, we are encouraged, and we are hopeful.

We also remain committed to promoting concrete and sustained action to reduce inequality and end poverty in Canada; to aligning Canadian climate action with global climate science, Indigenous ways of knowing, and the scale of the climate emergency; and to offering a supportive policy environment for refugees.

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