This is the first reflection posted in honour of CPJ’s 50th anniversary.
Public Justice characterizes government’s task to work for the common good. It’s a theme that has been part of my life for almost 40 years now. I can recall a visitor to my high school writing it on the blackboard; it was a theme through my political studies in college and university; then it was my everyday guide as a CPJ staff member for 20 years. And even today, I reflect on its guidance as a policy advisor for World Vision, as I focus some of my attention on the challenges of doing advocacy in fragile states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo
The political dimension of God’s call
Among the many forms of justice, public justice is meant to define the unique role of the state or the government. For 50 years now, CPJ has been articulating what this means for public life in Canada. At one point in my CPJ days, we said that public justice requires government to:
- recognize the different needs of diverse people, communities, and organizations
- respect the distinctive roles and responsibilities of communities, organizations, and institutions balance their public claims so that each may have the freedom and resources to fulfill their calling and achieve fullness of life in this world
- take into account and promote environmental integrity
- pay special attention to the needs of those who are poor and marginalized
In short, public justice is the political dimension of God’s calling to love one’s neighbour, care for creation, and achieve the common good.
I recall some key energizing moments: a brief that CPJ made on the Meech Lake Accord, CPJ’s contributions to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on education, a major submission on social policy to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, co-sponsoring a major conference at Queen’s University on Faith and Public Life, and CPJ’s leadership role in ensuring that refugees could access Canada student loans. These were terrific moments where public justice framed CPJ’s presence in essential Canadian debates.
Satisfying legacies: the move to Ottawa and the creation of an ongoing internship
Over time, CPJ focused more and more on federal government policy, and on policies that cut across and affected all provinces and territories. As a result staff were increasingly travelling to Ottawa from CPJ’s home base in Toronto. To create the kind of layered relationships with federal politicians, government officials and other policy makers that allow for conversations around values, priorities and faith, you have to be where they are. Under the banner “Public Justice: Front and Centre” CPJ made its move to Ottawa in 2007. Our mission required an Ottawa presence. We needed to be able to speak to all political parties, to work with diverse partners, and to continue our work of bringing together different viewpoints to generate answers that would serve public justice. It has been so gratifying to see how CPJ has been flourishing in its engagement in Ottawa because of that move.
The move to Ottawa was also a moment to institutionalize public justice internships. Over the years CPJ frequently had short term interns, often students during the summer break. These interns contributed substantially to CPJ’s work during those months. More importantly, they engaged with the meaning of public justice and became citizens for public justice in their own right. Many have gone on to other public policy work, to law, to academic work, and to church roles. And they took along their analysis and commitments and often remain faithful supporters of CPJ’s work. So the move to Ottawa and the creation of an ongoing year-long public justice internship are two of the most satisfying legacies of my last couple of years with CPJ.
It’s only possible with the “citizens”!
However, none of this work would have been possible without the CITIZENS for public justice. Interacting with supporters, volunteers, board members, and staff over the years, as citizens who were committed to trying to understand public justice for that moment in time, was incredibly rewarding.
50 years on, Citizens for Public Justice continues shaping public debates in Canada, but also in all the places around the world where we citizens for public justice are present.