A Decade of Justice

By Deborah Mebude

Citizens for Public Justice is grateful for the leadership of Executive Director Joe Gunn, who has served CPJ since 2008. Joe’s passion for public justice has propelled CPJ to where it is today, establishing the organization as a leader on faith and public policy in Canada. Joe will be finishing his tenure of service on February 1, 2019. He sat down with CPJ’s Communications Coordinator to reflect on the last 10 years.

Q: What brought you to CPJ back in 2008?

A: I had known about CPJ for its work in Toronto. When I was invited to apply for the job, I was told the organization was looking at big change – Moving to Ottawa after more than 40 years in Toronto and trying to expand the reach of the organization. I could see there was a need in Canada to have faith communities have an impact in federal policies. CPJ seemed poised to do that.

Q: In your view, what does CPJ uniquely bring to Canada’s public policy landscape?

A: CPJ takes faith and politics seriously without taking them down the partisan road. I think Canadian society needs that. There’s no other membership organization like it in the faith sphere. People choose to be members: the Board are members, participants are members. It includes protestants and Catholics. And it’s focused nationally.

Q: How do CPJ members contribute to public justice in Canada?

A: I think it’s most evident in the campaigns that CPJ does. ChewOnThis!, Give It Up for the Earth, petitions we’ve had on refugee issues. Staff provide people with background research in palatable formats for people to be able to raise issues. CPJ members use that material – briefs, reports, election bulletins – in their local contexts. They drive the change.

Q: In what ways has CPJ’s work evolved under your leadership?

A: Over the past 10 years, CPJ has changed its research and program focus. The concern with poverty remains the same, though expanded. In 2009, we launched the Dignity for All Campaign (alongside Canada Without Poverty) – which resulted this year in the launch of the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy

CPJ’s work on ecological justice was a relatively new focus for the organization, [but] doing justice as people of faith demanded it. Our definition of public justice had to be expanded. Our third area of expertise had been lost due to lack of funding, but especially with huge numbers of refugees arriving, there was a need to address not just settlement, which churches were doing, but also policy. We looked at gaps in what we could do and what wasn’t being done and then moved into policy areas in new ways.

Q: Has the fight for public justice changed over the last decade?

A: The need for CPJ has not changed, but the capacity for faith communities definitely has. There’s been a significant decrease over the last decade in the number of practicing Christians in Canada. The engagement of churches is less. Where churches do engage, there’s been a defensive stance by some. Christian interventions are often “being against”, rarely advocating for.

Q: What do you believe is the future of CPJ and ecumenical justice work in general?

A: We have to focus on how being engaged is a terrific way to live. Religion has always been about finding meaning and understanding in a world that creates difficulty, pain and sometimes contradictions.

In the future, to have an impact, we’ll have to work in coalition. No one faith tradition will be able to engineer social change by itself. That signals a whole new maturity in reaching across our theological differences. Increasingly, work for change will have to include people of faith who are not Christian and people of no-faith. We can’t be afraid to work with others.

Q: Leading up to the next federal election, what policy issues should Canadian Christians be paying attention to?

A: I would so like to see Christians in the lead for advocacy for the environment – seeing it as a Christian responsibility, and a necessity for government action. It’s huge. It will affect immigration, our trade relations, our industrial development, and how we produce and use carbon.

The science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report tells us we have 12 years. Generations to come will view any organization that refuses to take that seriously as irrelevant. Failure for faith communities to act on ecological justice dooms us.

Q; What’s next for you?

A: I am going to remain a member of CPJ. A proud member. But it’s a good time to move on after a decade of service and allow new leaders to flourish. I thank everyone for the opportunity – the great friendships and work relationships I’ve learned so much from.

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