This article originally appeared in the Winter 2013 edition of the Catalyst.
For 50 years, Citizens for Public Justice has given voice and legs to my hopes and prayers for a more just Canada. I see CPJ as a little blue engine pulling a long train of carefully-considered policy recommendations over a mountain, undeterred by barriers of unjust legislation or misguided government priorities.
CPJ’s focus on justice and our shared responsibility as image-bearers of God makes it an organization that the Canadian faith community can support wholeheartedly. I have come to know CPJ as a truly efficient organization, operating within a lean budget and yet seeing impressive returns. Through CPJ’s work to lessen inequality, decision-makers are reminded that three million women, men, and children in Canada are poor; that single-parent families are especially poor; and that poverty makes a country less competitive and its people less healthy, which costs us all in the long run.
I remember when I was a high school student in the 70s CPJ (then the Committee for Justice and Liberty) was working with the Dene Aboriginal people to win a moratorium on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. They persevered all the way to the Supreme Court! Twenty-some years later I worked with refugees at a Reception Centre in Ottawa and was grateful that CPJ was active in supporting refugees fleeing horrible situations. Even today, my encounters with refugees and with First Nations and indigenous communities are enriched by what CPJ has addressed and accomplished over many years of faithful and persistent work.
Now, as a CPJ board member, I am still encouraged by CPJ’s work to support the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow, and the marginalized. For example, CPJ has worked hard over the past several years to encourage our government to develop a national housing strategy. For a while this was done by championing legislation that could have made a serious dent in reducing Canada’s number of homeless, which today is at about 400,000. A Bill to this effect garnered much public support but was defeated in May of 2012. Nonetheless, CPJ’s many meetings with MPs and their staff effectively reminded them of the economic and human costs of band-aid solutions.
CPJ wants to see our government act justly, for the good of citizens today and for the good of our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Governments are uniquely able to coordinate resources to ensure that our responses to the vulnerable and to the environment are long-term plans of action. CPJ’s research on ecological justice, for example, shows that our government needs a much more comprehensive plan for the future of our planet. As a model, past governments have worked hard on comprehensive plans to bring us national health care, which we access today with a good amount of equity and availability.
In many ways, Canada is seen around the world as a place of opportunity and safety. I know this all too well through my international work, much of which is in poorer, conflict-affected countries. But while Canada is affluent, many are still struggling to overcome a growing mountain of obstacles. CPJ is working hard to climb this mountain, knowing that creative and fair policy solutions are needed now more than ever.
The prophet Micah reminds the otherwise busy Israelites that they must embrace justice and love mercy. Today, CPJ reminds us of our responsibilities as citizens and image-bearers to care for creation, uphold the vulnerable, and prayerfully work for shalom.