Reports and campaigns and policy, oh my!

By Karri Munn-Venn

2018 has been a good year for CPJ!

We’re grateful to our supporters and donors, those who have participated in our initiatives and those who have financed them. To those who have asked hard questions, and those who have helped us to answer them. Those who have advocated for change, and to the politicians that made it happen!

Working for policy change is more akin to a marathon than it is to a sprint, except that there are also hurdles! We’re grateful that as 2018 comes to a close, the finish line is in sight on some important policy gains. (Read on to learn more!)

Of course, we didn’t get here by accident. Changes in 2018 were the result of years of work. This year, we continued to advocate in a number of areas in the hopes of seeing additional changes in the future. Here are just a few highlights from the year that was:

In February, CPJ published Living in the Gap: A Snapshot of Precarity in Canada. This dynamic series of infographics was developed for the Dignity for All Campaign, which is co-led by CPJ and Canada Without Poverty. They show a snapshot of the monthly incomes, expenses, and experiences of six fictitious households. Drawn from across the country in rural and urban settings, these snapshots illustrate how precarity affects our lives on a daily basis. These profiles are not unusual; they represent what it’s like for typical families living in the gap between what they have and what they need. They also show why it is important to use targeted, evidence-based approaches to tackling precarity and poverty in Canada.

The Lenten season was ushered in mid-February with the launch of CPJ’s second annual Give it up for the Earth! campaign. People of faith in over 145 churches, high schools, and religious orders in more than 90 communities in all ten provinces, plus the Yukon, took action to reduce their personal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They also sent postcards from Terrace, B.C., St. John’s, N.L., and many places in between, urging the Government of Canada to Give it up for the Earth! by ending all subsidies to the fossil fuel sector right away – and investing strategically in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and skills development, setting Canada on a course for a just transition to clean energy by 2050.

In March, CPJ released a new book, authored by our very own Joe Gunn, executive director. Journeys to Justice: Reflections on Canadian Christian Activism tells some of the stories of Canadian churches and the impact they have had on key justice issues over the past 50 years in the areas of education, economics, refugee sponsorship, the environment, domestic violence, public health care, women’s rights, and the cancellation of the debts of Global South countries. The book concludes with three reflections on where we go from here by David Pfrimmer, Christine Boyle, and Leah Watkiss.

 “Through interviews with leaders in the Christian social justice movement in Canada, this volume both provides a valuable history of what has been accomplished, and remains to be accomplished, and introduces a new generation to the call to serve justice through theological reflection and action.”

—Rev. Canon Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan
Former President, Canadian Council of Churches

Then, on World Refugee Day in June, our Reclaiming Protection report was produced. This report provides background on the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has allowed the Canada Border Services Agency to return refugee claimants to the U.S. The policy is based on the premise that refugees should make their claim in the first “safe” country in which they arrive. But as anti-refugee policies continue to be introduced south of the border, there is much reason to believe that the U.S. is no longer a safe haven for many refugees. Reclaiming Protection provides tools to advocate for an end to the STCA, which restricts access to refugee protection, puts refugees in danger, and fails to uphold their rights to receive a fair hearing in Canada.

Finally, our flagship event Chew on This! took place on October 17 to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty with nation-wide events, drawing attention to poverty in Canada and calling for action through a national plan to end poverty. It was our largest Chew on This! yet, with over 100 groups participating, representing every province and territory — and with more MPs, Senators, and faith leaders out on the Hill than ever before.

This year, Chew on This! was more important than ever! (Remember that policy change we mentioned off the top?) In late August, the federal government released Opportunity for All, Canada’s first federal poverty reduction strategy!

Over a decade ago, when CPJ began mobilizing members and partners around Dignity for All: the campaign to end poverty in Canada, we knew our goal was the creation of a comprehensive, strong, and effective national anti-poverty plan that would show federal leadership in ending poverty. We also knew it would take a lot of work to make it a reality. Now, we have a strategy we can build on!

And this wasn’t the only policy progress we saw in 2018. For many years, CPJ and other refugee advocates have called for amendments to the Immigration Loans Program, which provides new immigrants and refugees with loans to cover the costs of their relocation to Canada. Refugees make up 98% of Immigration Loans Program users, and the burden of repaying these loans has often hindered their ability to settle in Canada.

In February, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada amended the program to discontinue the practice of charging interest on new loans and extend the loan repayment period. While these changes were commendable, the ongoing requirement for refugees to fund their travel to Canada will still leave many with significant financial burdens. Work towards the complete phase-out of travel loan repayment for refugees continues.

Finally, in October, the federal government confirmed that effective January 1, 2019, there will be a price on carbon emissions from coast to coast to coast – including in those jurisdictions that have not developed their own carbon pricing plans (Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and New Brunswick).

CPJ has been advocating for carbon pricing (either through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system) for many years, seeing a price on pollution as a key component of Canada’s efforts to address climate change. Here too, a great deal still needs to be done in order to achieve the kinds of emission reductions required for Canada to reach its target – and more still to bring Canada in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the scientific recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Of course, we have achieved these policy victories in no small part due to the capable leadership of Joe Gunn. Joe has served as CPJ’s executive director since 2008, shepherding the organization through both difficulties and successes. While Joe will help us bring in the new year, he will be passing the torch at the end of January, at which point we will open an exciting new chapter for Citizens for Public Justice!

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