More than a single story: Migration in the Americas

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, policy analyst and advocacy support for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA), based in Bogota, Colombia. This reflection was first posted on the Latin America Advocacy blog and is the first of a special series of articles on migration.

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Stories of people on the move dominated headlines throughout 2015: refugees from Syria; deportations and raids of Central Americans living in the United States; the journey of unaccompanied minors north through Mexico and many other stories. So far, analysis for 2016 predict more of the same: people continue to move throughout our globalised world at the highest rate since World War Two.

It is easy, however, to read headlines and come away with a stereotyped idea of migration. How well do we really understand the complexities of this theme, especially from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, where this blog is based? How does our understanding influence public policy and how we treat our neighbours?

In the book Advocacy in Conflict, Casey Hogel emphasis that, “The power to define a campaign or movement’s narratives- and the amount of diversity and nuance that is allowed within narratives- has huge ramifications for the level of solidarity that activism espouses.” A complex understanding of migration, from migrants themselves, is vital if we want to realistically advocate with people on the move, not simply assume we understand their situation.

As Hogel mentions, that complex understanding starts with asking who is defining the narratives around migration: those who are experiencing the pressure to migrate and the migrants themselves or others?  Yet the majority of the time, migrant experiences are not present in public coverage of the theme. In a recent report, researchers found that migrants were referenced in only 15% of British newspaper articles on migration and that 85% of British articles on the topic did not even include a migrant perspective.

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The report goes on to state that “46% of stories represented migrants as a threat or a danger to the economy and to society, while 38% represented them as victims. Furthermore, migrants’ voices were mostly absent from the coverage of migration.” Given similar news coverage in Canada and the United States, this is a problem of perception that impacts and reflects on policy decisions and debates.

In fact, readers only heard the voices of migrants when the articles included in the studied portrayed the migrant as a victim. While allowing migrants to share their experiences is a good thing, telling a story of only simplified trauma in a portrayal that presents people only as victims, does not allow the nuances, complexities and contributions of migrants or their agency to shine through. Complex narratives demand more than simply an emotional reaction. They include the facts about who migrants are, where they have come from and why, in order to contribute in a meaningful and realistic way to advocacy.

Migration is a normal part of life and society, both in the north and the south, yet migration is “still framed as extraordinary and involving extraordinary individuals and stories…. As with most of us, the majority of migrants lead lives which are fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy. Their migration experience may not be a key or significant feature of their identity. Or it might just be seen as another characteristic to be shared, but not shown off or emphasised, with their neighbours.”

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A complex understanding also examines the variety of forms of migration that take place throughout the region. Did you know that many migrants move from one Latin American country to another, instead of heading north?  That more Mexicans have left the US to return home than have left Mexico to move north in 2009-2014? That the amount of migrants coming from Africa to Latin America has dramatically increased over the last five years?  That 15,000 migrants from the United States live in Colombia?  (Check out thiscool app for a global perspective of migration!)

During orientation at MCC, participants watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of a single story. How we talk and write about people and issues matters because our beliefs either perpetuate stereotypes or challenge them and the structures that hold them in place.

We are excited, therefore, to present a new blog series on migration in LACA, where we want to tell more than simply a single story about migration, portraying migrants as neither simply victims nor villains, but ordinary people, seeking to live ordinary lives. Throughout the course of the series over the next few months, we will cover topics ranging from south-south migration, migration and climate change, urbanization, reintegration, armed conflict and migration, those who choose not to migrate, migration and gender, and much much more.

We invite you to participate and to pay attention to the diversity of meanings included with the theme of migration throughout our series and in the people around you.

To read subsequent posts on migration, visit Latin America Advocacy Blog.

Blessed are the peacemakers: celebrating life and light

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

This scripture verse was constantly on my mind and in my heart during a recent MCC advocacy visit to Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. Despite intense challenges within each country context, our delegation was inspired by the courage and dedication of the many peacemakers we met along the way—people motivated by Christ’s calling for peace, justice and hope and those working to build bridges across religious and ethnic divides.

Canadians are regularly bombarded with images, articles and stories about the violence, despair and hopelessness in parts of Africa.  In many ways, these stories are representative of a harsh and truthful reality, and we should not dismiss the pain of this reality. But they do not convey the complete picture.  It is arguably even more important that we attend to the stories of those working for peace and justice, despite the obstacles and harsh realities.

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A community garden run by people who have been internally displaced (IDPs) and are living with host families in North Kivu province of DRC. The IDP families and host families work in the fields together, despite ethnic differences.  Photo/Bekah Sears

As our small MCC delegation visited partners in Nigeria, DRC and South Sudan, I was reading The Road to Peace by Henri Nouwen. I want to highlight two chapters, “Resisting the Forces of Death” and “Celebrating Life.”

Nouwen opens his chapter on resisting death by recounting some of the great horrors of our recent history: the Holocaust, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and poverty and injustice in Central America. For Nouwen, these examples of death and violence illustrate the profound necessity for peacemaking. “Peacemaking is not an option any longer. It is a holy obligation for all people whatever their professional or family situation. Peacemaking is a way of living that involves our whole being all the time.”

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MCC partner Project for Peace and Reconciliation in DRC. Photo/Bekah Sears

However, Nouwen says our call to peacemaking does not end there. He warns that a sole focus on the darkness has the danger of making us into hard, bitter people who will eventually lose sight of the peace and justice that inspired us in the first place. In this dark place, Nouwen argues, we risk becoming the very forces that we are fighting against. As someone working in advocacy to government, I personally struggle with feelings of darkness and despair.

Instead, Nouwen claims, “[T]he first and foremost task of the peacemaker is not to fight death but to call forth, affirm and nurture the signs of life wherever they become manifest.”

Nouwen describes a peacemaking founded in humility, in that we are all made in the image of God; therefore, the posture of peacemaking must be compassionate, walking and standing alongside those who are suffering, and must embody as a deep sense of joy only found through the celebration of light.

Our recent partner visits were enriching, challenging and inspiring as they focused on the desperate yet hopeful cry for peace to spread across all areas of conflict, where there is hurt, despair and violence.

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The delegation and MCC Nigeria staff meet with the Plateau Peace Practitioners Network (PPPN) in Jos, Nigeria. This group includes Christians and Muslims working together in peacebuilding in Plateau State.  Photo/Ben Weisbrod

In Jos, a region of Nigeria with a history of significant inter-religious tensions and violence, we saw Christian and Muslim peacemakers and organizations united together to talk about their hopes and dreams for the establishment of the Jos Peace Institute in the coming months. Together they hope this institute will be a light for the people of Jos and the world in the study and promotion of sustainable peace.

We saw light in the compassion of families and communities in the Eastern DRC who were hosting people internally displaced by ongoing conflict in their homes, even those of different ethnicities. We also saw the dedication and courage of organizations to address the root causes of conflict, leading them to teach the principles of peacemaking even to the various armed groups in the area.

Finally, in South Sudan, we were moved by the staff and volunteers of the Organization for Non Violence and Development (ONAD) and their commitment to carve out alternatives to violence and to always seek peace. ONAD was formed by the desire to go against the grain of violence; it works with countless organizations and projects to support peace, starting with the government right to the community level.

These are the stories and images that stay with me. Of course the contexts are incredibly hard, and at times the work may feel like a drop in the bucket. But the witness of African peacebuilders serves as an inspiration to our delegation as well as others in the region, offering light and hope  in the persistent pursuit of peace. These  beacons of light, though sometimes small, shine powerfully in the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office.

Unlearning the Doctrine of Discovery

This week’s guest writer is Rick Cober Bauman, Executive Director of MCC Ontario.

“The church is the chaplain of empire.”

These words came from Adrian Jacobs, a Haudenosaunee pastor and Circle Keeper, and a former colleague in MCC Ontario. He was a presenter at a MCC Canada workshop on the Doctrine of Discovery, April 5-7, in Winnipeg. He credited the statement to someone else, but he went on to give ample evidence of its truth.

The Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), Jacobs and other Indigenous speakers informed us, is that legal framework and deeply held belief that European explorers and expansionists assumed sovereignty over the lands — as well as the inhabitants and resources — in which they discovered themselves in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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Photo courtesy users.humboldt.edu

If the DoD had fizzled out and expired 500 years ago, it would still have had more than enough power to pillage and harm. But of course it thrived more than fizzled. And, backed by popes and monarchs, it would not just allow — but would require —  the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese to lay full claim to the “new world” they “discovered.”

Why would Mennonite Central Committee bring 45 MCC and Anabaptist church leaders from across Canada to Thunderbird House in the heart of Winnipeg’s north end to discuss a five-century-old “doctrine”?

Largely because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) called us to study, understand, and eventually [hopefully] repudiate it. And MCC has been taking the TRC, its witness-gathering, and now its final report very seriously.

But that begs another question: Why would the TRC, concerned as it was with Indian Residential Schools, push churches and church agencies to make repudiation of the DoD so central? The diagram of a dying leafless tree, shown near the end of the workshop, helped to make that clear. A presenter noted that the “dead fruits” on the branches of the tree — fruits such as alcoholism, poverty, abuse and broken relationships. The tree’s roots bore words like white supremacy, colonialism, racism and the Doctrine of Discovery.  The TRC had asked us as faith people to go deeper than the branches, to be brave enough to venture closer to the roots, and to speak a challenge to the cause of fruits dying on the branch.

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Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC Commissioner. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

But if the church was really the chaplain of empire, soothing the souls of conquerors and surveyors, why is the church also directly named by the wise voices of the TRC as needing to make a response?

The answer to this question came out gradually and unevenly. During a Bible study session, we looked for “redemption” and “gospel” in several texts. At least some of these texts told the story of the Hebrew nation pushing its way into the lands of Canaan. The texts looked and smelled for all the world like conquest stories with Doctrine of Discovery at their core! And yet for 2 days we faith-focused MCCers clung to our deeply held conviction that the reconciling love-as-power Jesus does in fact offer hope in the face of the despair represented by the DoD.

The first conversation I had after the workshop was with a 20-something Masters student who has paid close attention to social justice movements globally. The Doctrine of Discovery was a new term to him. I winced a little, realizing I may have been in a bubble for a few days. I wondered how this important but abstract concept could be made real.

Can MCC nurture an understanding of the impact of the DoD that will move Mennonites to rethink our own understandings of our place in Canada? Will this understanding move us to act in ways that, to quote the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, offer“redress” and provide genuine “restitution” for the terrible harms experienced by Indigenous neighbours as a direct result of a 500-year old assumption about their being sub-humans in terra nullius?

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Hundreds of people particpated in a mass Blanket Exercise on the steps of Parliament Hill, June 2015. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Perhaps we would be helped by using the Blanket Exercise in each of our churches across Canada. Used as the introduction to our workshop, the Blanket Exercise is a visceral, visual, walk and listen through 500 years of history in this country. It begins with many people standing on a floor covered with blankets; they represent the Indigenous people of Turtle Island before contact. When it ends, the few surviving Indigenous peoples occupy a few remaining blankets, all of them scrunched and folded into tiny sizes and separated from one another. The Blanket Exercise is one of the best popular education tools in a long time and it could pack even more punch with a stronger introduction to the Doctrine of Discovery.

In recent months we at MCC have been highly engaged with hundreds of small groups and churches across Canada who want to welcome refugees, especially those from Syria. MCC has actively facilitated private refugee sponsorship since the arrival of Southeast Asian refugees after the Vietnam War almost four decades ago. We have become rather proficient at being good hosts.

Now, can our critical study of the Doctrine of Discovery help us unlearn the much longer history of five centuries so we can become better guests?

Statelessness: here and now

Some weeks ago, I was one of three staff members from the Ottawa Office who went to the first ever Summit on Statelessness in Canada hosted by a number of organizations, including the Canadian Centre on Statelessness.

Naively, or perhaps ignorantly, I assumed that “in Canada” referred to the fact that the summit was taking place in Canada. I assumed going into the day that we would be talking about the problem of statelessness in the developing world. This was not the case at all.

Centre for statelessnessThe focus of the day was statelessness within Canada, an issue that I had never heard of nor thought about. According to the Government of Canada, there are zero stateless persons in Canada. According to stateless persons and civil society advocates, however, this simply isn’t the case.

A stateless person is defined by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” People who are stateless have no citizenship.

Citizenship entails that people have some responsibilities to the state, such as paying taxes, voting, doing jury duty, and following laws. It also means that the state has some responsibilities to its citizens such as providing documentation including: birth certificates, passports, and health cards. Another responsibility is that of being responsible for the implementation and protections of the human rights of citizens.

People are stateless for various reasons. The most common reasons are violent conflict and discrimination. Conflict, mainly because volatility, the breakdown of institutions, and perpetual displacement can make it much difficult to register births, and unregistered babies, if nothing is done, will most likely end up stateless. Discrimination, because the rules that govern citizenship often are biased to favour men, and to favour the ethnic majority of a country. There can also be additional gaps in a country’s legislation relating to nationality that lead to statelessness. These gaps could be eliminated by countries adhering to two UN conventions on Statelessness, one from 1954, and one from 1961.

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Qia Gunster (R) was born in the U.S. but raised in Canada. He has no citizenship. Photo courtesy Daily Vice.

The question, “Can’t stateless people just gain citizenship from their country of residence?” is one that I have asked. The answer, unfortunately, is often No. People who are stateless, and there are at least 10 million of them globally, are not legally recognized, and thus, no state is obligated to protect their rights. Additionally, people who are stateless are often afraid to go to the authorities because they do not have documentation, so they can be arrested for living illegally within a country, even in the cases where it is their country of origin.

Life for a stateless person, even in Canada, is very difficult. Without identity documents, many simple, day to day activities are made impossible. These include: booking a hotel room, getting a library card, finding a legal job, renting or buying a house, going to school, getting a drivers license, and even getting a Costco card.

Donovan McGlaughlin, a former stateless person, spoke at the summit and knows the reality of statelessness in Canada on a personal level. Without citizenship, he felt his rights were worth “less than a dog.” This may be true, as there are legal guidelines regarding how animals in Canada are treated, but no such protection for stateless people.

Donovan was born 61 years ago, the son of a Native American father and a white social-activist Canadian mother. Because of his father’s race and his mother’s political views, American state officials told them that he would be taken into custody when he was born and would be brought up in the residential school system. Understandably, his parents did not register his birth. His birth took place somewhere between his home in the United States and Guelph, Ontario.

Because he did not know where his was born, both Canada and the US denied him citizenship. Canadian officials told him to go back to where he came from and enter legally and American officials wouldn’t allow him into the country because he did not have documentation. This lack of a birth certificate, despite having ancestry that should have guaranteed him citizenship in both in Canada and the US, meant that he had been, until very recently, unable to get any identification documents. As such, he lived a very nomadic life and suffers both from health issues and social exclusion.

I belongThe Government of Canada has not signed the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. This document provides a set of guidelines for how to allow stateless persons to have a life free from harm due to the status of their citizenship. However, Canada does not follow these processes as outlined by the United Nations.

Additionally, Canada does not have a set of principles or operating guidelines of its own to deal with statelessness. The information available for remedying statelessness within Canada is not at all clear. Even Donovan’s legal counsel, trained in citizenship law, said it was quite confusing. Even in cases where the government recognizes the plight of a stateless person in Canada, and are in the process of granting citizenship, they have asked persons to supply a birth certificate and passport, both documents that are impossible to have when stateless.

Currently  a United Nations campaign to end statelessness operates under the hashtag #IBelong.

For more information, visit the website of the Canadian Centre on Statelessness  or ask your library to buy the book Lost Canadians, written by Don Chapman, a former stateless person.

 

By Esther Isaac, Advocacy Research Intern for the Ottawa Office.

From numbers to neighbours

This week’s guest blog is written by Rachel Clements, student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. She attended the Ottawa Office annual student seminar in February called “Refuge. Asylum. Displacement. Canada’s response.”

Amal’s eyes are dark like the depths of the ocean she crossed to get here, but they light up exquisitely when she sees me enter the room.

“Rashelle!” she calls out, greeting me by my name in Arabic.  It’s Saturday night, and I am visiting the hotel that serves as a temporary home to over 300 Syrians until they are able to find housing. Every night, a local organization runs ESL classes for the children at the hotel, but the excitement in the room makes me suspect that I will be doing all the learning tonight.

“Taa’li hon!” Amal beckons me to over to where her family is seated, and our attention shifts to the front of the room where a dozen men in traditional Syrian clothes perform zaffe, an Arab musical procession with drums and singing usually performed at weddings.

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Instruments such as these are used in the Arabic zaffe.  Photo courtesy http://www.alazifoon.com

The room descends into what I can only describe as joyful chaos. The adults present are far outnumbered by the children who restlessly parade around the room; some with younger children toted on the shoulders of older siblings, some daring to dance in the middle of the chanting men. The women in the room respond with high-pitched tongue trilling, known as zalghouta, which is used to express the joy of the moment.

Amal places her younger brother, Hassan, in my lap as she gets up to join in the dancing. Hassan’s hands settle into mine, and Amal’s mother smiles at me through warm eyes. For some reason, I did not expect people fleeing war to be so open and inviting. But this was my ignorance. They had more joy to share than I.

From February 18-20, I was privileged to attend a three-day student seminar hosted by MCC’s Ottawa Office, focused on Canada’s response to refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons. The seminar afforded us the opportunity to hear from several politicians, civil servants, MCC staff, and NGO representatives currently involved in Canada’s resettlement efforts. A large focus of the seminar was on the newly-arrived Syrians within Canada.

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Jenny Kwan, NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. MCC photo

During MCC’s seminar, Jenny Kwan, MP of East Vancouver and NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, addressed some valuable concerns that Syrians face as they integrate into Canada. Kwan expressed concern that while the government is focused on meeting numbers, the capacity on the ground to receive the newcomers is deficient, and resources are not being used to their full potential.

A problem arises from governmental policy whereby funding is granted only to NGO’s that have been involved with resettlement efforts in the past. While these NGO’s are overburdened and running at full capacity, other NGO’s and community groups are willing to help out but are unable to receive funding. Without the mobilization of all our resources, integration into Canadian society is proving to be a painful and slow moving process. Month-long wait-lists for adult ESL classes mean that language continues to be a barrier to integration, and many Syrians feel socially isolated and unable to articulate their needs.

Kwan called to attention the importance of community and familiarity for refugees. Though privately sponsored refugees arrive to be welcomed into a community of support, government sponsored refugees are often more vulnerable without a community to assist them in settling. They must rely on income assistance alone, and have difficulty finding affordable housing and access to medical care. Additionally, most school systems don’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate for the arrival of the Syrian children. The language needs as well as trauma and therapy needs of these children must be addressed, otherwise Canada risks facing large fallout down the road.

In light of these issues desperately needing to be addressed, what can we do to help?

Kwan suggested Canadians should remain true to our identity of generosity and openness to others. Canadian citizens can fill the gaps in the integration process by contacting resettlement agencies and offering volunteer assistance. Many communities are beginning family match programs, where Canadian families are matched with Syrian families to act as a point of reference and support throughout the process of integration.

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Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party. MCC photo

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, said Canada’s resettlement process has been slow in the past and is in great need of rebuilding. May called upon us to be patient with the new government as it rebuilds and begins to mobilize.

May also expressed great confidence in the federal Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, who has been mandated to look after long-term resources for refugees addressing matters such as PTSD, mental health, and isolation. These needs will continue to be addressed long after the refugees have settled into Canada. But in the meantime, May urged us in the same way that Kwan did, to be gracious and generous hosts. Befriending and becoming a stable, long-term friend to one Canadian newcomer can do more to ease trauma and mental health concerns than several clinical appointments can.

Heeding the advice of many of the speakers at the seminar, I now spend three nights a week at the hotel, trying to engage and connect with the Syrian children as they wait for permanent housing. Amal and I have built a friendship based on shared lessons in English and Arabic. She now affectionately refers to me as  “Okhti,” meaning “Sister.” The name Amal in Arabic means hope, and in many ways, this is what she is to me.

These children teach me valuable lessons. Each day when I greet them saying, “Keifik?” meaning, “How are you?” the children respond, “Al-hamdulillah!” meaning, “Thanks be to God.” I have learned this word of gratitude is used in all cases, no matter how the person is feeling, because all of life, in its blessings and discomfort, is a gift from God.

 

 

 

A new era of accountability in Canadian mining, or business as usual?

Change often comes slowly, if at all. At least that’s what we’re told, especially when it involves the impact of advocacy on government policies and practices.

Ken Battle, President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, coined the term “relentless incrementalism” to describe the often slow-moving nature of advocacy. Advocacy is often a laborious task requiring endless patience, as we often see only little droplets of change at a time.

But what happens when it is clear that a government has no intention of moving forward on particular legislation or actions that would bring about change?

This appears to be the case when it comes to enacting tougher accountability laws and standards for Canadian companies operating at home and abroad—something civil society advocates have long been calling for.

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Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, San Marcos, Guatemala. Photo by Anna Vogt

In terms of global business, Canada is, by a wide margin, home to the majority (75%) of the world’s mining companies. In Latin America, specifically, in the last 10-15 years the proportion of Canadian companies active in exploration and extraction has increased significantly. According to MCC coalition partner the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), in the five years between 2002-2007, the proportion of Canadian mining companies operating in the region jumped from 30 to 50 percent. Within certain countries, these numbers are up to 70 percent. Over 500 Canadian companies are active within Latin America, with investments of over $40 billion.

In many of the contexts in which Canadian companies operate, mining activities play a role in fueling violence and exacerbating tensions, damaging the environment, negatively impacting health, and causing community displacement.

In many mining-heavy contexts such as Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, countless communities, civil society groups, and human rights defenders have also been threatened or targeted for speaking out against mining projects, particularly when the government has a vested interest in the profits.

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Citizens of Bucaramanga, Colombia defend their water supply from a Canadian-owned gold-mining project, 2013. Photo courtesy Pastor Virviescas Gómez / CBC.

Further, in many countries legal and illegal armed groups have a stake in the mining industry, either because they offer direct security services to mining companies or because they profit from the trafficking of natural resources. There have been many notable instances—Hudbay Minerals’ abuses in Guatemala, for example—in which the local security forces hired to protect mining projects are accused of carrying out violence and human rights abuses against nearby communities. When it comes to trafficking, in a context such as Colombia there have been reports that some illegal armed groups have abandoned the production and trafficking of illicit crops as a means to fund their operations in favour of controlling mining projects instead.

Companies fall under the laws and regulations of the countries in which they operate. Proponents of tougher corporate social responsibility, however, point to the weaker legal frameworks of host governments when it comes to things like environmental protection, working conditions, and transparency of financial reporting. And, even when the laws exist on paper, the lack of robust enforcement and broken judicial systems make them virtually meaningless.

Most of what the Canadian government has put in place when it comes to corporate social responsibility standards has been voluntary in nature and ineffective for holding companies accountable.

For instance, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor, a position established in 2009 under the previous government to assess and mediate complaints about Canadian companies committing abuses abroad, has been widely criticized as having a mandate with little-to-no power. In addition to the process being entirely voluntary for companies, the counsellor has no civil or criminal powers of enforcement, nor can he/she impose remedy or issue sanctions against a company.

Reportedly, this mandate apparently will remain unchanged under the new Liberal government, despite earlier promises to the contrary.

In light of these realities, many civil society organizations such as Development and Peace, Mining Watch Canada, KAIROS, and Publish What You Pay are calling for a more robust system of corporate social responsibility in Canada.

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDOne campaign, named “Open for Justice,” calls for a number of changes to Canada’s framework. This includes an independent ombudsman with the power to monitor, investigate and impose economic and legal sanctions on Canadian mining companies that violate clearly-established environmental or human rights standards. The campaign also demands that Canadian courts be open to hearing and processing complaints from communities where Canadian mining companies are accused of abuses and local judicial systems are broken.

During the fall election campaign, the Liberals promised to establish such an independent ombudsman. This is apparently no longer the case. Will they consider reassessing Canada’s CSR strategy overall to ensure better accountability for the extractives sector?

If Canada’s CSR standards remain unchanged, one has to wonder what kind of impact mining operations will continue to have in Latin America and around the world.

Do we dare to expect, or even hope to see, change on the horizon when it comes to the actions and consequences of Canadian mining operations abroad? Given how important the extractives industry is to Canada, how will values of justice, human rights, and sustainable development play against economic gain?

By Bekah Sears, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Let the little children come . . .

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” – Mark 10:14

I read this familiar scripture text while travelling in Palestine a few weeks ago, specifically, the day we visited a Bethlehem refugee camp and learned about the life of children there. I read the text again a week later; it was posted on the wall of a Christian organization that provides rehabilitation services to children and youth who have been injured, detained or traumatized by political violence.

I have travelled to Palestine four times in the last dozen years.  This visit, more than others, I was touched with the devastating impact of military occupation on children.  Over and over I heard and witnessed how Palestinian children and youth are assaulted physically, emotionally and psychologically as they endure occupation. Israeli children suffer too.

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Boys play soccer next to the separation wall.  Photo Ryan Dueck

Palestine has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Over the past 50 years, that occupation has become entrenched by a high separation wall, hundreds of checkpoints, severe restrictions on movement, and the growth of Jewish-only settlements in Palestinian territory. An end to the occupation is nowhere in sight, and another generation of Palestinian children is growing up without the hope of freedom.

At the Bethlehem refugee camp, in existence since 1948 when the creation of the state of Israel created 750,000 Palestinian refugees, a father tells us how his 5-year-old daughter expresses the wish her mother give birth to another girl rather than a boy – because a boy is so much more likely to be detained, injured or even killed. When a baby boy arrives, the daughter tells her parents her new brother should sleep in an inside room, away from the window, where he will be protected from the teargas and the bullets that are common occurrences.

As we walk through the refugee camp, our guide points to a wall listing some of the names of the 551 Palestinian children killed during Israel’s war on Gaza in July 2014.  It doesn’t list the 3,346 injured and the 10 percent permanently disabled. Life is very cheap for Gazan children, it seems. During my two-week stay in Palestine and Israel, two more Gaza children are killed by an Israeli missile attack, a brother and sister, 10 and 6 years of age.

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Schoolgirls in East Jerusalem walk along the separation wall. Esther Epp-Tiessen

A group of human rights lawyers tells us about children and youth in military detention. Defense for Children International, an NGO monitoring children’s rights around the world, has documented the arrest of 8,000 children since 2000.  Most of them have been detained for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. They are usually arrested by heavily-armed men during night-time raids, blindfolded and bound, taken to an unknown location without accompaniment and then interrogated at length.  While most youth detained are between 10 and 20, some are as young as eight years of age.

The lawyers tell us that the night raids are so terrifying, many mothers stay awake most of the night so that if soldiers arrive to conduct a raid, the mothers can waken their children quietly rather than have them woken by the door being smashed open by soldiers. (Not surprisingly, many mothers in Palestine suffer high levels of anxiety, headaches and hypertension.)

Children who are released from detention are severely traumatized. They sleep poorly, have recurring nightmares and often wet themselves. They typically withdraw from others, refuse to return to school or play with friends. Children who have been detained are 13 times more likely to drop out of school than others. Without rehabilitative help, young people who have been traumatized are much more likely to engage in violence and destructive behaviour themselves.

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Palestinian boys play with a kite while soldiers observe. Photo Ryan Dueck

As the occupation drags on, the hopes and dreams of young people fade and disappear.  Many youth cannot even imagine living freely in the land that is their home.  Another father, a longtime advocate for a free and independent Palestine, observes his daughter’s despair.  “Give up, Dad,” she says. “The Israelis have won; there will be no free Palestine.”  I wonder if despair is what drives Palestinian youth to attack Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem. Their actions are not defensible but they are understandable.

The occupation not only victimizes Palestinian children; it also harms Jewish Israeli children and youth.  At a new Jewish settlement In East Jerusalem (by international consensus, Palestinian land), I witness children playing behind a massive iron bar fence with separates them from soccer-playing Palestinian kids nearby. The Jewish children are guarded by a dozen or so machine-gun toting soldiers.  In a few years they will be soldiers themselves, as mandatory military service demands that they become part of the machinery that upholds the occupation.  I mourn that Jewish children and youth grow up with the sense that they are surrounded by danger, and that the only response is military might.

It is deeply and profoundly wrong that generations of Palestinian children have grown up essentially imprisoned in their own land.  It is deeply and profoundly wrong that Jewish Israeli children grow up learning that the security of their people requires the oppression of another.  It is unconscionable that much of the world continues to turn a blind eye.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator of the Ottawa Office.