Prayer for World Refugee Day

June 20 is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day — a day to commemorate the strength, courage and resilience of refugees around the world. MCC offers worship resources to mark World Refugee Day with listening, learning, prayer, and giving. The following intercessory prayer was written by Brian Dyck, MCC Canada Refugee and Migration Coordinator. May you be inspired to offer hospitality and hope to refugees. 

 

Refugee

Prayer of Intercession

Our loving and compassionate God, we know you grieve

where there is violence,
where there is oppression,
where there is hatred
in the world.

We know you stand with the refugees in our world today, just as you stood with our ancestors in the faith who were compelled to flee their homes,

like Moses,
like Ruth,
like Jeremiah,
like Paul,
and even like Jesus and his parents.

We pray for comfort for those who mourn. We hold before you

those who have lost their homes,
those who have lost their communities,
those who have lost their families.
We grieve with them and long to reach out to them
to bring your healing comfort.

We pray for peace, O God. We pray that those who bring war will change their ways and beat their swords into plowshares. We pray for meaningful reconciliation in broken communities where hate is sown in the soil of prejudice and watered by our indifference.

We pray for courage and wisdom as we look for ways to be your agents of comfort and peace in a world that needs your holy and healing touch. We pray this in the name of Jesus. AMEN

 

 

Our voices, our rights

By Miriam Sainnawap, Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program. She is Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, Ontario.

Every spring, I travel to New York to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). I join hundreds of other Indigenous people from around the world as we gather to raise our voices about our collective rights as Indigenous peoples.

UNPFII is an advisory body to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to address Indigenous issues, particularly economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. This year’s 17th session theme focused on “Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territories and resources.”

UNPFII #2

Miriam (2nd from left) with friends at UNPFII: Matt Leblanc (Mi’kmaq-Acadian), Erica Littlewolf (Northern Cheyenne) and Sam Leigh (Anishinabe).

As a young indigenous woman observing at the UNPFII, I am only beginning to recognize the long and ongoing struggle for respect for Indigenous rights at the UN.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), passed in 2007, has been instrumental of bringing Indigenous solidarity worldwide and has demonstrated a significant shift in thinking with respect to the international recognition of Indigenous peoples, rights and claims.

But the UNDRIP remains a  non-binding document,  and governments are not legally obligated to ensure the protection of Indigenous rights.

Canada is one example of a country dragging its feet on respecting Indigenous rights. Canada’s colonial history of policies and laws, in its relationship with Indigenous peoples, has been repeatedly criticized both nationally and internationally. The UN Human Rights Council regularly calls on Canada to stop violating Indigenous rights. But there remains within Canada a significant tension about what it means to honour Indigenous rights.

At one level, there is  concern about the compatibility of certain elements of UNDRIP and how they challenge Canada’s constitution.

At another level, there is simply an underlying and unspoken racism in Canadian society. Indigenous rights are seen to pose a threat to the status quo and to threaten people who benefit from the status quo. What is good for Indigenous peoples is understood to be bad for non-Indigenous people. Indigenous peoples are therefore seen as undeserving. We need to get past seeing my rights as a threat.

It is an important call for all Canadians to urge the government to uphold their obligation to the UN Declaration and influence it to respect Indigenous rights.

UNPFII #1

UNPFII in session.

The remaining challenge of Indigenous peoples is achieving political participation and inclusion within the UN structures. Indigenous peoples have been able to participate in different political arenas today, especially through the UNPFII, but the question remains: what it is we want to achieve and how can we have broader influence.

Hearing from various leaders, I was struck by the theme of how  all Indigenous peoples identify our relationship to the land and water. Around the world, water is threatened by mineral, oil and gas exploitation. How do we protect and ensure the well-being of safe drinking water. Without access to our lands and water, how can we conduct ceremonies to heal ourselves, our families, and our communities?

We all need to recognize our collective responsibility to protect the earth and remind others to help restore the balance and harmony of all humanity and its creation. The earth does not exist to serve us, but it sustains and gives meaning to life, and it supports the continuity and vitality of securing our livelihoods and our future generations. We need to care for it.

The UN Declaration is a tool to help address the ongoing refusal to respect  rights that matter to us. It is a mechanism through which we can be  recognized as human beings with rights.

UNPFII #3And the UNPFII is a place where Indigenous people can support one another and hold space for our relatives in the ongoing struggles for recognition of our rights.

As I left New York, after the conclusion of the UNPFII, I was grateful:

For the incredible strength in our people;

For the support extended to all the people present and for holding space for our relatives;

For the rights which matter to us, recognizing our inherent responsibility to promote peace and justice for mother earth;

For the strength that comes from the land and wisdom of our ancestors;

For our ability to laugh at ourselves and others and how that draws us closer together;

For UNPFII as a space to network and exchange ideas to support and stand in solidarity.

I’m reminded we are still here.

Navigating the interface of faith and politics

This week Ottawa Notebook features a book review by Justine F. Foxall of MCC Alberta. Justine has worked with numerous NGOs and served in various capacities with MCC including as assistant director of the MCC Ottawa Office. She has lived in Tanzania, Rwanda, Serbia, Chad, as well as Israel and Palestine. 

Preston Manning, Faith, Leadership and Public Life: Leadership Lessons from Moses to Jesus (Burlington, ON: Castle Quay Books, 2017), 360 pages.

“Politics at the highest level is ultimately about the reconciliation of conflicting interests.”

Preston Manning, former Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament, returns frequently to this phrase—the reconciliation of conflicting interests—in his thoughtful and passionate book, Faith, Leadership and Public Life.

Preston Manning book on faith and public life

This book is divided into four parts, with lessons from: 1) the public life of Jesus, 2) the life of Moses, 3) the life of David, and 4) the lives of the exiles. In each section, Manning relates how these lessons have informed and inspired him in his own life as a practicing Christian, business consultant and sometime mediator, politician, and Member of Parliament. Furthermore, he offers guidance about how to live our lives at the interface of faith and politics with excellence and integrity.

In the first part, my attention was captured by Manning’s profound observations of how William Wilberforce and his co-strategists followed the way of Jesus in their campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery. Manning relates these lessons first through a discussion of Jesus’s temptations; then illustrates how Wilberforce strategically and pragmatically practiced the wisdom and grace of Jesus who said “… I send you forth not to be vicious as snakes but gracious as doves, gracious as the spirit of God himself.”

Based on the Wilberforce story, Manning recommends that contemporary activists conducting a modern issue campaign:

  • legitimate the discussion, graciously;
  • do the necessary research thoroughly and well;
  • make maximum use of the tools of democracy.

He asks, “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?” and advises, “Wisely and graciously manage the middle.”

Hence he arrives at the theme of reconciliation. Manning declares that Jesus shows us the way of reconciliation through self-sacrificial mediation motivated by love and, using examples from the New Testament, offers these principles of Jesus’s approach to the reconciliation of conflicting interests:

  • Love is the motivation.
  • A new and better relationship is the objective.
  • The approach is non-coercive.
  • The mediator is willing to pay the price of reconciliation.

Following Jesus in the public arena means looking to Jesus himself, resisting the temptation to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth by seizing authority or by compelling obedience to the Christian agenda.

Parts two and three of the book—on Moses and David—are not merely re-hashed Sunday school lessons. Manning digs into these characters and relates them to the rough and tumble of political life today.

The last part examines the lives of several people from the Hebrew Bible who became leaders in societies and political systems that were, for the most part, hostile to their values and beliefs. Manning outlines the stories of Joseph, Daniel and Esther, connecting their stories pointedly to the present context where, he says, our materialistic, humanistic and secular society prefers to purge the expression of religious faith from the public square.

Preston_Manning_February_2014

Preston Manning, February 2014

Manning challenges the follower of Jesus today to live faithfully in this kind of exile. Believe in the sovereignty of God. Be a constructive influence in your constituency. Pray. Seek the enlightenment and peace of the political community—serving as truth tellers and reconcilers of conflicting interests.

Finally, my attention was particularly held by Manning’s discussion of the good and evil of bureaucracies, for this is the ‘public space’ (large or small, governmental or non-governmental) in which most of us find ourselves. He urges Christians that we “are there to protect that bureaucracy from its dark side and ensure that it functions as an instrument for good rather than as a source of unintended harms.”

Again Manning provides some practical guidelines for how to do this. Whether we are then called to act on a micro or macro level, Manning reiterates how important it is to nurture a disciplined and diligent inner life of solitude, prayer, lectio divina, physical self-care, examen of consciousness and conscience, spiritual discernment and Sabbath observance. Differing distinctly from the rhythm of contemporary public life, these resources in Christ are crucial to living with integrity in the arena of the faith-political interface.

Faith, Leadership and Public Life is long and sometimes pedantic; yet there is an authenticity to Manning’s perspective that I found engaging. I enjoyed his evident wide reading as he draws from great literature, political and military history, contemplative Christian authors, and, of course, the Bible. The last part, Lessons from the Lives of the Exiles, brilliantly prevented me from tossing the book aside with an “irrelevant to my life” shrug. We do live in a pluralist and secular society. How we live our faith in the public square matters.

My assessment of Preston Manning’s book: I commend it as an excellent read for issue campaigners, policy change advocates, aspiring and acting parliamentarians and everyday citizens who care about the well-being of our country.

 

The legal weeds of Bill C-262

On April 17, 2018, I was sitting in on the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee when law professor and expert witness, Dwight Newman, launched into a scathing critique of the bill before him.

The bill in question was an Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), also known as Bill C-262. (If you’re not familiar with UNDRIP, take a minute to get acquainted here.)

This private member’s bill, put forward by Cree MP and one of the drafters of UNDRIP, Romeo Saganash, now has the backing of the Liberal government and will likely become law.

Many individuals, organizations, and faith communities, including MCC, have supported this bill and campaigned for its passage. If implemented, the bill will fulfill two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and will be an important step towards reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in the land now called Canada.

UNDRIP

What then does Professor Newman have against it?

Newman has two general groups of criticisms: criticisms about the specific wording used in the bill, and criticisms about the unpredictable consequences that will result from recognizing these Indigenous rights. For those who like details, I’d recommend reading his brief here. Otherwise, read on for my overly simplistic summary.

In the first group of criticisms, about the specific wording of the bill, Newman points out that the phrase “application in Canadian law”, found in Section 3, isn’t found in any other statutes. Because these words have never been used before, it’s unclear whether UNDRIP will supersede other laws or whether it’s just something judges can look at occasionally to influence their interpretation of other laws. That’s a big difference.

“One’s essentially gambling on how the courts might interpret those terms,” said Newman. “That might render the whole bill merely symbolic at one end, or it might lead to it having very significant effects, or anything in between.”

On top of this, Newman claims the bill isn’t totally clear whether UNDRIP comes into effect immediately or over the course of several years, and there are inconsistencies between the English and French versions.

In the second group of criticisms, about the unpredictable consequences of recognizing these Indigenous rights, Newman mentions that some of the provisions of UNDRIP are interpreted differently throughout the world, so we don’t know the precise content of the rights each provision will confer. For example, there are three differing interpretations of the meaning of UNDRIP’s articles relating to “free prior and informed consent,” and it is unclear which interpretation would find its way into Canadian law.

In the same vein, he argues that UNDRIP touches on many areas of policy including religion, health, natural resources, defense, employment, and education, and potential effects should be studied thoroughly in their respective committees before passing the law.

romeosaganash_0 (2)

Romeo Saganash, MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou

After Newman’s presentation, Romeo Saganash had a chance to respond. He reminded the committee that when Canada enacted its new Constitution in 1982, it included Section 35(1), which states, “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” This is an extraordinarily short and vague provision for such an important matter. Over the years, Canadian courts have developed a complex legal framework to elaborate on the content of those rights and the processes for protecting them.

Bill C-262, Saganash claims, does not create new uncertainty. Rather, it helps clarify the meaning of Section 35(1), removing some of the uncertainty that is currently present. Even if Bill C-262 remains somewhat ambiguous, it is inarguably more specific than the mere seventeen words of Section 35(1).

Who’s right? In my view, both Newman and Saganash bring important and valid perspectives.

Newman is right to raise concerns about the specific wording of the bill. As he put it, “Canada’s Indigenous peoples deserve our best work in every respect, including legislative drafting, and it is unacceptable to have a lesser standard of legislative drafting in this context.” These concerns do not mean the bill should not be passed. Instead, it gives the Committee the opportunity to amend the bill to strengthen the protection of Indigenous rights.

However, on Newman’s second group of criticisms, I’d side with Saganash. We don’t need to know the full effects of the bill before committing to it. Reconciliation is an enormous project to be worked on through nation-to-nation collaboration and negotiation between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

Miles Richardson, former president of the Haida Nation, who also testified at the meeting, said it well: “Getting down into the legal weeds before we establish the relationship and our intentions in those relationships is a recipe for trouble. It’s a recipe for chasing our tail forever.”

Ultimately, it’s not my view nor Newman’s view that matters. To have any chance at reconciliation, we non-Indigenous Canadians must recognize the autonomy of Indigenous peoples and rid ourselves of colonial, paternalistic attitudes.

Delving into the “legal weeds” of legislation may be an interesting and useful practice, but it must never become a roadblock to listening to, following the advice, and honouring the wisdom of the affected Indigenous peoples.

By Nicholas Pope, MCC Ottawa Office advocacy research intern. Nicholas has a law degree from the University of Calgary. 

A prayer for Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day.  Each year, KAIROS: Ecumenical Justice Initiatives provides an Earth Day worship resource that invites congregations and faith groups to express their gratitude for God’s good creation and to commit themselves to care for and nurture it. We post this prayer from the resource with special permission from KAIROS. The full worship packet is found here.

Prayers of the People

ONE: O God of All Creation
Our hearts fill with gratitude and wonder at all you have made.
We bask in the abundance of creation
and are nourished by all that is good in it.
Our thirst is quenched by clean waters.
The rivers and oceans team with life.
Our hunger is satisfied by bountiful harvests;
The orchards and fields burst with food.
We are comforted and loved by friends and family.
We freely create and work and play.

creation

MCC Photo/Melissa Hess

ALL: Every day we are reminded: all life depends on all life.

ONE: Our hearts fill with sorrow and guilt
for the destruction we have caused.
We misuse the abundance of creation
and squander the goodness in it.
Our thirst for resources knows no end,
the land and waters die by our hands.
Our appetite for power blinds us
to the vulnerable and the sacred;
we hurt and oppress each other;
we freely consume and pollute and destroy.

ALL: Every day we forget: All life depends on all life.

ONE: Our hearts fill with courage and hope
for a New Heaven and New Earth.
We heed your call to care for and restore creation,
and are energized by the goodness in it.
Our thirst for justice knows no end;
our hunger for peace opens us to new ways of being.
We find joy and support in each other;
we freely share and cooperate and grow.

ALL: Every day we learn: All life depends on all life.

ONE: With ancient words we pray as Jesus taught us…

ALL: Amen


					

$1.7 trillion

In 2016, global military spending amounted to a staggering $1.68 trillion.

Courtesy of SIPRI

It likely won’t be surprising which countries topped the military-spending charts—that year, the U.S. and China clocked in at $611 billion and $215 billion respectively.

While states like the U.S. are, of course, in a league of their own, Canada is not off the hook. Though not commonly known as a “military superpower,” Canada is still in the top 16 highest defence spenders worldwide (and 6th out of 28 NATO countries).

What’s more, last June the Canadian government unveiled a plan to further expand its “hard power” on the world stage.

Driven by everything from armed conflict to foreign policy objectives, geopolitical interests, and perceptions of security, the “necessity” of high military spending can be difficult to challenge in political circles.

But what are the implications of such excessive spending on global peace, security, and development? Are global defence expenditures—which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says tend to be weak in transparency and accountability—connected to genuine security needs?

And how do such bloated defence budgets square with international obligations under Article 26 of the UN Charter, which calls for peace and security “with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources”?

As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once said, “the world is over-armed—and peace is under-funded.”

Enter the Global Days of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS, for short). Birthed in 2011 by the International Peace Bureau, this campaign—running from April 14th to May 3rd—calls for a reduction in worldwide defence budgets and the re-allocation of those funds for social spending.

This year’s slogan? “Reducing 10 percent of military assets will help save our planet!”

It goes without saying that the economic and human costs of war are overwhelming. Weapons—primarily small arms, cluster bombs, landmines, and other conventional weapons—have a devastating impact on people in conflict zones. And in the wake of war, rising health care and reconstruction costs take an incredible social and economic toll on communities.

Moreover, as Eisenhower warned back in 1953, excessive levels of defence spending also have an enormousopportunity cost.” While the world diverts a huge proportion of public resources to the defence sector, basic human needs such as food, health, education, housing, employment, and environmental security are chronically under-funded. Such under-funding only serves to create and exacerbate conditions of social, human, and economic insecurity.

But back to Canada…

The day after Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland delivered her foreign policy speech in the House of Commons last June (setting up the rationale for a bigger defence budget), Defence Minister Sajjan introduced his 113-page plan to hike Canada’s military spending by more than 70 percent over the next decade—from $18.9 billion today to $32.7 billion by 2026-7. Most of these funds are set to be delivered after 2021 (after the next election cycle!).

With big ticket items like fighter jets, military personnel, war ships, new capabilities for Special Forces, and so on, the defence plan was an unexpected pivot away from the Liberals’ election promise to “build a leaner military.”

Not surprisingly, National Defence is already the largest spender among Canadian government departments. And, of course, this prioritization of defence spending isn’t unique to Canada.

As SIPRI writes, globally there is “a gap between what countries are prepared to allocate for military means to provide security and maintain their global and regional power status, on the one hand, and to alleviate poverty and economic development, on the other.”

Just compare, for a moment, worldwide military spending against the entire budget of the UN. As Doug Roche—former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament—wrote in a recent book, “all told, the entire body of work of the UN, including peacekeeping and the sweeping economic and social development programs of forty specialized agencies and programs, costs $30 billion per year. This works out to about four dollars per person on the planet. It is only 1.76 percent of the $1.7 trillion that nations spend annually on arms” (p. 79).

Yet, for decades, the UN has faced financial difficulties and been forced to cut back on programs.

This spending imbalance—and its implications for peace and security—is precisely what the Global Days of Action on Military Spending tries to draw attention to.

During tax season, some groups, like Conscience Canada, even encourage Canadians to withhold the military portion of their taxes and call for the creation of a government-controlled Peace Fund where that money can be diverted for non-military peacebuilding purposes. 

What could be achieved if governments re-directed even ten percent of current defence spending towards social development needs? 

Indeed…what if?

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office director

Canada and Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years ago today—April 4, 1968—Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I was less than 3 months old at the time, so I have no recollection of that day or the man when he lived. But at some point, I became aware of his work for civil rights and his untimely and tragic death.

Recently, I began to wonder what connections Martin Luther King Jr. may have had to Canada. Certainly, his name is recognized by most Canadians, and parts of his famous “I have a dream” speech would also be familiar to many. But what may not be well known is that in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s annual Massey Lectures.

massey-lectures-2000s-640x360__306996

The Massey Lectures were started in 1961 as an annual series of lectures by leading thinkers, originally broadcast on the CBC radio program Ideas. CBC producers initially planned that for 1967 the prominent lecture series be delivered “by a group of leading Canadian lights reflecting on Canada at 100.”

However, in the summer of 1967, race riots erupted in black neighbourhoods in Detroit and Newark. The immediate cause was police brutality, but the real issues were segregated housing and schools and rising black unemployment. In five days, 43 people were killed (33 blacks and 10 whites) and nearly 1200 injured. In the midst of the “largest urban uprising of the 1960s,” Martin Luther King Jr. called for radical nonviolent social change through mass civil disobedience in Washington, D.C.

King’s powerful oratory, his passion for racial equality, and his commitment to nonviolent action caught the attention of CBC producers in Canada. In a letter dated August 11, 1967 Janet Somerville, the senior producer at Ideas responsible for the lectures, approached King with a request to author and deliver the lectures for that year.  

“This summer’s harsh new evidence (on several continents) has made the case for non-violence harder to hear. We need to hear it argued with all the new evidence considered. But this same summer has also begun to demonstrate to everyone the interconnectedness of the problem of violence – world-wide, history-long, bone-and-soul-deep… Anything implied by the question ‘is it human to hope to move forward without violence?’ is relevant to the series we would like to broadcast.” 

1967-massey-kingThe result was a 5-part lecture series entitled “Conscience for Change” which was broadcast in December 1967.  In the first four lectures, King explored the impasse of race relations, the effect of the Vietnam War on the social fabric of the US, youth and social action, and nonviolence and social change. The final lecture was a Christmas sermon on peace delivered in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and broadcast by CBC on Christmas Eve 1967.

While King’s call for nonviolent social change stemmed from events and experiences in the US, it was relevant beyond those borders. Canadian cities weren’t suffering violent riots, but Canada too possessed economic and social inequity and racial and ethnic tension. The growing demand of Indigenous people for the dismantling of racist systems of oppression put Canadians on notice. Social change was certainly needed here as well.

King’s challenge to remember our human inter-connectedness, both nationally and globally, and to work for change through nonviolent means is worth hearing again as we celebrate his life on the 50th anniversary of his death.

As King boldly stated at the end of lecture three, “If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all the peoples, to shape a new world.[i]

– Monica Scheifele, MCC Ottawa Office Program Assistant

[i] Bernie Lucht, ed. The Lost Massey Lectures: Recovered Classics from five Great Thinkers (Toronto: House of Anasi Press, 2007), 198.