BUILDING A CITY OF PEACE

by Annalee Giesbrecht

This post was originally published on MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog on August 1, 2018.

Of the dozen or so people sitting talking together in a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood called Ti Plas Kazo, only two of them were born here. The rest come from all over the Haiti, some from other areas of the capital but most from the provinces: as far away as Cap-Haitien on Haiti’s northern coast and Jérémie on its far southwestern tip. Although Haiti is only the size of Maryland, its rugged geography and limited infrastructure make these relatively small distances seem vast.

I’m here visiting JUPED (Jeunes unis pour le protection de l’environnement et le developpement, or Youth United for the Protection of the Environment and Development), a longstanding MCC partner working in the areas of human rights, peace, and advocacy, who started a community justice pilot project in Ti Plas Kazo two years ago. As the JUPED staff team recounts the history of the area, I see they’re describing a hyper-local version of the migration patterns and community tensions seen throughout Latin America and around the world.

A place of refuge and opportunity

Ti Plas Kazo is on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and used to be a semi-rural area where residents lived off agricultural labor, much like those in the countryside. But over the years, as rates of urbanization and internal migration have increased, Ti Plas Kazo has changed. Cycles of political instability, natural disasters, and grinding rural poverty have driven people from rural areas into the cities throughout the country, and especially into the capital. According the World Bank, Haiti’s urban population has more than doubled since 2000, and as of 2014, 74% of urban residents were living in slum conditions.

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Jean Milou Mercidieu. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Jean Milou Mercidieu, JUPED’s administrator, is originally from the city of Cayes on Haiti’s south coast. He notes that there have been three major waves of migration to Ti Plas Kazo. The first was in the 1980s, the last days of the Duvalier dictatorship, when a government housing project connected to a nearby factory attracted large numbers of workers and their families. After Duvalier was ousted from power in 1986, a period of chaos and political violence swept Haiti as power alternated between military juntas and liberation-theologian-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Many believed they could escape persecution in largely overlooked quarters of the capital like Ti Plas Kazo.

Most recently, after a massive earthquake shattered large swaths of Port-au-Prince in 2010, Ti Plas Kazo became home to several camps for people displaced by the quake. Many of those displaced people are still in Ti Plas Kazo today, whether in the camps–some of which have now become neighborhoods in their own right–or in the few remaining makeshift shelters left over from unofficial settlements.

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Eight years after the earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, both official IDP camps and improvised shelters, like this one in a public square in Ti Plas Kazo, remain. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Whether fleeing violence across borders or moving to the city in search of a better life, displaced people often find themselves moving from one difficult situation to another. Although Ti Plas Kazo has been spared the worst consequences of natural disasters and political violence, it remains a poor neighborhood. Access to jobs and housing is limited. To accommodate new residents, and make a bit of money, some residents crowd into a portion of their homes so they can rent the rest: JUPED staff identified conflict between landlords and tenants as a common source of community tension. Over time and successive waves of new residents, many of whom aren’t planning to stay for long, the fabric of the community has become frayed.

Access to conflict resolution

Unfortunately, a widespread lack of government resources means that, when conflicts arise, the justice system is ill-equipped to handle them. Police are often undertrained and arbitrary arrests are common, lawyers are expensive, judges are overburdened, and the prison system, at 4.5x over capacity, is the most overcrowded in the world.

“Our justice system is weak, and it is sick,” says JUPED director Jean Junior Val emphatically. “Even if I’m the person who’s in the right, if you have more money, you’re the one who gets justice.”

Faced with a vulnerable, transient population and a weak and inefficient justice system, JUPED, with MCC support, launched a community-based restorative justice platform called Ti Platfòm Lapè, (Little Platforms of Peace) in 2017. The peace platforms are composed of pastors, teachers, market women, and other community members who have been trained in mediation skills and who meet every fifteen days to hear and resolve cases of conflict and violence in the community. In addition to peacefully resolving cases, JUPED monitors the rates of conflict and violence in the area and holds events to raise community awareness of human rights, conflict, violence, and peace.

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JUPED staff and members of the Ti Platfom Lape outside the JUPED office in Ti Plas Kazo. The banner reads “Conflict is vital, but violence is mortal.” MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Win-win

Alex Pierre is originally from the city of Cap-Haitien on Haiti’s northern coast. He came to the Ti Platfòm Lapè with a problem that was related, as so many problems in Haiti are, to land and residency: he and his family were struggling to split up an inheritance left to them by their grandparents.

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Jean Milou Mercidieu. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

After the peace platform helped Pierre and his family come up with a solution for dividing the land, which he credits with saving his family relationships, Pierre himself became a member so he could help others benefit from mediation too. Now, he’s helping to manage a delicate case brought to JUPED by a man who has been ordered by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to pay child support on his child from a previous relationship. He’s now married to a different woman and has children with her; news of his first child and his attendant financial obligations had come as a shock to her.

“It’s really difficult, but not uncommon,” he says. “We’re working together to see how we can move things forward.”

Of course, not every case can be resolved at the Ti Platfòm Lapè. Cases of elevated violence, such as sexual assault, need to be referred to the justice system, and when these cases arise, platform members accompany victims through the legal process, or help connect them with other organizations that can assist them. However, the vast majority of cases heard by the peace platform over the previous year have been successfully resolved through mediation.

“Mediation has one objective in all scenarios,” says Mercidieu, “and that’s for both parties to come out on top. Win-win.” This expression, ‘win-win,’ comes up throughout our discussion: the goal of the Ti Platfòm Lapè is to arrive at a solution that is not only acceptable, but positive, for all involved.

“Justice divides people—it says to one person ‘you’re guilty,’ and to the other person, ‘you’re in the right.’ That’s why we work in mediation. We want people to be able to live together.”

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Everyday life on the main thoroughfare running through Ti Plas Kazo. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

While developing community cohesion is a long process, the JUPED team are starting to see a difference. Residents know they have an effective and affordable means of seeking resolution when conflict arises. Over the course of two pilot projects, over 1,228 conflicts were brought before the Ti Platfòm Lapè, and 88% of them saw both parties come to a mutual and peaceful agreement: win-win. 53 mediators—people like Alex Pierre—have been trained, and in turn have provided training on basic conflict resolution to 1,180 community members. The peace platforms have been so successful that, even after the end of MCC’s project, they have continued meeting and resolving cases.

The JUPED team believes that this work will ultimately strengthen Haiti’s justice system, because when ordinary citizens know their rights, they become empowered to advocate for themselves and seek out the justice they know they deserve.

“Maybe it will take 5 or 10 or 20 years, but Haiti can change,” says Val. “Haitians can change it. We believe that.”

Annalee Giesbrecht is the MCC Haiti Advocacy and Communications Co-ordinator.

Supporting Advocacy through Service and Humility

This post is comprised of excerpts from “Learning to lead through relationship: Developing leadership skills that mirror Anabaptist values of service grounded in listening and learning,” by Marla Pierson Lester, published on June 29, 2018 in A Common Place.

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As a participant in MCC’s Seed program, Albin Sanchez of La Cumbre, Valle de Cauca, Colombia, supported the work of MCC partner Sembrandopaz in Libertad from 2016 to 2018. Sembrandopaz, an organization that promotes peace, justice, reconciliation and holistic development, works with communities in projects to empower youth and promote sustainable agriculture and supports communities as they advocate for justice and peace.

Around the world, MCC partners with local organizations, communities and churches in projects that empower and equip people to work for change for themselves and their neighbours.

MCC’s Seed program brings together teams of young adults, ages 20 to 30, from around the world to live in local communities and serve with churches or MCC partners such as Sembrandopaz for two years.

Building the skills of others, along with listening and reflecting individually and as a group, are cornerstones of the program.

In a world where tangible tasks and goal-setting are prized, Seed asks young people to enter a community with as few expectations as possible — to not assume they know what is best for the community or even what is most needed — and to spend the first few weeks investing intense effort in listening, learning and building relationships with local people.

As Albin Sanchez returned to his Mennonite Brethren church and community of La Cumbre, Colombia, after serving in the Seed program for two years, he carried with him lessons from this time — from how to treat others with deep respect to seeing how people maintain hope even in the face of steep challenges.

“Thinking in a spiritual way, I can see Jesus in the people — a humble, simple Jesus that can relate to anybody,” he says. “Even though I’m from the outside, they welcomed me as a son. I see Jesus reflected in this warmth.”

Like other MCC assignments that include living in a community or with a host family, service in Seed is holistic — encompassing aspects of life far beyond a job description.

Sembrandopaz is an organization that promotes peace, justice, reconciliation and holistic development, works with communities in projects to empower youth and promote sustainable agriculture, and supports communities as they advocate for justice and peace.

Eyes, ears – and a voice – in Washington

by Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

MCC’s Washington Office is turning 50 this month. This week Ottawa Notebook shares reflections on those 50 years. This story was originally published on June 26, 2018 by Mennonite World Review

In the Feb. 27, 1968, Gospel Herald, Mennonite leader Guy F. Hershberger reflected on why there should be a “Mennonite office” in Washington. He noted the “emergency” in May 1967, when Congress nearly passed legislation that would have placed conscientious objectors under the purview of the military.

“We discovered that many congressmen did not know us as well as we — and they — thought they did,” he wrote.

This incident, along with the work of Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam during the war, helped to persuade Mennonites that they should have “eyes and ears” in Washington. And so, 50 years ago this July, MCC’s Peace Section opened its Washington Office, led by Delton Franz.

Some Anabaptists were not sure MCC should have an office in Washington, preferring to remain “quiet in the land.” But in reality, Mennonite leaders had been meeting regularly with U.S. government officials on the issue of conscientious objection. From 1940 to 1967, Mennonite leaders testified 13 times before congressional committees on the issue.

“Our traditional willingness to testify when our own interests were involved,” observed the executive committee of MCC’s Peace Section in 1966, “has led to suggestions that we should also be willing to testify when the rights of others are involved. Constituent groups have expressed a growing concern that witness to the state should be a dimension of our service of Christian compassion.”

In its early years, the MCC office focused on the draft, military spending vs. human needs, global economic justice, domestic poverty, racial justice and religious liberty. While we still work on some of these topics, there have been shifts. The office’s current priorities reflect MCC’s domestic and international work, including immigration, mass incarceration, North Korea, Nigeria and the Syria crisis. In each of these areas, there is still a great need for “Christian compassion” in the political sphere.

When the office opened, many saw it as representing “the” Mennonite voice in Washington. Of course, Mennonites have never been of one mind on political issues. Mennonite agencies and individuals have increasingly advocated directly with the U.S. government on issues ranging from health care to education to peace and security.

Our office is no longer just a listening post but monitors and analyzes policies, facilitates meetings for MCC staff and constituents and encourages church members to be advocates themselves. As we carry out these activities, we listen to and learn from churches and partners in the U.S. and around the world.

In its earlier years, the office saw one of its main activities as sponsoring seminars for Mennonites in Washington. Some seminars drew more than 100 participants. Today, we have found there is not as much demand for MCC seminars, as many more conferences vie for people’s attention. So we partner with other Christian organizations to sponsor “Ecumenical Advocacy Days” each spring and meet with school and church groups who come to Washington.

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Hyun Hur of ReconciliAsian, Samuel Resendez of Iglesia La Roca and Rhonda Dueck of North Fresno (Calif.) Mennonite Brethren Church speak with California Rep. Judy Chu’s aides, Krystal Ka’ai and Rricha Mathur, as part of an immigration delegation in February. — Danielle Gonzales/MCC

Have we changed?

One concern expressed when the office was opened was that Washington would change Mennonites more than Mennonites would change Washington. It is a valid concern. Our staff take regular retreat days to remind ourselves of our rootedness in Christ and the reason we do this work.

But there is also some hubris in assuming our voice is unique and should not change. In his Gospel Herald article, Hershberger argued Mennonites have a “more sound theological base” than other peace groups.

Anabaptists do have important contributions to make to the discussions in Washington. But these days, it is frequently our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues who push us to think about what peace looks like.

We also have much that we can continue to learn about advocacy by and with — not just on behalf of — people who are on the margins. These voices are within our churches and outside them. This past February, many of the church leaders who came to Washington to advocate for better immigration policies spoke from firsthand experience.

MCC’s connections to communities directly impacted by U.S. policies provide integrity to our advocacy. On a recent trip to Lebanon, one of MCC’s partners said, “We partner with you not only for your [financial] support, but for your advocacy.” In recent months, MCC staff who traveled to Syria and North Korea were able to share their experiences with congressional offices.

U.S. policymakers may not always follow our recommendations, but they know us better than they once did.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach is director for the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

“In Search of a Better World:” A revolution of empathy

“We cannot remain comfortably detached from the painful realities and urgent challenges [of our time] … There can be no meaningful change if we choose to look down at the arena of anguish from thirty thousand feet,” Payam Akhavan, In Search of a Better World: A human rights odyssey, 5-6.

Today’s world is facing a seemingly never-ending stream of conflicts and human-made humanitarian crises. It is exhausting and disheartening to even follow the news and the stories of suffering. On top of this, the punditry and competing narratives – often steeped in self-interest and cynicism – brings further the division and dehumanization of suffering. It is difficult to even imagine a way forward.

At high-level decision-making tables in Canada and around the world, policy makers and pundits debate potential solutions. There are no shortages of experts, theories and summits, but the suffering persists. Of course, there has been significant globally-led change and collaboration aimed at alleviating suffering, yet so many crises protract for years or even decades, while new crises continue to emerge.

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Dr. Payam Akhavan Aug. 29, 2016 in Toronto. Photo by Peter Bregg CM, from McGill University profile

McGill International Law Professor and human rights activist Payam Akhavan, the 2017 CBC Massey Lecturer, has spent much of his career in these high-level bodies, addressing human-made atrocities. He has served as legal counsel on numerous international courts, including the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and in The Hague for the International Court of Justice.

Yet, Akhavan argues there is a significant element missing from many of these high-level conversations: addressing such crises from the foundation of our common humanity, coupled with a deep and personal knowledge of human suffering – moving forward with a revolution of empathy.

A resolution cannot fit in a neat policy package made “at thirty thousand feet,” comfortably detached from human suffering. The policy expertise is, of course, indispensable, but without a foundation of humanity and empathy, Akhavan envisions that even the most well-thought-out plans will fall short.

In his Massey lectures and accompanying book, In Search of a Better World: A human rights odyssey, Akhavan brings readers on a journey through his own suffering – fleeing persecution in Iran– to his career, encountering the aftermaths of atrocities. Through the lens of common humanity, he examines human rights laws, mechanisms for pursuing justice, and the Will to Intervene – for the long-run.

In the world of human rights policy, it is easy to be engulfed with analysis and punditry at the expense of humanization. There is a temptation to divide players into simple categories – “allies” and “enemies” –succumbing to the inevitability of conflict, all while making grand proclamations about the future.

Bringing perspectives and stories of common humanity to the table is not about warming the hearts of policy makers. Instead, Akhavan is calling for a significant shift in how policy ideas are conceived and developed, factoring in an understanding of suffering, with its complexities. It is about muddying the waters where policy options once seemed clear, and laying the foundation for the long road of change.

As I listened to Akhavan’s words I found myself nodding along, laughing, crying, feeling despair, but also a deep sense of solidarity and hope. I found it easy to make the connection with MCC and our work – first to embrace the Christian principle of recognizing that all human beings are made in the image of God. And second, in peacebuilding, engaging local partners, seeking just and genuine relationships.

Working in MCC Ottawa’s Advocacy Office, I regularly find myself engulfed in policy-speak and political commentary. Yet, it’s always been the human connections – visiting people face to face, hearing stories, seeing the image of God in everyone – that truly fuel my own passion and pursuit of justice and peace. An empathy-based approach is not about feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It is about seeking a common humanity, in all its complexities, and creating spaces to imagine the road to justice.

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A perfect example from the ground: Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. Violette leads a program that brings together local people, particularly women, of different faith traditions, to share and preserve their common Palestinian heritage with activities like embroidery. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

“In a world of dizzying distractions and endless entertainment, where even suffering has been reduced to a spectacle, we must rediscover the profound power of the everyday, of heartfelt compassion, of the transcendent healing connections that transform our impoverished culture of indifference from the bottom up. The political pendulum swings intermittently from the superficial sentimentality of liberals to the populist rage of demagogues, and we imagine foolishly that we can trust those in power to bring about meaningful change. Such apathy is the best accomplice of evil in the world. We need to take more seriously the immense impact of our own empathy, of our own engagement – of our responsibility both to comfort those who suffer and to awaken those who suffer from too much comfort. Just as the oppressed must be made whole, so too must the complacent…The cure that a world groaning from emptiness needs most is a grassroots conspiracy of authenticity, implemented by transactions of selfless beauty,” Akhavan, In Search of a Better World, 333-334.

Moving together: Exploring our shared humanity

Today’s blog post is a re-post from MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog, specifically a photo essay from MCC LACA’s Anna Vogt. In today’s political climate, it seems more important than ever to tell the stories of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and people on the move in order to recognize and share our common humanity.

Moving Together

Come on a journey with us to explore our common humanity with migrants, their families, and helpers, across Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout this photo essay, you will find links that lead back to our blog for more information about the stories and people, our neighbours, featured throughout.

Anna Vogt is the Regional Advocacy Support and Context Analyst for MCC LACA.

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.

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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.

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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. 

$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