We’ve got to be bold: Lessons from globally-renowned peacebuilders

What is Canada’s legacy?

Across the country in 2017, especially in Ottawa, this question seems unavoidable – everyone is talking about legacy. As we near the celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday, people are asking, what is our current legacy? What will future generations of Canadians say in 50, 100, or 150 years? We can’t escape it – on the barriers around construction sites, in city parks and at government events we see the signs: “Canada 150.”

By the time it’s over, 2017 will no doubt be a year of unending festivals, cheesy punch lines, and romanticized political speeches, glossing over complex and often disturbing elements of our history.

But beyond the fluff of “Canada 150” celebrations there is a real opportunity to build a legacy of leadership and peace in Canada and around the world. A legacy built on actions, not just words.

This was the challenge for Canada a few weeks ago from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. She was joined by fellow global renowned peacebuilder and human rights activist Yanar Mohammed, co-founder and President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

On April 12 I had the privilege of attending an event where Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matt DeCourcey and NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs Héne Laverdière joined Leymah and Yanar to discuss innovation in Canada’s development programming. The two global peacebuilders challenged Canada to be a leader when it comes to international assistance – funding and partnering with innovative grassroots organizations and individuals to promote peace and justice from the ground up.

Earlier that same day Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai had addressed Canadian Parliament upon receiving honourary Canadian citizenship. She praised some of Canada’s humanitarian commitments of recent years, all while challenging Canada to be a leader in supporting education for girls and young women as a means to promote development, peace, and a better world for all: “If Canada leads, the world will follow,” Malala said.

Leymah grabbed onto Malala’s message, challenging the Canadian government to put its money and resources where its mouth is. For Leymah and Yanar, this means funding grassroots women’s and human rights organizations. “There are 10,000 Malalas out there…we just need to find them!” Leymah said. The point that both women emphasized is that these grassroots peace, community development, and human rights organizations are showcasing innovation and action, getting things done.

It’s a common misconception that local organizations are sitting around, waiting for funding from Western governments and civil society organizations. But this is definitely not the case. People are always looking for ways to better their local communities and are doing so every day, in difficult circumstances and with few resources. What outside funding of these local initiatives does enable is for local champions and actors to expand their impact. At MCC we seek to partner with local organizations for the same reasons, and together support great work being done within communities around the world.

But where does the Government of Canada stand on funding local partners? That’s a good question!

Last spring and summer, MCC, along with dozens of other organizations and individuals, participated in the International Assistance Review, spearheaded by Global Affairs Canada and the Hon Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development. While the government has published some of the major feedback from the review, after almost a year there has yet to be any official policy tabled.

And what does Budget 2017 say about Canada’s commitment to international assistance? Not much! No new spending money has been allocated for Canada’s international assistance. The programming priorities can still shift, but by not increasing the overall spending Canada is taking zero steps in 2017 to move toward the internationally-recognized goal of 0.7% spending on Official Development Assistance. Yet in pre-budget consultations, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development identified this as a goal to be reached by 2030. Instead, Canada is staying at about 0.26% spending for international assistance, which is not much higher than our all-time low.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill Morneau hopes that organizations and groups will “do more with less,” as the government is focusing on increasing Foreign Direct Investment private sector initiatives, rather than investing more in grassroots peace and development organizations.

So, what does that mean? What should the direction of Canadian assistance funding be?

In the spirit of Canada 150, Leymah directed her comments to Parliamentary Secretary DeCourcey, sighting a joint Match International/Nobel Women’s Initiative campaign that challenges Canada to mark this historic year by making 150 new contributions to 150 small grassroots peace, development or human rights women’s organization around the world.

While genuine consultation and working with the grassroots communities takes time and flexibility, and it can be messy, the results speak for themselves: change and action from the ground up!

They urged the government to make Canada 150 count for something tangible.

Leymah and Yanar both see this year as the moment to speak out and act for the future. “A new legacy is waiting…It can be grabbed now, or by a future government!” Yanar challenged.

Now is the time: turn words into something tangible. Let’s make a new legacy of action!

Rebekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa. 

Another effort to hold mining companies to account

Rumour has it that the federal budget may come down sooner rather than later. Civil society organizations are hoping to see some positive policy signals when it’s tabled—from more money committed to international development, to the establishment of a federal ombudsperson for the extractives sector (the mining, oil and gas industry).

Establishing an ombudsperson with the power to investigate Canadian mining companies implicated in wrongdoing abroad is something experts have advised the government on since 2007.

Liberals supported the idea of an ombudsperson while they were in Opposition (in fact, four of the five political parties have supported it), and there has been chatter around Ottawa for the last few months that they’ve been “seriously reviewing” the creation of such a position.

This is welcome news.

Home to the majority of the world’s mining companies, Canada is a superpower in the global extractives industry, with thousands of active projects in more than 100 countries.

Marlin Mine

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. MCC photo by Anna Vogt

Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies have a mixed record. While mining has the potential to bring socioeconomic benefits to a host country, jobs are often short-lived, financial benefits to the economy meager (particularly in mining-rich areas), and communities not consulted. As our partners have told us, mining often displaces communities, destroys agricultural land, contaminates water, exacerbates social tensions, and leaves long-term ecological damage in its wake. What’s more, people who defend their rights often lack protection and are even targeted by threats of violence.

To promote the industry, the Canadian government provides strong diplomatic and financial support to mining companies in a variety of ways. And although the government has now implemented mandatory revenue disclosure requirements for mining, oil, and gas companies—something MCC actively supported—most of the accountability mechanisms in Canada are entirely voluntary in nature.

For this reason, Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy has been widely critiqued by civil society actors (and the UN) as falling short of what is needed to hold mining companies accountable to human rights, labour, and environmental standards.

How do people harmed by the overseas operations of Canadian extractive companies seek redress?

Currently, Canada has two mechanisms that can receive complaints by local communities—the Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (2009), and the OECD National Contact Point (2000).

From the outset, these mechanisms have been widely criticized as being toothless—lacking in independence, investigatory powers, and the ability to recommend sanctions for non-compliance. And, given that neither mechanism can obligate companies to participate (a rather significant problem!), they have not proven effective in resolving cases or curbing corruption.

Enter the Open for Justice Campaign—an initiative of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), KAIROS, Development aopen-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDnd Peace, and others. This campaign calls for the establishment of an independent extractives-sector ombudsperson, as well as legislated access to Canadian courts for people seriously harmed by overseas mining operations (which is really gaining steam, thanks to recent high-profile court decisions).

Last spring, over 50 Canadian civil society organizations, including MCC, became signatories to a public statement that echoed these calls.

An effective ombudsperson—operating at arms length from the government—would have the power to investigate complaints, recommend the suspension of government support to companies found in non-compliance, and be mandated to perform these functions regardless of a company’s willingness to participate.

In the fall, the CNCA even launched model legislation—the Global Leadership in Business and Human Rights Actto provide the blueprint for creating such a non-judicial grievance mechanism.

Not only would this provide access-to-remedy for affected communities, but it could benefit companies in the long-run (we’ve even seen some pro-ombudsperson commentary from industry!). When extractive projects generate conflict, unless community grievances are effectively resolved, companies risk operating delays and negative publicity.

Through this, and other effective mechanisms that put human rights at the centre of the government’s approach, Canada can help facilitate an operating environment where responsible business practices are recognized and rewarded.

Of course, a more comprehensive review of the government’s CSR strategy would be welcomed. Given Canada’s status as a global mining power, it ought to be part of a rigorous foreign policy debate.

In the meantime, please let your MP know that you support the establishment of an independent and effective ombudsperson office to oversee Canadian mining, oil and gas projects abroad

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Director

Will Canada “be back” as a disarmament champion?

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines—a disarmament effort that radically curtailed global use (and virtually eliminated trade) of a lethal and indiscriminate weapon.

Canada’s political leadership was front-and-centre in this historic achievement.images1

Since then, great international strides have been made to establish agreements and norms against other weapons that cause grievous suffering to civilians.

Following the model of the landmine treaty, cluster bombs were categorically banned a decade later in Norway. And, in 2014, the Arms Trade Treaty became the first (and long overdue!) global agreement regulating the trade and transfer of conventional arms.

Where is Canada in all of this? Well, in the twenty years since the Ottawa Treaty captured the world’s attention, Canada’s disarmament leadership has waned.

Once a major donor in mine action, Canada’s funding dropped significantly after 2010. Then, in 2015, the previous government passed (with little political fallout) widely-condemned cluster munitions ratification legislation that contravened the spirit and letter of the Convention. And, to date, Canada is the only country of all 28 NATO members not to have signed the landmark Arms Trade Treaty.

While we have seen “sunny ways” on various issues since last fall, there has been barely a whisper on disarmament…until last week.

At a speech in Toronto on October 28 during Disarmament Week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion acknowledged Ottawa’s historic role in banning landmines, and signaled a number of government priorities for arms control and disarmament—some positive, some a bit ambiguous, and some not-so-good.

Acknowledging the rather troubling fact that Canada has yet to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty, Dion promised to make good on his mandate by “introducing the legislation necessary to join the ATT in the House of Commons by the end of this year.”

Civil society will be eagerly awaiting its full ratification into Canadian law.

06B18LancerCBU2Dion also recognized the need to “make more progress in the elimination of cluster munitions.” Though decidedly short on details, this is welcome news if it means Canada will increase investments in land clearance and victims assistance (as it did recently for landmines in Colombia).

Less welcome, however, is the government’s inaction on closing the controversial legal loophole that allows joint military operations with countries outside the treaty. Such inaction is curious considering that while in Opposition, the Liberals and NDP pushed (unsuccessfully) for amendments that would have categorically ruled out any connection to the use of these lethal weapons.

But the most problematic? Canada’s take on nuclear weapons.

According to Dion’s speech, a ban on nukes—the most indiscriminate, disproportionate, and destructive of all weapons (of which there are still over 15,000)—seems to be a utopian dream.

Canada recently voted against a widely-supported UN resolution to start a process towards negotiations for a legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons—backing instead the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty as the “more realistic” approach.

Minister Dion argues a ban isn’t possible, isn’t practical, and is divisive. Disarmament activists, however, argue that the world is rapidly changing, and the step-by-step approach to reducing nuclear arsenals is not only tired, it’s completely broken.

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Courtesy of ICAN

As billions continue to be spent modernizing nuclear arsenals, a ban is needed. And we should be under no illusion that there will ever be a “perfect” security environment in which to undertake this Herculean task.

Decades ago, a total ban on landmines would have been unthinkable—arguments about national security, military necessity, and their importance in joint military operations were used then, as they are now. Yet the thinkable became possible thanks, in part, to the standard-setting leadership Canada took in advancing humanitarian considerations, even in the face of aggressive opposition from allies.

Indeed, implementing an unequivocal ban on landmines helped contribute to the broad stigmatization of the weapon and encouraged even non-party states to adapt to new norms in military theater.

As a Project Ploughshares staff once said, “advocating arms control and disarmament is an incremental, often tedious activity with surprisingly rapid and successful exceptions—like the Ottawa Process.”

Big change can happen when there is political will.

Does Canada have the will to “be back” as a disarmament champion?

By Jenn Wiebe, Director of the Ottawa Office

Pursue Peace: Recommendations for Canada’s International Assistance Review

Summer is typically a time for rest and relaxation in Ottawa. Parliamentarians head home to their ridings, and civil servants can, at least in theory, breathe a little easier.

Not this summer.

The government’s wheels have been turning madly these past few months. With public consultations launched on defence, immigration, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, electoral reform, climate change, prison farms, Canada Post, innovation, accessible transportation, and the list goes on (check out the “Consulting with Canadians” website for the whole kit and caboodle), it’s been hard to keep it all straight!

All of this busy activity is, of course, very welcome. Particularly welcome for MCC and our int-assistance-reviewcivil society colleagues is the (rather historic) International Assistance Review, launched by Minister Bibeau on May 18th with the aim of creating an international assistance policy and funding framework that will “help the poorest and most vulnerable, and support fragile states, while advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.”

Civil society has long been chomping at the bit for an opportunity like this.

As the most comprehensive examination of Canadian development policy in 20 years, this public review—launched with an accompanying Discussion Paper—provides the government with the opportunity to chart out new priorities, directions, and approaches for responding creatively to the full array of challenges facing our world today.

From mid-May until July’s end, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) hosted a flurry of in-person consultations featuring dynamic break-out sessions on the discussion paper’s six themes. As part of the reimg_20160628_150224view, MCC—like partners such as Mines Action Canada, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Food Security Policy Group, Coalition on Climate Change & Development, etc.—not only participated in various consultations, but provided a more substantive written submission to Global Affairs.

In this submission, MCC made recommendations relating to humanitarian response; peace and security; funding and partnerships; and policy coherence across Canada’s development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas.

More specifically, we encouraged GAC to:

  1. Integrate disaster risk reduction more effectively into programming and funding mechanisms across all branches in order to reduce risk of disaster and promote poverty alleviation (pages 2-3);
  2. Increase investments in conflict prevention initiatives, strengthen support for peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions, and champion the women, peace, and security agenda (pages 3-6);
  3. Provide long-term, predictable, and flexible funding suitable to Canadian INGOs working with local grassroots organizations, and commit to growing Canada’s international assistance envelope with a clear timetable for reaching 0.7% of GNI (page 6);
  4. Ensure policy coherence across development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas serves to strengthen—rather than temper—Canada’s commitment to the interests of developing countries (pages 6-8);
  5. Generate a white paper that clearly articulates Canada’s priorities for the next five years as well as corresponding strategies, policies, and action plans it will develop to implement that framework (page 8).

Given MCC’s experience working in conflict zones around the world, peacebuilding was a particularly important priority (recommendation 2, pages 3-6). We strongly affirmed Global Affairs’ prioritization of peace as a stand-alone, strategic orientation for Canada’s international assistance programming, and urged the government to integrate a conflict sensitivity lens across all of Canada’s development strategies, regardless of the sector.

More specifically, first we strongly encouraged the government to invest in conflict prevention initiatives that seek to resolve, manage, or contain disputes before they become violent. In the same way that a long-term commitment to strengthening disaster risk reduction can build resilience and strengthen peoples’ capacity to deal with unexpected shocks, early intervention is the most effective way to prevent violent conflict from erupting.

Second, MCC called for greater support for civil society groups and religious and img_20160628_132326community leaders seeking to address ethnic and religious divisions through innovative peacebuilding and conflict transformation programs. In regions of ongoing violence, it is critical that local communities have strategies to resolve and prevent identity-based conflicts before they lead to sectarian violence.

Third, MCC encouraged greater investment in initiatives that provide access to safe education and psychosocial support for children and families traumatized by violence, displacement, and social upheaval.

Finally, MCC called on Global Affairs to champion the women, peace, and security agenda. Understanding the gender dimensions of armed conflict and peacebuilding is essential because of the demonstrable impacts that women’s meaningful participation in peace processes has on the successful implementation of agreements at the community level.

We’re certainly mindful of the hefty task before Global Affairs to take careful consideration of ideas put forward across the country and to translate them into (what will hopefully be) concrete policies, tools, and programs.

As Parliament resumes next week and kicks House business back into high gear, the consultation wheels will continue to turn. Word around Ottawa is that the outcomes of this review (rumoured to be completed before the end of 2016) will inform Budget 2017.

As they say, the proof will be in the pudding. And we will eagerly be waiting to see how it tastes.

Click here to read MCC’s full submission.

Jenn Wiebe is MCC Ottawa Office director

 

Advocacy, living water and a prayer for parliamentarians

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:10, 14

If Jesus offered you a drink of “living water” what would you hope to receive from it? What would you need from the water?

These were questions asked by Kati Garrison from MCC’s liaison office at the UN in New York, as she led a devotional during a recent gathering of staff from MCC’s three advocacy offices (Ottawa, Washington and the UN). Kati was reflecting on the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well — a passage  made familiar by Sunday School and the occasional sermon — and relating it to the work of advocacy.

I personally have never really considered what it might mean for me to receive “living water.” And in particular, what support and strengthening do I need for working in advocacy?

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Staff from MCC’s advocacy offices pose in front of famous words from Isaiah, near the United Nations offices in New York.  MCC photo/Doug Hostetter

Each participant at the gathering was encouraged to write their response on a piece of paper shaped like a drop of water and to place it in an empty pitcher. At a later point, we were each invited to receive some “living water” by returning to the pitcher and removing a drop. I had written “hope” on the drop I deposited and found “peace” on the drop I received. May I offer hope to those needing an advocate and may I find peace for the long journey that is advocacy.

Kati also encouraged us to remember that it was to a Samaritan woman that Jesus first offered a drink of living water. She was someone the disciples viewed as “other.” In our current contexts, who do we view as “other”? How can we see past their “otherness” to see one another as human beings and find God’s light in each other?

In our work in advocacy, it is often all too easy to see politicians as “other.” We sometimes forget that they are people, too, struggling with difficult decisions and challenges. Sometimes we only see them as the government or part of a particular political party and not as individuals like ourselves seeking to make a difference in the world. Occasionally we may even see parliamentarians and civil servants as part of the problems we are seeking to solve or the challenge we are trying to overcome, rather than a part of the solution as God intended.

The Peace Tower at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

In less than two weeks, parliamentarians will be returning to Ottawa to resume the first session of the 42nd Parliament. Here in the Ottawa Office we will be watching a number of government initiatives including: a possible peacekeeping mission in Africa, the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, the government’s ongoing response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and next steps following consultations and reviews around international humanitarian assistance and defence. As we monitor these and other issues, we will also be praying for those “others” that we may hear each other, understand each other, and find God’s light in one another.

Lord,

Thank you for the gift of living water and the love, hope, peace, courage, trust, patience, community, and so much more that it provides. As we receive this gift may we also find ways to be “living water” for others. May we offer hope, understanding, strength, compassion, love, and light to those we meet and interact with each day as we seek to make this world a better place.

We pray for parliamentarians who face long days filled with meetings, debates and events, while away from their families for weeks at a time. Grant them strength and wisdom to make difficult decisions around complex issues. May they have the patience to hear the voices of all those concerned. May we see them as individual people seeking to serve the people of Canada and not just part of a particular party or system.

We pray for government officials and civil servants that they may receive wisdom as they advise members of Parliament, understanding as they work to implement government decisions and policies, and patience as they strive to work within systems that do not always value people.

We pray for all the support staff working in the high pressure environment of Parliament Hill that they too may find strength, wisdom and patience as they assist with the work of government.

May God’s light shine through each of us, casting away the shadows so that we may truly be revealed to each other.

AMEN

By Monica Scheifele, program assistant in the Ottawa Office.

 

Disarming Conflict: A book review

Disarming Conflict: Why peace cannot be won on the battlefield. By Ernie Regehr. Between the Lines, 2015.

Reviewed by Jennifer Wiebe, director of the Ottawa Office. This review originally appeared in The Catalyst.

“Peace, no less than politics, is the art of the possible,” writes Ernie Regehr (O.C.). Regehr is widely respected as a peace researcher, security and disarmament specialist, and co-founder of Project Ploughshares. In this book, he unravels our deeply-entrenched assumptions about both the inevitability and efficacy of military force in resolving conflict.

Regehr’s personal convictions naturally inform his work. But the thesis of Disarming Conflict doesn’t hinge on moral arguments against war. Therein lies its strength. It is meticulously researched and rigorous in its analysis. Regehr is concerned with what actually works for achieving peace and stability.

DisarmingConflict (300x450)The first half of the book examines the ways in which military force has been “predictably ineffective” in settling highly complex political disputes over that last quarter century. After spreading loss and destruction, the overwhelming majority (85%) of intrastate and international wars end in a desperate military stalemate. They are then settled at the same negotiating tables avoided at the outset.

The second half of the book shifts to Regehr’s central theme of “disarming conflict.” It lays out practical prescriptions for preventing and de-escalating war. This includes political diplomacy, human security, small arms control, nuclear disarmament, and the protection of vulnerable populations through peace support operations.

For any self-proclaimed “realist” who may be inclined to dismiss anything written by a peace activist, this is no work of utopian fantasy. Disarming Conflict is evidence-based and entirely practical. It challenges the myth that there are no real alternatives to violence for achieving regional, national, and global interests.

Effectively realizing these alternatives requires a major shift away from devoting the lion’s share of our political and financial resources on the preparation for, and conduct of, war. Instead, we should invest in the kinds of nonviolent approaches and initiatives all-too-often sidelined in our national capitals. “It means building the conditions of positive peace as if our lives depended on it,” Regehr argues.

This book is essential reading for peace practitioners, military personnel, policy makers, ordinary citizens, and skeptics alike!

Praying by the prison, Part 2

By Randy Klassen, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Canada.

Does our place make a difference to our praying? That’s the question that came to me one morning last fall, as I realized my morning prayer walk took me right across the river from Saskatoon’s federal prison, the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). How do my prayers take my location, my community, into account? Christians are often taught a posture of prayer with eyes closed—but if that also teaches us to shut our minds to the realities of life in our neighbourhood or our nation, our praying will be not only blind, but lame.

bread

I see things differently now. I am reminded that the Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer—and that for many in the praying community (whether the disadvantaged in my city, or across the globe, or behind prison walls), access to food is a very live issue. And more: for all of us, food issues involve and implicate us in complex global issues of economics and politics. In praying about bread, I am, indeed, reminded that my lifestyle, including my food habits (buying, growing, eating), have an impact on how God responds to this petition from others. Praying about bread is highly relevant, as it is the place where theology intersects with agri-business, commerce—and also justice.

So where do bread and our prisons intersect?

“Give us this day our daily bread.” One of the primary causes of inmate unrest and rioting is food service. Saskatchewan recently experienced this after the provincial prison system changed providers last summer, outsourcing to a large multinational catering company. The economic savings sound impressive: from about five or six dollars a meal (presumably including both food and labour) down to about three and a half dollars. But food quality was predictably down-graded. Regina saw significant protest; inmates in Prince Albert’s women’s prison also registered problems. The premier’s infamous response to the uproar resonated with many people: “If you don’t like the prison food, there’s one way to avoid it, and that’s don’t go to prison.” But such a response sadly lacks an understanding of the many downward currents in our society (notably, the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, insufficient social workers or foster caregivers to work with struggling families, or lack of employment and social programming in small communities) that suck people into criminality.

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A group of inmates discuss restorative justice at Dochester Penitentiary, News Brunswick. MCC photo/Shane Yuhas)

Premier Wall’s comment begs the question: should food be part of “punishment” in prison? A number of American prisons are known to serve so-called “disciplinary loaf” (also known as “nutraloaf”)—even though the American Correctional Association discourages its use (and Canada gave up the practice only about twenty years ago). Nutraloaf is designed to meet all nutritional needs, but rate exactly zero on any culinary scale—a tasteless lump of indeterminate composition and unpleasant ingestion (read here for one food critic’s take: “a thick orange lump of spite with the density and taste of a dumbbell”). It is controversial in American prisons (and even contested in court as “cruel and unusual punishment”), but continues to be baked up and served by blind Justice.

Closer to home, a group of people “concerned for the well being and dignity of prisoners in Canada” recently published an open letter to the federal government. A number of food-related issues are listed, including the following concerns:

We protest the high prices of food in prison. We decry the lack of expiration dates on all products in prison. We also protest the lack of training we receive inside prison to prepare healthy meals. Some prisoners in minimum or medium security institutions live in independent living units, where they are expected to prepare their own meals. They receive 35$ per week for food. With the high cost of food, that amount is insufficient.

Apparently for residents of Canadian prisons, the prayer for daily bread is no mere formality.

“Give us this day our daily… bison.” This prayer to the Creator would have epitomized the life of the ancestors of most of Saskatchewan’s prison inmates. Two centuries ago, bison were free and plentiful on the central plains of Turtle Island, and the First Nations of these territories centred their lives on the hunt and the generally plentiful provision of this food source. Then came the railways, the hunters from insatiable North American and European markets, and the unimaginable destruction of the herds (from tens of millions in the pre-contact era, to about one thousand left in 1889, only 85 of which were roaming free on the prairies). Like a series of falling dominoes, the 1870s and 1880s saw the bison wiped out, treaties signed, the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools established, railways built and settlers arriving in western Canada—all feeding the current situation of too many broken communities, and massive over-representation of Indigenous peoples in our prisons.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” A decade ago, six federal prisons operated their own farms. These became places of meaningful employment for inmates, they provided fresh milk and eggs for the community, and (for those working the dairy) gave opportunity to learn what it means to care for another living being. In 2010, the federal government announced it was closing these prison farms for economic reasons. The story of the protests regarding the closure of the Kingston (Ontario) dairy farm, has been well told in the documentary film “Til the Cows Come Home” (2014). And while it’s premature to say that the cows are finally coming home, on June 2 the federal government announced it was going to review and revisit the prison farm issue. This is exciting news that prison farm supporters have long awaited.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Many prisons have inmates working in their kitchens, learning food prep skills that are both restorative (building self-confidence and a sense of hope) and marketable. A few prisons in Europe have taken this to a higher level yet, opening up restaurants staffed by the incarcerated. The Clink (four sites in the UK) and InGalera (Milan, Italy) have each become gastronomic sensations in their own locales. They provide food service for the public and hope for the incarcerated. These are marvelous ways for God to pour—or should we say, knead—grace and mercy into this most basic of human needs:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

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MCC photo/Dave Klassen