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.

nukefreenow-620x310

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

From a bunker to a ban: the new push to abolish nuclear weapons

If you’ve never had a chance to wander the eerie, underground halls of the once top-secret Diefenbunker, you should put this on your bucket list.

Built in 1959 during the height of the Cold War, this four-story bomb shelter—located evacuation-distance from downtown Ottawa and made to withstand a 5-megaton blast—was intended to serve as emergency government headquarters for 535 Canadian political and military officials in the event of a nuclear attack.

The bunker, colloquially named after former Prime Minister Diefenbaker, was never used for its intended purpose. Thankfully, it never needed to be.

Walking through the bunker is like being in a time-warp. The iconic blast tunnel leads to 300 rooms filled with vintDiefenbunkerage typewriters and telephones, cryptographic areas, a shower room to wash off nuclear contamination, and a war Cabinet room—all hearkening back to a time when the fear of nuclear catastrophe gripped politicians and citizens alike.

Today, public angst has diminished. School children aren’t receiving lessons on how to “duck and cover” in the event of nuclear war. There is a virtual media blackout on the topic. And the bunker, a fascinating relic of our Cold War past, is now a public museum.

And yet when it comes to nuclear weapons, unfortunately there is still plenty to be worried about.

Though they belong in the dust-bin of history, there are still over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals—nearly 5,000 of which are launch ready, and almost 2,000 of which are on high-alert status.

A few weeks ago, I attended Rendezvous-Ottawa 2014—a two-day conference on nuclear abolition hosted by various organizations such as the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Project Ploughshares, and Mines Action Canada.

For two, chock-full days, we heard about the impacts of nuclear weapons, exploottawa-clear1ring the inability of any city to respond with effective emergency relief after a detonation, and learning about the long-term and far-reaching devastation to ecosystems and human health (a.k.a. nuclear famine) in the nasty wake of an explosion.

I must admit that by noon on the first day, my spirits were a little dampened.

The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons—utterly indiscriminate in effect—are catastrophic.

The world is rapidly changing, and the incremental reduction of nuclear weapons is not working. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction is no longer a viable argument—if, indeed, it ever was—for keeping these (insane) weapons in the world’s arsenals. The possibilities for nuclear Armageddon due to system malfunction, human error, a rogue launch, or weapons-capture by extremist non-state actors mean we continue to walk the razor’s edge.

Yet power politics, state intransigence, the profit-driven military industrial complex, and lack of public awareness create obstacles to getting rid of these weapons once and for all.

So, how do we revive the conversation? Well, there was also good news at this conference.

Disarmament efforts continue in earnest, with the humanitarian imperative becoming the rallying cry for renewed attention. When you leave discussions to technical experts in our state capitals, it is easy to get stuck in the weeds. But when the need to abolish nuclear weapons is framed as a humanitarian issue, we all become experts.

Given that nuclear weapons states are in violation of their commitments under Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—they are required to eliminate their nuclear weapons, not spend obscene amounts of money modernizing their arsenals!—many civil society groups are pushing for a global ban on the weapon.

And when civil society gets behind something, magic can happen.

Ottawa is the site of the historic landmine ban treaty. When it was negotiated in 1997, civil society groups successfully argued that the humanitarian impacts of landmines far outweighed any military benefit these weapons offered in combat. This same argument helped drive the international ban on cluster bombs roughly ten years later.

Banning these weapons has had significant ripple effects. A robust treaty calling for an unequivocal ban on landmines ultimately helped stigmatize this indiscriminate weapon, leading even non-party states (like the U.S.) to adapt to new norms in military theater.

Can a ban on nuclear weapons do the same?

nukefreenow-620x310

Courtesy of ICAN

The International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) believes it could. They suggest a “ban treaty“—a legally binding instrument to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling, and deployment of nucs—could be important even without the participation of the permanent members of the Security Council.

Such a treaty could not, of course, force nuclear weapons states to do anything. But it would lift up a global norm to project into the public and, in doing so, give a boost to other ongoing disarmament efforts (after all, it’s a lot easier to prevent the proliferation of weapons when they are considered illegal!). A ban treaty could stand alongside ongoing efforts to achieve a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention.

Where is Canada in all of this?

Back in 2010, the government unanimously passed a historic motion made by the House and the Senate “to engage in negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention as proposed by the United Nations Secretary-General” and “to deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament.”

Canada has never taken concrete steps to implement this motion. It is not a foreign policy priority. In fact, Canada has been increasingly out of step with international efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Can the humanitarian angle be a catalyst for dusting the cobwebs off of this conversation and generate the momentum we need?

By Jenn Wiebe, Interim Ottawa Office Director

**See the fall special issue of the Ploughshares Monitor on nuclear disarmament for further reading!

 

Loving my neighbour, paying my taxes

Tax season for 2014 ended last week. In the spirit of the season, Greg deGroot-Maggetti prepared this week’s guest blog. Greg lives in Kitchener, Ontario where he works for MCC Ontario as People in Poverty Program Coordinator. Greg regularly blogs at http://povertyfreeontario.blogspot.ca/

Have you ever saved someone’s life? I have. Or at least I helped save someone’s life.

About ten years ago, a neighbour of mine contracted flesh eating disease.  There were weeks when she was in hospital and we did not know whether she would live or die.

Photo: Alamy, theguardian.com

Photo: Alamy, theguardian.com

I’m happy to say that my neighbour is alive today. In fact, I was just chatting with her and her husband the other day. We were talking about the coming of spring and gardening after a long and cold winter.

The coming of spring also reminds me of how I helped her pull through that deadly disease.

I’m not a doctor. And I had no direct hand in saving my neighbour’s life. I simply helped make sure she got the best medical care possible. You probably did too.

The way I helped save my neighbour’s life was by paying my taxes.

It’s one of the most powerful reminders for me of why I pay taxes.

TaxesIn the current political culture, it seems as if the best thing governments can do for us is offer tax cuts. I wonder if that really is the best we can do. I know people who cannot afford to see a dentist or pay for the prescriptions they need. I’d be happy to defer a tax cut to see dental and pharmacare added to our public health system. And I’d rather see more affordable housing built.

It might be hard to imagine paying taxes as one of the ways we love our neighbours. But for me, I have at least one living example of how it is.

 

Beyond the limits of efficiency and accountability

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director

In an interview on CBC Radio’s The House on July 7, 2012, Canada’s new Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, described his priorities for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA):

“I’ll be looking for efficiencies… insuring that every nickel of taxpayer money is spent for the right reasons, that we have accountability, and that we… achieve the optimum results with taxpayer money.”

In this respect he made it clear that he would be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Bev Oda, whose speeches and press releases made frequent use of words such as “efficiencies” and “accountability.”

These words were still ringing in my ears a few days later when I presented a paper at a conference held at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school outside of Chicago, Illinois. Entitled Prophet in the Technological Wilderness, the conference was organized by the International Jacques Ellul Society to mark the centenary of the birth of Ellul, a French sociologist and theologian who died in 1994.

Wheaton is in the process of adding Ellul’s vast collection of published and unpublished writings to its archives, joining the papers of other prominent Christian leaders and writers such as Billy Graham and Frederick Buechner.

Ellul is known for his trenchant commentaries on both biblical texts and his social context. The latter focused primarily on the dominance of what he termed technique—that is, the pursuit of efficiency that is embodied in not only in technological devices and systems, but in all human activities. Contemporary society, he argued, has become preoccupied with finding the “one best means” in everything that we do.

What, you may be wondering, is the problem with that? Who could be against trying to be more efficient, especially when resources are growing scarcer and needs are growing larger?

According to Ellul, the problem with the dominance of technique—with our obsession with things such as efficiency and accountability—is that it inhibits the proper consideration of the ends we are pursuing. He goes so far as to describe this inhibition as a state of tyranny, because individuals and communities no longer have the freedom to choose means other than those dictated by the outcome of (apparently) rational analysis.

Ellul’s analysis poses a challenge not only to how Christians conceive of governmental bureaucracies such as CIDA, but how we conceive of our own work. It speaks to MCC as well as Minister Fantino!

After all, if Mennonites are ever tempted by the vice of pride, it might be for our frugality, for our ability to do “more with less,” as the title of a well-known cookbook published by MCC puts it. And if Mennonites are ever tempted by the vice of wrath, it might be when we encounter incompetence or corruption.

To be clear, I don’t think that Ellul’s point was that we should be satisfied with wastefulness, incompetence, or corruption. We should never celebrate careless thinking or willful deceit.

His primary concern was that we should never think that effectiveness depends entirely on our own actions. We should resist the illusion that we can fully grasp how to best improve our methodologies.

For Ellul, the solution to the problem of the tyranny of technique, indeed, the solution to all problems, is Christ. Our freedom, our very salvation, depends on the work that Christ accomplishes, not the work of our own hands and minds. Christ is the one best means that relativizes all other means, putting them in their proper place.

The lesson for institutions such as MCC and, dare I say, even CIDA, is that we should avoid letting our efforts to improve the way we work become ends in themselves. True effectiveness means that we must subordinate the pursuit of efficiency and accountability to the greater ends that we seek.

Budget debates: Why have Canadian charities not been more politically engaged?

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director

The government has introduced a myriad of changes in its budget implementation bill that are currently being debated by Parliamentarians. One relatively obscure set of changes impacts the charitable sector, modifying the Income Tax Act to enable the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to give more scrutiny to the political activity of registered charities.

What should Canadians who support charitable organizations such as MCC think about this?

In part because these changes have been perceived to be targeting environmental organizations, they have gotten a fair bit of coverage in the media. After all, they were introduced soon after Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver accused “environmental and other radical groups” of trying to use money from “foreign special-interest groups” to hijack review hearings for the proposed Gateway pipeline.

And, during a special Senate debate, Senator Donald Plett went so far as to suggest that environmentalists would take money from Al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Taliban.

Thus the message conveyed by the news headlines is one of great concern:

While there are reasons for concern over the potential impact of this legislation, I don’t think speculating over the government’s motivation is of much use. I do, however, think that this debate provides the opportunity to learn something important about advocacy.

Let’s be clear at the outset: the budget implementation bill does not change the definition of political activities for registered charities, or the amount of political activity that is permitted.

So, it is still appropriate for a charity to, as CRA regulations put it, “explicitly communicate a call to political action,” or “encourage the public to contact an elected representative or public official” in order to “retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country.”

Indeed, the CRA actually frames political activity in a positive way. Rather than describing advocacy as a threat, or of minimal importance, the government provides an eloquent rationale for why charities should be politically engaged:

Through their dedicated delivery of essential programs, many charities have acquired a wealth of knowledge about how government policies affect people’s lives. Charities are well placed to study, assess, and comment on those government policies….

Beyond service delivery, their expertise is also a vital source of information for governments to help guide policy decisions. It is therefore essential that charities continue to offer their direct knowledge of social issues to public policy debates [italics added].

Finally, I would emphasize that the key restrictions imposed by the government on the political activities of charities also remain unchanged going forward: these activities must not be illegal, must not be partisan, and must not consume more than 10% of a charity’s resources.

Judging from data collected by the CRA, charities are far from approaching this limit. Less than 1% of all Canadian charities report spending any money on political activities. And the total amount of money spent by the sector as a whole on political activity is approximately 0.2% — one fifth of one percent — of overall revenue.

This is certainly a long way from the 10% limit!

So perhaps the first question this debate should prompt is not to ask why the government is restricting the advocacy efforts of charities. Canadian law continues to provide considerable space for this dimension of their work.

Perhaps the first question is to ask why charitable organizations have been spending so little on advocacy.

Why have Canadian charities not been more politically engaged?

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director