Joe Gunn

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

November 17, 2014

The events of Wednesday, Oct. 22 shocked the nation. Gunshots on Parliament Hill? Soldiers killed? Could that happen in Canada?

The events in Ottawa that day unsettled me. Two of my female staff colleagues at Citizens for Public Justice had been invited to the Hill that morning, and were stuck in the security lockdown with members of Parliament until 9 p.m.

As the hours wore on, we couldn't understand why they were not allowed to go safely home, if indeed the situation was under control. Canadians grappled with confusion and grief, hoping for events to be somehow explained, throughout the endless rounds of repeated "news."

CPJ's work often takes us to Parliament Hill. The Friday before the shooting, for example, we were exactly where the gunman passed, to commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

On that occasion, Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson, MPP Yasir Naqvi and MP Paul Dewar joined our call for the federal government to develop a national plan to eradicate poverty.

In the two days previous to the shootings, we organized meetings with government ministers and party leaders for the president of the Lutheran World Federation and two other bishops.

I've already been back on the Hill this week to meet MPs and senators pushing for Canadian action to address climate change. We need more, not fewer, people of faith engaging in civic responsibility and action – on the Hill, and in all our communities.

Many of us did not recognize a Canada where such terrible violence erupted. We asked, "What has happened to our country?"

The more pointed question may be, "What has happened to us?"

Trying to make sense of these events in an interview I said, "We really need to think of what this means from our Christian values. Civic participation is worthwhile, and should go forward. Civil liberties and public safety, we need both.

"I know we're going to have debates in the House now about getting tough on crime, getting tough on terrorism, of course. But let's get tough on social injustice in Canada, too."

Terror can be unleashed anywhere, but the response of the Christian community should distinguish us.

Let all Christians denounce the horrible defacing of the Cold Lake mosque, proving we recognize the distinction between correlation and causation. As the president of the Canadian bishops stated, it is only "violent distortions of Islam" that cause misunderstanding and suffering – not the religion and its adherents.

ERADICATE POVERTY

Let's continue to demand our federal leaders develop a federal plan to eradicate poverty in Canada, and challenge why we are the only developed country without a national affordable housing plan. (Let's celebrate this week's success as Saskatchewan announced it would indeed develop a poverty plan.)

Ten years ago, the Canadian Catholic bishops called for a judicial inquiry into the horrible torture Canadian citizen Maher Arar received after being turned over to Syrian authorities. As a conference of judges and human rights experts noted one week after the Ottawa shootings, the government has yet to implement the inquiry's rulings and recommendations.

Legal experts concluded that the "review and oversight of agencies and departments involved in national security must be strengthened. . . . Otherwise, what exactly are we protecting?"

Accompanying the federal government's crackdown on terror, we also should call for equal measures of transparency and accountability. Omnibus Budget Bill C-43, introduced one day after the shootings, bundles several non-budgetary matters into its 460 pages.

BAD POLICY

Most egregious of these inclusions are provisions to allow provinces to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants. This bad policy was earlier presented as a private member's bill with minimal chance of support, but will now be forced through. Churches, immigrant service agencies and asylum claimants will be left to pick up the financial tab.

Our prayers go out to the families of all those injured, along with condolences to the families of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (killed in New Brunswick scant days before).

My own parish prayed the Prayer of St. Francis, "Make me an instrument of your peace. . . . Where there is hatred, let me bring your love; where there is injury, your pardon Lord."

It seems crucial for human souls to find meaning after such momentous public events – the greatest gift religious communities can offer.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)