SASKATOON — Justice Tour 2015 included a stop in Saskatoon April 15. Leaders from the Canadian Council of Churches and from Citizens for Public Justice visited the Saskatchewan city as part of a national effort to gather local input and perspectives on the issues of poverty and climate justice.
Justice Tour 2015 events were also held in Vancouver April 13, in Edmonton April 14 and in Winnipeg April 16, with the eastern leg of the national tour happening May 10 in Kitchener-Waterloo, May 11 in Halifax, and May 12 in Montreal, before concluding May 13 in Ottawa.
Canadian Council of Churches representatives leading the tour were Rev. Dr. Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Rev. Dr. Willard Metzger, executive director of the Mennonite Church Canada, and Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, general secretary, Canadian Council of Churches. Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, was also part of the event in Saskatoon.
“We want to hear what you are doing around poverty and around climate change and then take that forward,” said Hamilton, describing the goals of the Justice Tour.
“Our purpose here is to hear from you, to hear what you are doing, to hear what you want to say to church leaders, and what you want your leaders to say to the governing board of the Canadian Council of Churches and to the MPs when we are meeting with them,” said Metzger.
“This is the time to raise our voices,” Hamilton stressed, noting the upcoming federal election in the fall, as well as a provincial election in Saskatchewan on the horizon, and internationally, four United Nations conferences this year on poverty, development goals and climate.
The Saskatoon event included an afternoon meeting with representatives of a number of local advocacy groups and helping organizations, as well as a public forum in the evening, featuring three local speakers describing efforts to address issues related to poverty and the environment.
The afternoon event included presentations to the tour leaders from Dr. Jim Penna of Churches for Social Action, Rev. Margaret McKechney of St. Thomas Wesley United Church, Vanessa Charles of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition, Janet Clark of Integrated Community Ministries, George Hind and Joan Cole-Hein of Saskatoon Native Ministries, Don Windels of Lighthouse Supported Living Inc., and Sandra Stack of Saskatoon Friendship Inn, followed by group discussion.
The destruction of the environment was described as the “industrialization of injustice.” Justice Tour leaders heard that ways for individuals and groups to reduce their “climate footprint” are highlighted at the Saskatchewan Environmental Society website — www.climatefriendlyzone.ca.
Advocates also noted that for those living in crisis or poverty, the environment is not at the top of their list of concerns — finding their next meal is. At the same time, it was acknowledged that the impact of climate change is most devastating to the poor of the world.
The group also heard that most churches in Saskatoon are no longer involved in large-scale direct poverty work to meet immediate needs. Churches began many of the community’s social agencies, before handing them over to broader, community-based management. At the same time, local churches continue to support such agencies and initiatives through financing and volunteering.
The true experts on poverty are those living its reality, Justice Tour leaders heard. Tapping into their real-life expertise, and bringing a “first voice” to board meetings and leadership is needed in the fight against poverty, said advocates.
Local initiatives and concerns in areas such as housing, high rates of incarceration, detox centres and emergency accommodation for those dealing with addictions, community kitchens and free meal services were also discussed. It was suggested that many more Saskatchewan residents could be living in poverty in the near future, as the cost of living swells, with existing social agencies already at their limits.
In facing these challenges, “collaboration needs to be much more than a word we say, it needs to be what we do,” said one participant. Speakers noted the importance of partnerships among churches, government, businesses and community groups to address the issues of both poverty and climate change.
The Canadian Council of Churches team noted Saskatoon’s spirit of co-operation, creativity and effort. (See related story.)