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Help realize justice worldwide

September 2011

Many of us are concerned about the world beyond our personal experience and, when hearing of tragedies that strike others far away, will send money to charity with the hope that we have made a difference. But while every little bit helps, there is much more to be done.

Founded by Ernie Schibli in 1975, the Social Justice Committee has been informing Canadians about international human-rights issues with the aim of generating discussion and encouraging involvement.

“There is a lot people can do,” says Leah Gardner, education programs co-ordinator. “We focus on keeping people engaged in the decision-making process here in Canada. We ask people to learn about the issues and write or meet their MPs to try to change Canadian policy for the better.”

The committee speaks with CEGEP students, church groups, at the Y or universities. It has created three interactive workshops on world debt, international trade and the effect of the Canadian mining industry operating in poor countries.

“A lot of the structural causes of global poverty originate in rich countries and they affect us as well,” Gardner says. “Our goal is to make the information available to people and encourage them to act.”

According to Gardner, the biggest human-rights issue of all time is poverty, the result of human-rights violations. She gives an example: “There are global impediments to development. You go to a country and start doing lots of charity work but if the country has just signed a very unfair trade agreement with a developed country, the charity work will be less effective. The trade agreement is one of the causes [of poverty], illegitimate debt interest that was paid on debt repaid long ago.”

If interest rates are raised, that country is trapped in a cycle of repaying the debt “over and over again” and cannot put money into social programs that would help countries develop.

In keeping with its mission, the Social Justice Committee has put together a five-week certificate course on economic, social and cultural rights. “The course began with a group discussion on global poverty, and we really thought human rights were a precursor to development. So we talked about defining social and cultural rights, whether they are as important as civil and political rights. Social and cultural rights are harder to realize and often treated as not important.”

The course is based on the UN convention of social and cultural rights, Gardner says.

“Countries are obliged to follow UN conventions, but in implementation, citizens all play a role. Oftentimes it can be very frustrating, countries sign and ratify, are obliged to follow but often these laws are not implemented.”

The course promises to be exciting, with local speakers paired up with people who have worked in human rights internationally. Speakers and organizations include Children’s Care International; Head & Hands; Handicap International; PINAY, a non-profit organization of Filipino migrant and immigrant female workers; the LGBT Family Coalition; Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec; and Labrador and Canadian Crossroadds International (CCI), a development organization that works to reduce poverty and promote women’s rights around the world.

The course costs $35 and takes place Tuesdays at 6 p.m., September 20 to October 18 at 1212 Panet. 514-933-6797



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