Response to the 2017 Provincial Budget Saskatchewan Conference, The United Church of Canada

Saskatchewan Conference of The United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about the nature and impact of the provincial 2017 budget cuts announced March 22. (This statement was updated May 1 and May 15 to reflect recent developments.)

On March 22nd, the government of Saskatchewan released its 2017 “transformational” budget. Premier Wall had warned that “everything is on the table”, made necessary, he said, by the need to eliminate a $1.3 billion provincial debt, a debt caused mainly, we’re told, by the decline in the revenues from oil, gas, and potash.

As a Christian community which shares these treaty lands with diverse Indigenous and settler communities alike, we speak against the values that underlie this budget. A budget is, at heart, a statement about our collective values. This budget erodes community fabric, denies our communities full and respectful consultation, places exceptional burdens on vulnerable people, and violates Treaty relationships.  Our society is required to act with the compassion and justice that characterize the message of Jesus and that of the prophets and sages of every age. In this budget, the government has failed this test.

Taking action
The Local-Global Advocacy Network and the All My Relations Network ask that individuals, pastoral charges, and presbyteries discern which concerns they wish to address, with a focus on measures that will unnecessarily and unjustly cause hardship to many thousands of the province’s people, or which dishonour our Treaty agreements.  Please send a letter and/ or phone call to your MLA and to the Premier. Not sure who your MLA is? Look here. For full contact information, use this link.

Action options and a summary are now posted by the group Stop the Cuts.

Specific concerns about the 2017 Saskatchewan budget
Below we name just a few of the cuts implemented. We note with dismay that in almost every case, these cuts came with no warning and no consultation. How these cuts were arrived at is almost as damaging as the cuts themselves.

– The end of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC), and with it, the almost immediate elimination of the jobs of 224 staff. In the long term, this cut means the loss of the primary means of transportation for many citizens who have depended on the STC to get them to medical appointments, meetings, family visits, and so on. The disproportionate impact on low income people, the elderly, and rural and isolated communities will be enormous, and will eat away at our community fabric. A citizens’ Facebook group fro advocacy and education, Save STC, has been set up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1256678351047292/

Major cuts to grants to public libraries: This has been reversed for now, after one of the biggest series of public demonstrations in SK’s history. However, long term funding is still in doubt.

Spiritual care. The government ended all base funding to the seven Saskatchewan members of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. These are highly trained professionals who provide holistic care for hospital patients and their families. Pastoral care in times of grief and tragedy is at the heart of our communities. What does this cut say about our values in this province? We are now the only province in Canada that does not fund spiritual care. For resources on addressing this with government, refer to this post on our Conference’s Faith Formation blog.

– Even before the budget was released, the government announced that the Saskatchewan Pastures Program that has long provided ranchers and others with access to Crown land will be phased out. Fifty-one pastures covering 170,000 acres will be put up for sale or lease. Unique prairie habitat may be put at risk. Please see this overview from Trevor Herriot, in which he reviews point by point the impact of this disturbing decision.

Saskatchewan Conference President Rev. Krystal Sheremata has written to Premier Brad Wall to express opposition to the provincial auction of Crown land.  Please see her letter here and share widely (PDF). The letter is also posted to the All My Relations Network blog. In March, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations protested the auction, noting “The Saskatchewan government is completely disregarding its Treaty Land Entitlement obligations by selling off Crown land to the highest bidder and not allowing the First Nations the time they need to weigh their options on the selection and purchase of Crown lands.”

A reduction or end to the Grants-in-lieu program for cities. This program has existed since the 1930s and was ended with absolutely no warning. Municipalities provide a very wide range of day to day services which are especially crucial to low income people. These cuts, and the way they were carried out, will pose a major problem for 109 communities across the province.

These grants take the form of money sent from federal government agencies, provincial Crown corporations and municipal utilities to Saskatchewan cities in lieu of these government agencies paying municipal property tax on infrastructure. The provincial budget eliminated grants-in-lieu from the provincial Crown corporations SaskPower, SaskEnergy and TransGas to municipalities throughout the province. A few days after the budget, some of the cuts were reduced; Saskatoon and Regina’s 100% cuts remain in effect.

The cuts to education, i.e., to school operating budgets, that were announced as 1.2% ($22 million) have turned out to be 2.9% (more than $54 million) once the difference in the province’s and the school system’s fiscal years are taken into account. These cuts, as the Teachers’ Federation has said, will have a serious impact on the classroom through cuts to staffing and provision of resources.

The Saskatchewan Conference All My Relations and Local-Global Advocacy Networks.

Further information
A commentary from Dr Howard Leeson on the values of this budget. http://leaderpost.com/opinion/letters/premier-wall-should-either-resign-or-call-an-election-on-the-budget

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) statement on the auction of SK Crown lands.

Government release about changes to Social Services: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/family-and-social-support/information-on-social-services-program-changes.

UN expert warns of deteriorating situation for human rights defenders in Palestine and Israel

GENEVA (21 March 2017) – Human rights defenders working to draw attention to abuses associated with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory are being increasingly targeted as a result of their work, according to a new report from a United Nations human rights expert.

Michael Lynk – the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 – expressed deep concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“As human rights defenders – Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals – persist with their intrepid activism to investigate and oppose the regime of human rights violations that is integral to the occupation. All indications are that they will continue to be the prime targets of those who are intolerant of their criticisms, yet alarmed by their effectiveness,” Mr. Lynk said.

The Rapporteur noted with alarm that Palestinian human rights defenders have been subjected to attacks, arrest, detention, and threats to their lives and safety. “They have experienced sophisticated interference with their vital work, and have faced toxic denunciations aimed at silencing them and discouraging their supporters,” he continued.

Mr. Lynk also drew attention to the work of Israeli human rights organizations which call attention to human rights abuses that occur in the context of the occupation. He noted that these organizations “are enduring an increasingly hostile public atmosphere in Israel and from the settlement movement, stoked by the Israeli political leadership and the media, as well as obstructive legislation enacted or being considered by the Knesset.”

The Rapporteur emphasized the essential nature of the work of these defenders: “They provide invaluable advocacy, independent and reliable analysis, effective protection, the courage to investigate and protest, and offer both a progressive interpretation of existing rights as well as a vision of new rights in embryo. The work of these human rights defenders animates and enlarges the enjoyment of human rights for the rest of us.”

In his report, the Rapporteur also highlighted issues of pressing concern with respect to the human rights situation in the OPT. He noted with alarm the rapid pace with which the settlement enterprise has advanced since the start of 2017, referencing the announcement of the construction of 6,000 new housing units. He also expressed concern about the so-called “Regularization Bill”, noting that “removing one of the only domestic legal barriers to settlement construction moves Israel even further from compliance with international law.”

The Rapporteur further drew attention to the situation in Gaza, highlighting the fact that as the 10th year of the blockade begins, the situation is becoming ever more dire as infrastructure crumbles under the strain of a growing population and continued significant import and movement restrictions. Mr. Lynk also noted the decline in the number of exit permits granted at the end of 2016.

“The free movement of people would bring education, training, and increased skills to a part of the world that not only is in desperate need, but shows great resilience and potential for innovation,” the Rapporteur said.

Mr. Lynk called on the Government of Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, and to comply with Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law”. He also called on the Government of Israel to fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report.

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council designated Mr. Michael Lynk (Canada) as the seventh Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Lynk is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country pages:

Occupied Palestinian Territories

– See original press release at: https://goo.gl/MhvT7a

BDS Breakthrough at King’s University College London, Ontario

LONDON, ON, March 21, 2017 /CNW/ – After a long and vigorous debate, students at King’s University College in London, Ontario, voted 76 per cent in favour of boycotting and divesting from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. The referendum question was worded as follows: “Do you as a King’s student support calling upon the KUCSC to lobby King’s administration to boycott and divest from any and all companies and products complicit with Israeli occupation based on principles of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption and change the responsible investment policies to reflect these lobbying efforts?”

The results came in on March 15, the same day the United Nations released its historic report on “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.” This report shows that beyond any reasonable doubt, Israel practices apartheid against the Palestinian people, and the report calls upon governments to support the Palestinian-led global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Following the outcome of the BDS referendum question and another successful referendum vote to divest from fossil fuels, the King’s University College Student Council (KUCSC) passed a Responsible Investment Sub-Committee resolution at their March 19 Annual General Meeting that brings these concerns to the King’s Foundation Board and the ethical investment and finance committee. The resolution also mandates the KUCSC research and write their annual Advocacy Paper on ethical investments and divestments that will include a five year plan for ethical investing.

Following the trends of other University campuses across Canada who have endorsed BDS through their Student Councils and unions, the King’s BDS Network has taken this initiative one step further to take action on a symbiotic referendum vote through the passing of the resolution at their AGM.

“This historic breakthrough at King’s is the result of a long battle by those of us who chose to stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality. Here at Western University, we have been up against forces who simply don’t want students to debate issues of human rights and international law,” stated student BDS campaigner Marie Rioux. “Expect to see a reinvigorated campaign at the rest of Western University and throughout London after this victory. More and more students are expressing a drive to stand on the right side of history, just as they did when Canada boycotted South Africa. This is just the beginning.”

Recent EKOS polling shows that 66 per cent to 78 per cent of Canadians find it reasonable to sanction and/or boycott Israel over violations of international human rights law (http://ijvcanada.org/2017/poll-on-bds), with even higher levels of support among students and other Canadians under 30 years of age.

SOURCE KING’S UNIVERSITY COLLEGE BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS NETWORK  
For further information: Media Contact: Anna Badillo at yestobdskings@gmail.com, King’s BDS Network

Public Consultation on Poverty Reduction

Friends,

The federal government’s consultations for the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy has been launched. The United Church of Canada is encouraging all Community and Social Justice Ministries, United Church Women, congregational outreach ministries, and members of the wider church, to participate in the federal government’s Public Consultations on Poverty Reduction (between now and June 2017).

You are invited to:

  • Participate as individual organizations, speaking from your own contexts:
  1. take part in the online discussion forum
  2. complete the online survey for organizations (you must first register and sign-in)
  3. share your story
  4. follow on social media and join the discussion to #ReducePoverty!
  • Provide opportunities and access for the folks you work to support to:
  1. take part in the online discussion forum
  2. compete the online survey for individuals (you must first register and sign-in)
  3. share their story
  4. follow on social media and join the discussion to #ReducePoverty!
  • Host a town-hall if a public consultation is not being held in your area.
  • Provide links to the online public consultation encouraging folks to participate – through your website, in your newsletter or church bulletin, through social media, etc.

For more information see http://esdc-consultations.canada.ca/poverty-reduction-strategy

The Community Social Justice Ministry Reference Group is pleased to announce that Bonnie Morton, Anti-Poverty Advocate/Minister at Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, has been nominated to serve on the federal government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Poverty, to support the development and implementation of the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. The Reference Group unanimously supported this nomination, and Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of The United Church of Canada, signed a letter of support that was received by the Social Policy Directorate in support of Bonnie’s nomination. The deadline for nominations is March 27, so we assume an announcement will be made after that date on who has been chosen to make up the Advisory Committee.

The United Church of Canada is currently working on a Take Action which will direct folks to the Dignity for All website who have developed materials that outline the framework and policies that should make up a comprehensive national strategy. We expect this to be posted on our site within the next week.

Please do keep us in-the-loop and let us know how you and your ministry/organization are engaging in the consultations.

Thank you!
Jordan, Beth and Christie

Jordan Sullivan
Ministry Partnership Animator
jsullivan@united-church.ca

Beth Baskin
Social Analysis and Congregational Engagement
bbaskin@united-church.ca

Christie Neufeldt
Public Witness, Take Action, Advocacy Campaigns
cneufeldt@united-church.ca

Followup on Take Action for Refugees

In February, the Local-Global Advocacy network posted an action asking you to write to the federal government asking for: a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement; and an increase in the number of refugees Canada will accept in 2017. Unfortunately, that action is sill current. Please see the post of February 1, 2017 below for those details.

Asylum seekers continue to cross the US border on foot at Emerson, MB even in the midst of winter storms. Manitoba-NW Ontario Conference notes that a refugee coalition has now formed in Winnipeg, and support is being offered to both Emerson and the refugees arriving there.

Why are so many making this very risky journey? In part because the Safe Third Country Agreement between the US and Canada means that claiming refugee status in Canada after travelling through the US is illegal, unless (ironically) one crosses our border “illegally”.

The Canadian Council for Refugees has written an excellent piece answering common questions and explaining the situation in more detail.

When this agreement was put in place in 2004, The United Church of Canada, KAIROS, and many others protested it strongly. They noted that such an agreement violates Canada’s international commitments under the UN Convention on Refugees, and warned of the consequences for vulnerable people.

Now Canadians are being asked to pressure our government to review the agreement, and to rescind recent reductions in Canada’s 2017 refugee numbers. Already many congregations have experienced multi-year waits for sponsored individuals and families to arrive. Now that wait may become longer.

An increasing number of churches are calling for a review or an end to the Safe Third Country Agreement.  For example, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a binational church that is a partner to The United Church of Canada through the Canadian Council of Churches, released a strong statement and call for action.

Please consider what faithful word of truth and action you and your congregation or presbytery might speak to our government in this moment.

Stop the Demolition of Khan Al Ahmar

You may have already heard that Khan Al Ahmar, a small Palestinian village situated in Area C, is being targeted for demolition and its people for forcible transfer.  See previous article below or see the page on the UNJPPI web site for more details.

United Church partners and allies have offered this urgent update on the situation:

On March 5th, Israeli Civil Administration issued 42 demolition orders for Khan Al Ahmar. The community was given seven days to execute the orders–they must self-demolish all homes and structures, including their school. Shlomo Lecker, the legal advocate for Khan Al Ahmar, is now trying to find a way to bring this issue before another judge. Lecker describes the situation as “extremely serious and urgent,” adding that “maximum diplomatic pressure” is required.

Take Urgent Action

Visit the Take Action Nowhere to Go for more information and action ideas to help stop the demolition of Khan Al Ahmar:

1. Write to the Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and your member of Parliament. A sample letter is provided with this Take Action.

2. If you have already written to your MP, follow your letter up with a phone call. You can find MP’s contact information by entering your postal code here. Urge your MP to call on Minister Freeland during question period to ask what actions Canada is taking to press the Israeli government to reverse the demolition orders for Khan Al Ahmar.

3. Share this Take Action on your social media networks. Use the hashtags #UCCan, #KhanAlAhmar, #Israel, #Palestine.

Please continue to apply pressure on Israeli authorities by shining the international spotlight on Khan Al Ahmar. Demolition orders could be activated as early as March 12th.

URGENT ACTION: Threat of Demolition in Khan Al Ahmar

This appeal for urgent action has been issued by The United Church of Canada.
Please respond as you soon as you are able. 

This short video from United Church solidarity partner B’Tselem, a human rights organization, shows Israel’s civil administration and police serving stop-work orders in this small village in the occupied West Bank on February 19.  Khan Al Ahmar was given only five days to object to the stop-work orders, and demolitions could occur at any point after.  A court case, scheduled for February 23, could be the beginning of a much longer process.

The people of Khan Al Ahmar have lived as refugees for 50 years. Although the village is located 10 minutes from Jerusalem, its households have no running water and no electricity.  Now Khan Al Ahmar, situated in an area earmarked for future expansion of the Israeli settlement Ma’ale Adumim, is targeted for demolition and its people for forcible transfer.

In the film Nowhere Left to Go, an elderly resident of Khan Al Ahmar states: “We have an empty life.  We have no land, no home.  And now they’re threatening to transfer us—what can we do?”  In 2016, 12 dwellings in this same community were demolished with 60 residents left homeless (including 35 children).

Take Action

Write to your elected representatives, asking them to act urgently for the sake of justice for the people of Khan Al Ahmar.
1. Write to The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and/or your member of Parliament:

  • Ask Minister Freeland to urge Canada to call on the Israeli government to immediately freeze all settlement activity and demolition orders
  • Urge your MP to call on Minister Freeland during question period to ask what actions Canada is taking to press the Israeli government to reverse the demolition orders on Khan Al Ahmar

A sample letter is attached.

2. Share this Take Action on your social media networks. Use the hashtags #UCCan, #KhanAlAhmar, #Israel, #Palestine.

Background

The United Church of Canada has a long history of working with others to seek peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. This work is rooted in the gospel mandate to be peacemakers and in response to the calls of Palestinian and Israeli partners.

The repeated demolitions of Bedouin Palestinian villages are a violation of international law. As the occupying power, Israel is bound by international humanitarian law to protect the Palestinian civilian population and administer the territory for their benefit. International law also prohibits the destruction of private property and the forced transfer or displacement of civilians.

According to Canadian policy, all Israeli settlements, including Ma’ale Adumim, are illegal. Demolitions and forcible displacement of Khan Al Ahmar and similar communities are a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and leave hundreds of people homeless.

Khan Al Ahmar was given only five days to object to the stop-work orders, and demolitions could occur at any point after. A court case, scheduled for February 23, 2017, could be the beginning of a much longer process.

For more information about current activities, see Unsettling Goods: Choose Peace in Palestine and Israel.

Send your letters and e-mails to:

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
E-mail: chrystia.freeland@international.gc.ca

Peter Kent
Conservative Party of Canada
Email: peter.kent@parl.gc.ca

Hélène Laverdière
New Democratic Party
Email: hélène.laverdière@parl.gc.ca

Elizabeth May
Green Party of Canada
Email: elizabeth.may@parl.gc.ca

Luc Thériault
Bloc Québécois
E-mail: luc.theriault@parl.gc.ca

Send copies of your letters and emails to:
Christie Neufeldt
Program Coordinator, Public Witness and Advocacy
The United Church of Canada
E-mail: cneufeldt@united-church.ca