The Statement by The United Church of Canada on the Legal Settlement for Omar Khadr

The United Church respects the decision of the federal government to apologize to Omar Khadr   Published on July 12, 2017, accessed on Facebook

The United Church of Canada respects the decision of the federal government to apologize to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, for its role in his ordeal that began with his detention by the United States in Afghanistan.

Since 2008, the United Church has written to the federal government on several occasions regarding the miscarriage of justice in the treatment of Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was detained and considered a child soldier under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory. At that time, the church requested that an independent review of the Canadian government’s involvement in Khadr’s detention be implemented.

In a unanimous ruling in 2010, the Supreme Court found Khadr’s human rights were being violated at Guantanamo Bay: “The deprivation of [Khadr’s] right to liberty and security of the person is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,” the court ruled.

“The interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

There is much brokenness in this story. However, as followers of Christ, we find our hope in the power of restorative justice to mend deep divisions between individuals, peoples, and nations.

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Church leaders must be willing to pay a price for Palestinian solidarity

The Christian community in Occupied Palestine has just called time on 70 years of world-wide Christian/Jewish collusion in their oppression and slow demise. In an open letter to the World Council of Churches, they’re demanding a different course of action from their Christian sisters and brothers because, they write, the situation is now “beyond urgent”.

The exasperation of the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine is understandable. The Church around the world has failed them.

They’ve seen year after year of Holy Land reports, theological reflections, pilgrimages, conference debates, and the occasional divestment commitment. But all this softly, softly solidarity has failed to improve their condition, let alone win their liberation.

Yes, there’ve been plenty of carefully worded and balanced calls for “justice” and “security” for Christians, Jews and Muslims. But no calling out of who has the power, who uses it to oppress, who allows it to continue, who excuses it, who remains silent.

Nor has there been much willingness to incur a collective cost to any Palestinian solidarity, either financially or reputationally from the leadership of Church denominations.

The Ecumenical Deal
Much of this comes down to what the Jewish theologian Marc Ellis long ago described as ‘the ecumenical deal’. It amounts to this: the unwillingness within formal Christian Jewish encounters to question Jewish support for Israel for fear of unpicking decades of inter faith reconciliation following the Holocaust.

Ellis, writing for the journal of Americans for Middle East Understanding back in February 1992 summed up how this has become an obstacle to justice:

“The foundation of the dialogue rests on Christian repentance for anti-Jewishness and acceptance of Israel as central for Jewish identity. Those involved in the dialogue know that it has essentially turned into what one might call the ecumenical deal: eternal repentance for Christian anti-Jewishness unencumbered by any substantive criticism of Israel. Substantive criticism of Israel means, at least from the Jewish side, the reemergence of Christian anti-Jewishness.”

The outcome of the ecumenical deal, Ellis went on to say, is that debate about the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israeli Jews, and its support by “commission or omission” by Jewish and Christian communities around the world is left unchallenged.

Despair
25 years of failed peace process, a wave of Palestinian terrorism at the turn of the century, three major Israeli assaults on Gaza and a Jewish Settler population of now more than half a million has done little to shift the interfaith dynamics that Ellis described a quarter of a century ago.

So it’s hardly surprising to see Christians in Palestine despairing of the endless “hiding behin78d the cover of political neutrality” and the unwillingness of Church leaders “to offend their religious dialogue partners.” In Palestine they learnt long ago that liberation doesn’t come cheap. What’s required from us they say is “costly solidarity” not “shallow diplomacy”.

And in practice that means:
“That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed”   So brace yourselves. Jewish-Christian dialogue is about to go through the wringer. And not before time.

The cost of Christian solidarity
To reset the Christian interfaith relationship with the Jewish Community will take boldness and courage on the part of Church leaders, local ministers and their congregants. It will take them far from their ecumenical comfort zone.

Long standing relationships with Jewish neighbours and clerical colleagues will deteriorate long before they can be rebuilt with new foundations.

But costly solidarity requires no less.

It means refusing to allow your local Jewish communal leadership to set the boundaries of permissible debate on Israel.
It means listening to the Christian voice under occupation before the Jewish voice living comfortably, with full equal rights, many thousands of miles from that same occupation.
It means refusing invitations to Balfour Declaration ‘celebrations’ this November.
It means you, not them, deciding what forms of protest are appropriate and fair.
It means you choosing to invest your funds in ethics not in companies profiting from Occupation.
It means your next pilgrimage to the Holy Land may be turned back at Ben Gurion airport.
It means you WILL be branded Israel haters.

You WILL be branded antisemitic.

And when that happens you should refuse to be bullied (because that’s what it is).
You must call the Jewish officials to your office. Ask them to clarify their position. Seek legal opinion. Demand an apology.  Insist that those that accuse you of ‘unfairness’ and ‘lack of balance’ make clear their own position.

What’s their view on the legality of the Occupation and Settlements? Do they recognize the inequality of political, civil and human rights in Israel itself and the Occupied territories? Can they confirm their commitment to freedom of speech in a democracy?

And do all of this publicly.

This is what costly solidarity will look like until things change.

Because silence and collusion on a great injustice of our time cannot be the basis of healthy interfaith dialogue.

But what about the Jewish side?
We still don’t have an accepted Jewish vocabulary or conceptual thinking that will enable us to recognize our complicity in Palestinian suffering. That makes the idea of Palestinian solidarity almost impossible for most Jews to contemplate let alone sign up to.

We’re still stuck in a mindset of powerlessness and victimhood that no longer holds true. The dilemma for Jews is that questioning the State of Israel within our Jewish communities risks unraveling the collective sense of who we are and what being Jewish means in the 21st century.

The recalibration on Israel required from Jewish communities around the world is now just as profound as the soul searching that took place within Christianity after the Holocaust. Just as Christians had to look Jews in the eye and ask for forgiveness so that Christianity could move forward, the same will be true between Jews and Palestinians. Again, this is ground well covered in the writings of Marc Ellis.

The future for Jews and Judaism itself is now entirely bound up with our relationship to the Palestinian people. However, we are still a very long way from being ready to confront this truth.

Costly Christian solidarity with the Palestinian people has the potential to speed up a change in Jewish attitudes. But it requires turning the tables over in the temples of ecumenical deal making.

I’m not underestimating how difficult this will be. The Jewish response to costly Christian solidarity with the Palestinians will be hostile and intolerant, at least to start with. The current Jewish leadership of our communities around the world is conditioned to react like this. They have no other language or thinking available to them.

But changing the language of interfaith dialogue is what needs to happen, and the sooner the better. Shallow diplomacy has had its day.

A new basis for Jewish/Christian understanding
So what should the new dialogue look like? How do we keep the good progress made over the last 70 years but throw out the politics of a silent collusion of injustice?

Perhaps a celebration of our creation mythology that makes clear that all humanity is equal in God’s eyes.

Maybe a common commitment to building communities where all faith traditions are respected and honoured.

How about a shared understanding that national chauvinism will always undermine building the Just and Righteous society that Jews and Christians pray for each day.

Or how about a firm belief that solidarity with the oppressed comes with a cost that’s always worth paying.

–Robert Cohen, July 8, 2017

Come and See The Holy Land

November 4 – November 14

This is an invitation to participate in a 10 day  pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine in November. It is an opportunity to see both the Holy Sites and the effects of the Occupation on all who like in that troubled land.

Travel this beautiful land of Palestine/Israel experiencing the places where Jesus lived and taught.  Visit the holy sites in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the Galilee.

Learn about the extraordinary resilience of the Palestinian people living under occupation.

Meet United Church of Canada partners-Jewish, Muslim, and Christian,
who are working non-violently for peace, justice and human rights.

Hear the stories of people whose families lived in this land for generations.

Ponder biblical passages in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Mount of the Beatitudes asking how they relate to us today.

Gaze down on Jerusalem as we consider those who have conquered this land over three millennia and how each has treated the inhabitants.

Led by:
Hope Rowsell, President of NL Conference, United Church of Canada
Patricia Mercer, returned EAPPI volunteer
(Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel)

Costs are estimated at $3900. to cover most expenses including flight
Deposit is $500 (part of the final costs.)

For more information or to receive a registration form contact:
Hope Rowsell (hrowsell@eastlink.ca) or
Patricia Mercer (pmercer@nl.rogers.com)

Sponsored by NL Conference and Partners in Mission,
United Church of Canada

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