Canadian Jesuits International brought together secondary and postsecondary students from across Canada last February 9 to 11, 2020, to learn about the deep connections between faith, justice and advocacy. Students from various Jesuit and Catholic schools attended the event hosted at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.
The symposium consisted of six sessions that focused on advocacy. Our goals for the participants were to:
- Learn why advocacy is an important tool for change and what defines Ignatian advocacy and a “faith that does justice”.
- Gain self-awareness and capacity for critical reflection and analysis.
- Learn from the experience of marginalized people from the Global South- including Indigenous voices in India.
- Understand how various tools of advocacy have been employed and to what effect.
- Learn about advocacy in Canada and how to engage political representatives.
- Develop awareness of the challenges and successes of various advocacy campaigns in Canada.
- Incorporate goals regarding Catholic School Graduate expectations.
Fr. Stanislaus Jebamalai SJ (Sannybhai) shared key principles of advocacy and the meaning of Ignatian advocacy. Sannybhai is the Coordinator of Lok Manch, a platform to empower marginalized people in India to access their legally recognized rights.
Participants heard from panelists such as Jamie Kneen from Mining Watch Canada regarding the Ombudsperson advocacy campaign . They also listened to Leah Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre, who spoke about the advocacy campaign on the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Participants planned and prepared for a meeting with staff representatives of Members of Parliament. Students asked questions on issues such as immigration, refugees, poverty, environment and Indigenous rights.
Interestingly, the challenges we faced related to matters of current advocacy taking place in Canada. Thirteen participants from Cathedral High School in Hamilton were unable to attend due to the blockade of the railway by the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nation, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia. Participants attempted to go via buses but there were none available.
Another challenge was weak Ontario participation due to labour conflict between the various teacher’s unions and the Ontario government.
Our goal was to bring together a total of 50 participants from across Canada. A total of 47 registered and a total of 34 attended. Students from Cathedral Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario who were unable to attend joined us via Skype. They sent their prepared questions, which were presented to the Member of Parliament staff.
Participants came from the following schools:
- Campion College (University of Regina), Regina, SK
- Mother Teresa Middle School (MTMS), Regina, SK
- St. Paul’s High School, Winnipeg, MB
- St. Paul’s College (University of Manitoba), Winnipeg, MB
- Lester B. Pearson Catholic Secondary School, Ottawa, ON
- St. Bonaventure College, St. John’s, NL
Access to food, education, healthcare, land, and employment are basic human rights. Peace and just development are only possible if people who have been marginalized and denied their rights are empowered. A human rights-based approach seeks to transform power relations so that everyone can develop their human potential and live in dignity. It is to this end that the Just Change Symposium sought to equip students to make personal (local) changes with global impact and to influence others, including decision-makers and politicians toward a more fair and just world. This symposium has made an impact upon participating students and momentum has been created to equip and shape the next generation of leaders today for a better world tomorrow.
- A planning committee was formed with participants to prepare for the next symposium.
- Participants have started planning advocacy campaigns within their schools.
- A “JUST Change” network has been created through social media. CJI can mobilize the network for advocacy campaigns as they arise.