Global Justice, in Our Own Backyard

Global justice, a grand ideal fueled by the creation of International entities such as the failed League of Nations and (failing?) United Nations. Borders between countries are becoming ever more blurred and legacies of colonial past continue to haunt subjected nations and those that wield the political power. Humanitarian crises in states serve to unfortunately shed much needed light on human rights atrocities and abysmal living conditions of much of our world’s population. Genocides and civil wars have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and have ended almost as many lives. It is the by the power of the media and international institutions that these events are viewed by millions of people, people who have the resources and ability to help end the terrible atrocities that have been committed.

Canada is not without its share of human rights digressions. Our government has a past filled with the degradation of our national citizens. Last summers apology by the federal government for the subjection of First Nation peoples and the treatment received under the auspice of agencies and persons who ran the now infamous residential schools came much too late, and shouldn’t have been needed at all. In a country where past political figures have won the Nobel Peace prize for their contribution to international crisis’s, it is shameful we could not bother to treat our very own people with the respect and trust all deserve.

Provincially, Alberta practiced sterilization of those deemed mentally and physically disabled persons up to 1972. Alberta and B.C. are the only two provinces in Canada to successfully carry out this practice. In Alberta, the Alberta Eugenics board passed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act in 1928. In forty-five years, nearly 3000 individuals, deemed “mentally defective” were sterilized, the majority of them without consent. Youth, women and First Nations people were the primary targets of this act, often those who had been institutionalized for nervous disorders or who had backgrounds of heavy abuse and therefore displayed “psychotic tendencies.”

Worldwide, mainstream and alternative media shows only flashes of humanitarian crises and many of us are left feeling helpless and very much alone. It is difficult to point to a specific action one person can take that substantially changes anything at all. However, it is about more than one person. It is a collective. It is every voice, and it is every person who comes together in his or her own small way, that is what makes a difference. It is political pressure and business or monetary influence. It is a choice made by every person to support an industry they know to be destructive or a company they know to operate out of a politically unstable region. It is a choice to give money, time, education, and experience. It is also a choice to do nothing at all.

A week dedicated to the ideal of global justice has been planned by this year’s elected Students’ Union. The events focus on the plethora of speakers, all who have made significant contributions to what they believe social justice to mean. Featuring five University of Lethbridge professors, a board definition of global justice is being offered here by the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union. In many ways, it is a call to action. With so much valuable information at the disposal of students here at the university, it would be nearly a sin to waste this opportunity.

Alex Masse, Vice President Academic of the ULSU points out that education is broader than a classroom. With merely 150 minutes of lecture time available a week from each respective course and so much information to convey in that short time, broader discussion and the practice of critical thinking can be compacted to fit the time frame. Global justice isn’t a formula or theory and it means something different to every individual. How is that able to fit into a footnote? Institutionalism versus anarchy, courts versus a citizens police force. Interpretation is broad and challenging, each situation and issue calling for various resolution methods.

Alex Neve, the Secretary General for Amnesty International, Calgary born, and a graduate from Dalhousie University, he has been extremely active by way of missions for Amnesty to the many counties where human rights violations have become an established way of governing. An Order of Canada, Neve has written and presented papers to the United Nations and recently participated in the Maher Arar Commission. His work internationally has been extensive and his dedication to revealing truths of the treatment of individuals worldwide and working towards the prevention of further degradation is commendable. Neve does not forget the problems here in his home country though. A report written for Amnesty in 2004 called attention to the plight of First Nations women in Canada and their lack of resources or recognition. In an interview with CBC news, Neve pointed out “It happens next door, it happens right in our very own backyards and here in Canada there’s many concerns about violence again women, but our research points to this being one of the areas that is the most overlooked and misunderstood and therefore in need of great attention.”

A film being shown as part of Global Justice week in part with LPIRG and Cinema Politica, “My Land, My People”, accentuates the need for Canadians to pay attention to plights and political issue within out country. Joshua Keys, a war resister who is currently facing prosecution for deserting the American war effort will also be speaking on what it is like to be a political refugee from a developed and supposedly free North American country. Key was an American soldier who has served in Afghanistan and after returning home, was ordered to Iraq. Not believing in the reasons given for America’s engagement in Iraq, Keys and his family fled to Canada and have been denied asylum. Facing deportation, Keys return to America will most certainly be met with jail time for not going on deployment when ordered.

Neve and Keys will not be speaking exclusively on Canadian human rights issue, Neve’s talk this week will be about how necessary it is for developed nations to not forget about humanitarian efforts, even as domestic pressures mount to mediate the current economic climate. The featured professors are speaking on broad area’s including the topic of genocide as presented by Dr. Bruce McKay. With five professors all from different academic backgrounds, their individual perspectives on global justice reflects the multiple tactics and beliefs that exist pertaining to the big picture ideal. As Masse said “Getting the profs out to speak at these events is excellent, because there are students who already have connections with them and that is just going to spread the net a little wider.”

Global justice is indeed a global issue and deserves global effort. University is an institution designed to encourage critical thinking and tackling of problems bigger than our own backyard. While we may fight misogyny on-campus, it is also a fight against the broader climate of sexism and acceptance versus equality. There are many ways to bring about global justice, just as many ways as there are to interpret global justice.

Originally published:October 1st, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 04.

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