With speakers such as James Orbinski, Jody Williams, and Sylvia McAdam and panel discussions ranging from “The Business of Peace” to “Gangs and Interventions,” the conference promised to be interesting. From October 17-19 the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) Conference, co-hosted by Wilfrid Laurier University and Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, kept that promise, filling concourses, classrooms, and hallways with lively discussion.
Contributing to the diversity were a Student Conference for Undergraduate and Grade 11 and 12 students, a Teacher’s Professional Development Strand, musical performers, and a Fine Art exhibit by Jamelie Hassan.
Project Ploughshares was represented by Executive Director John Siebert and Intern Charmila Ireland. Siebert made two presentations, speaking on “Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom and Peacebuilding” and “Settling Legal Liability as a Precondition to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” He also attended the awards banquet that honoured Ploughshares co-founder Ernie Regehr with the Howard Zinn Lifetime Award. The award recognized Regehr’s decades of dedicated work to the cause of peace and justice.
Among the highlights:
Sylvia McAdam talked about the Idle No More movement, which she co-founded. The session began with an Aboriginal Drum Circle by students from the Laurier Aboriginal Student Centre and a smudging ceremony. McAdam spoke of the treaties that are currently violated by the Canadian government and resource extraction companies, and the founding of the Idle No More movement. She encouraged everyone to speak up, as silence in the face of government action can be taken as consent.
Canadian physician James Orbinski was President of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders or MSF) when the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. He spoke of his work with MSF, including Rwanda during the genocide. He eloquently and passionately spoke of the work that MSF has done to secure affordable medications and the work that still must be done. Orbinski also emphasized the connections between climate change and global health. He repeated that we must “speak, listen, think, and then act” to create effective solutions and drive important change. According to Orbinski, the most effective holistic change needed to slow climate change, improve health worldwide, and lower the birthrate is girls’ education.
Rhoda Howard-Hassman, a professor of Global Studies (Laurier), spoke on “Private Property as a Human Right.” She asserted that the mass seizing of private property by government is a war crime and could be considered genocide in some cases. She cited widespread starvation in Zimbabwe and high food prices in Venezuela as the results of such activities.
George Roter, co-founder and CEO of Engineers Without Borders Canada, presented a unique view on how to tackle peace and justice work. In an annual Failure Report, EWB analyzes its mistakes and considers how to improve. This refreshing attitude acknowledged that, even with the best of intentions, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and other aid organizations make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them.
The grand finale of the conference was Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, conducted by Mark Vuorinen at Centre in the Square in Kitchener. The role of arts in the conference showcased the creativity that is needed to face the myriad challenges of peace and justice work. It demonstrated the importance of hope, creation, beauty, and joy.
The PJSA Conference revealed a network of committed, intelligent, and passionate individuals. This is a conference worth attending – especially since next year’s is in San Diego!
For further information, visit the PJSA website.