(re)Discover Social Justice & Human Rights

Session summaries and videos from the Social Justice & Human Rights conference are now available. Conversation on issues dealing with social justice and human rights have continued in the months since the conference on the Centre’s blog Ground Motive, but these session summaries and videos offer a look at the specific topics spoken on at the conference, and the questions and conversations that opened up there.

The videos and summaries have all been pulled together into the conference blog.  There is also a wonderful documentary video of the conference available.  Altogether there is about 6 hours of viewing, and there is opportunity to interact with others by means of comments on each event.  We are also considering posting (or podcasting) some audio of sessions that we did not get video recordings for, but we can't say right now if or when that will happen as we are still reviewing the recordings for quality and suitability.  Watch the blog for more news on this.

This will be the last email you will get from the Social Justice & Human Rights Conference blog.  You signed up for news and the blog is now dedicated to the session summaries, videos and discussions. Thank you for your interest in the conference.  We hope you enjoy the materials we have assembled and will want to start or join discussions related to them.

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1.1 Keynote Address – “What is Justice and Why Does it Matter?”

Nicholas Wolterstorff

In the Western tradition there are two fundamentally different ways of thinking about justice; I call them "the right order conception" and "the inherent rights conception."  After explaining the distinction and arguing in favor of the latter conception, I will then explore the concept of rights, and argue against the prevalent idea that natural rights are guarantees of autonomy and in favor of the idea that one's natural right to being treated a certain way is what is required by due respect for one's worth or dignity.

1.2 Plenary Panel “Religion and Human Rights in Canada: Judaism, Christianity and Islam”

Michael Stroh, Lois Wilson, Abdulaziz Sachedina

In recent years, debates around accommodation, inclusion, and human rights have highlighted both challenges and the contributions presented by religious communities in Canadian society. Addressing such challenges and contributions, this panel will discuss what is at stake in questions of justice and religious freedom for faith traditions in Canada. How do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam consider questions of rights and equity in a society that is religiously plural and in a civic space that is largely secular? What are religious communities doing to negotiate the perils and promises of being Canadian while remaining faithful?

1.3 Session on “Rights, Culture, and Forgiveness”

Benjamin Berger, Shannon Hoff, and Alice MacLachlan

Law and legally secured rights, while they have come to be powerful means of articulating and accomplishing the demands of justice, also exist in tension with other ways of conceiving of justice. By means of discussion of phenomena such as culture, community, religion, forgiveness, apology, and the exception to the law, this panel will address the tensions between different conceptions of justice, and the significance and inadequacy of law and rights as mechanisms of justice.

1.4 Session on “Aboriginal Rights in Canada: A Case Study of Group and Individual Rights”

Dean Jacobs, John Olthuis

This session will explore the tensions between group rights and individual rights in relation to the history of aboriginal rights in Canada.  John Olthuis, recognized by the Canadian Bar Association as a leading aboriginal rights lawyer in Canada, will reflect on years of experience in dialogue between aboriginal bands and federal and provincial governments in Canada.   Dean Jacobs, from the Walpole Island First Nation, will speak from his experience and hopes for the future of aboriginal communities in Canada.

1.5 Session on “Negotiating Borders Justly: Immigration and Human Rights”

Bernard Alphonsus, Emily Gilbert, Ronald Poulton

In the news with increasing frequency, we see immigration issues profiled—from open borders with fast-track permanent residency status for certain kinds of skilled workers to closed borders for certain applicants from poorer countries or refugee claimants or unhealthy family members of immigrants. What kinds of human rights claims can be made at the borders? Does Immigration Canada have an inherent right to preserve the "social order" in certain ways, granting access to some groups or kinds of people but keeping others out? How significant should human rights claims be at the borders? Is there a "common good" that joins insiders and outsiders, yet also makes for a just social order?

1.6 Session on “Perils and Promises: Tensions between Justice and Other-Norms”

Pamela Couture, James Christie, Lowell Ewert

This panel will address the tensions that sometimes occur between ideals of justice and other social norms, such as memory and tradition, cultural expression, global security, and peace between religious and cultural communities. Are there instances when honouring particular cultural heritages should mitigate concerns for universal human rights? What roles should civil society play in addressing questions of rights, as compared to strong emphases on government obligations? What is the significance of social memory in public concerns about justice? Should there be limits to religious and cultural diversity in order to promote a common good?

1.7 Session on “Formal Rights and Substantive Rights in Conflict”

Réal Fillion, Bruce Porter, John Russon

In the discourse of rights and the practice of making rights-claims, formal rights (civil and political) and substantive rights (social, economic, and cultural) have been distinguished from each other, with formal rights often taking precedence.  In what ways are these two kinds of rights in conflict with each other?  Is there a framework by which they could be shown to be compatible?  What is the significance of their incompatibility or their compatibility, and how should a system of justice be organized in a way that is responsive to their relative significance?

1.8 Evening Public Lecture “Must Love and Justice Forever be at Odds?”

Nicholas Wolterstorff

The dominant theme in almost two millennia of discussions in the West about the relation between love and justice is the theme of tension or incompatibility: if one treats someone as one does because justice requires it, one is not acting out of love, and if one acts out of love toward someone, one is not treating them as one does because justice requires it. I will point to the paradoxes that this view yields, and then present a way of understanding love (and justice) such that love incorporates justice rather than being in tension with it, while also often going beyond what justice requires.

2.1 Keynote Address “Linking Fates Together: Toward New Political Imaginaries of Justice and Democratic Rights”

Melissa Williams

The popular movements that have erupted around the globe, from Tahrir Square to the demonstrations in the Eurozone to the Occupy movements, are simultaneously movements for social justice and movements for democratic reform. Popular protest has stimulated a renewed – and now, more than ever, a truly global - public sphere that consciously links failures of democratic legitimacy on the national scale with failures of economic justice on the global scale. At the same time, the global economic crisis hastens the unraveling of the social welfare state whose stability has been the presupposition of our most powerful theories of social justice. Those theories, though enriched and deepened through the critiques from difference that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, may rest on Westphalian assumptions about the boundaries of justice that are difficult to sustain in the context of neoliberal globalization. Looking to the practices and rhetoric of those who are acting on behalf of "globalization from below," the lecture will explore alternative political imaginaries for linking aspirations to justice and claims for democratic rights in our dynamic and interconnected world.

2.2 Session on “Disability and Human Rights: Issues of Access and Attitudes”

Deborah Stienstra, Lynda Katsuno, Patty Douglas, Tom Reynolds

This panel will discuss issues raised in linking human rights discourse with matters of disability.  For example, in 2006 the United Nations adopted the "Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities," later ratified in 2008.  The objective of the Convention is to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all people with disabilities, including children.  Canada has ratified the convention and is currently preparing its initial report to the UN Committee, due in April 2012.  But what is a "right" and "freedom" vis-à-vis disability?  How is "equality" between all persons—disabled and non-disabled—to be understood and lived out in a Canadian context?

2.3 Session on “Restoration or Retribution: Tensions in the Adjudication of Justice”

Bruce Schenk, Marie Wilson, Harry van Harten

Many legal proceedings follow an adversarial model, based on the assumption that legal justice requires retribution and that retribution requires both winners and losers.  This model seems at odds with a more recent emphasis on restorative justice, as witnessed in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in recent innovations within criminal and juvenile justice systems, where restoring the victim, the perpetrator, and the community have more weight than simply upholding the law and meting out punishment.  This panel brings together a provincial court judge, an advocate for restorative justice and a commissioner from Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to discuss the pros and cons of the restorative justice model for the adjudication of justice.

2.4 Session on “Children’s Rights: From Protection to Self-Determination”

Scott Forbes, Kathy Vandergrift

Twenty years ago every country except two enthusiastically adopted a Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In Canada a recent Senate study found that children's rights have not become part of our culture or public life.  Why not?  Is change possible and desirable?  In many parts of the world children's rights are violated with impunity.  This session will explore conceptual tensions in the field of children's rights that create barriers for implementation and practical experiences that improve the situation of children.  Presenters will be Kathy Vandergrift, Chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children and instructor in Public Ethics, and Jamie McIntosh, Executive Director of International Justice Mission Canada, an international organization that defends the rights of children caught in child labour, sexual exploitation, and oppressive regimes.

2.5 Practitioners Networking Session

Facilitated by the Office of Social Justice, CRCNA

For practitioners, engaging the public with issues of social justice and human rights is no easy task.  The Office of Social Justice, for example, is mandated to "equip and lead the Christian Reformed Church in carrying out its transforming mission to pursue God's justice and peace."  To accomplish this, the OSJ needs to translate the academic and legal discourse of social justice and human rights into accessible language and provide practical activities to engage and mobilize our constituents.

This informal sharing session will provide an opportunity for practitioners to network and discuss how we engage and equip our constituents on topics of social justice and human rights.  Please come prepared to share briefly about your work and the ways in which you engage and mobilize the general public or your constituency.

2.6 Session on “Environmental Rights”

Heather Eaton, Ruth Groenhout, John Hiemstra

This panel will focus on the relation between environmental issues and human rights.  For example, there are basic questions regarding the nature of "environmental rights" and how to define them in relation to, or as, human rights.  Other issues relate to the rights of individuals and collectives to be informed and have a say in how state and corporate actions affect their local environment.  The question of what constitutes a just distribution of resources and environmental impact is also important, particularly given arguments about the current injustice of that distribution.

2.7 Session on “Poverty and Rights”

Joe Gunn, Michael DeMoor
Organised by Citizens for Public Justice

Campaigns against poverty use human rights language, such as the right to food and shelter, to press for changes in public policy.  These rights, called sustenance rights, have a long history in religious thought, but they do not fit easily in contemporary free market societies, which consider property rights as foundational.  Can sustenance rights and property rights, which often come into conflict, be reconciled?  Joe Gunn, Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice, will discuss the current Dignity for All campaign as an attempt to reclaim the rights of people marginalized in our economic system.  Michael DeMoor will discuss alternative ways to approach the concepts of property rights and sustenance rights and the challenges our market society poses for the pursuit of a broader concept of public justice.

2.8 Session on “Women and Rights”

Joanna Birenbaum, Minoo Derayeh, Janet Wesselius

Rights for women are controversial; over time they have been alternatively advocated and condemned by scholars and activists concerned with improving the status of women around the globe. The panel speaks to this controversial context, addressing the following questions: What are women's rights and how do they operate? Do women's rights operate to support women, or can they further contribute to their oppression? How are rights for women elaborated in different cultural contexts, and are there problems involved in doing so?  In what real ways and in what real areas are rights claimed for women, and what are the gains and losses associated with such claims?

2.9 Plenary Panel “Social Justice and Human Rights: Reflections in Conclusion”

Melissa Williams, Lois Wilson, Nicholas Wolterstorff

Melissa Williams reflected on the fact that many of the conference sessions had highlighted the importance of language in grappling with human rights and social justice. She emphasized the need for attentiveness to languages that we use around the issues that we consider to be morally urgent, while paying particular attention to their diversity and their limitations. Recalling Wittgenstein’s insight on success in language games as the ability to “know how to go on,” she registered the difficulties of being able to go on in the current scenario because so many core elements of the historically important vocabularies in addressing rights and justice have been co-opted and distorted by those whose projects are inimical to justice.