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Signs of the Times
A Geopolitical, Economic, Social and Religious Analysis of Canada
FALL 2021
  By Peter Noteboom, General Secretary, the Canadian Council of Churches
This essay is written from the per- spective of the General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches as seen through the lens of shared ecu- menical and interfaith endeavours in Canada with member churches of the Council. I write from a white, set- tler, male, urban Toronto, privileged standpoint. The lens of The Cana- dian Council of Churches includes the ecumenically shared experiences of Anglican-Lutheran, Eastern and Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Free Church, Eastern and Oriental Ortho- dox, and Historic Protestant Christian traditions. Together, we acknowledge that nearly every community in Can- ada is home to communities of the Christian faith who belong to a mem- ber denomination of the Council. So, The Canadian Council of Churches and its members are on the historic territory of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land.
I understand that the purpose of this essay is to provide an overview of the geopolitical, economic, social and re- ligious trends in Canada, and to reflect on what churches are paying attention to that are the “signs of the times.” It goes without saying that this is a many-sided, complicated and really an impossible task. What follows is a tentative attempt to capture a few sali- ent details, stories and principles that spring directly from recent experienc- es of ecumenical and interfaith work.
Indigenous Peoples
Among the most important legacies of history in North America is on one hand the cultural history of Indig- enous peoples on Turtle Island and their care for the land over thousands of years, and on the other hand the shared complicity in cultural and ethnic genocide of Indigenous peo- ples on Turtle Island by Canada, the United States and other settler governments. After centuries of dis- placement, disruption of livelihoods, suppression of Indigenous spirituali- ties, culture and languages, attempts to remake Indigenous peoples in the image of the colonizers, sex- trafficking, the system of church-run Residential Schools designed to “kill the Indian in the child” and repeated attempts at extinguishing Aboriginal title to the land, churches and peo- ple of faith are struggling to come to terms with what reconciliation could possibly mean. The KAIROS Blanket Exercise has been a powerful and ef- fective educational tool for faith com- munities and beyond to visualize and experience that story.
In recent years, Survivors of Resi- dential Schools were successful in calling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools into existence and, thanks to those Survivors and their courage in telling their stories, a new wind has been blowing that has been guided by the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, espe- cially Call to Action #48: Calling on
faith communities to formally adopt and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indig- enous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation; respecting Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination in spiritual matters; and engaging in ongoing public dialogue and actions to support the United Nations Dec- laration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Just now, much of the work on legislation related to UNDRIP is be- ing carried out in faith communities by the Faith in the Declaration coali- tion through support for Bill C-15 that mandates the government to take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.
While many religious denomina- tions and faith groups have repudi- ated the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, which were used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples (Call to Action #49), much work remains to be done to uproot those doctrines from minds, culture and the histories we tell about Canada.
Call to Action #41 on the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls—gender-based violence plus—remains a program priority for many Canadian churches.
The Christian Interfaith Relations body of the Council will take up as a program priority themes that are mentioned in Call to Action #60, “on the need to respect Indigenous spirit- uality in its own right, the history and legacy of Residential Schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of re- ligious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsi- bility that churches have to mitigate
such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.”
Peoples of African Descent
The legacy of slavery, especially for Peoples of African Descent in Canada and for Canadian churches remains unrecognized. Many Canadians pro- fess to be unaware that slavery was legal and promoted in Canada and many Canadian churches have yet to begin to think critically about the legacy of slavery in their own insti- tutions and communities. Anti-Black hate crimes have been the most widely reported hate crime in Canada and the effects of systemic racism are ever with us.
The engagement of member churches in the legacy of slavery is much less prominent than the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. Just last year, the Gov- erning Board of the Council decided to support in principle the United Nations International Decade for Peoples of African Descent with its themes of recognition, justice and development, and to make anti-Black racism and anti-racism efforts a pri- ority. Last year’s demonstrations in the United States after the murder of George Floyd galvanized Black Lives Matter in Canada—including calling
attention to racism in Canadian po- licing—and is shaking up people of conscience and workers for justice.
The United States
The other major geopolitical and cul- tural reality in Canada is our proximity to the United States. Canadian poli- tics is feeling the impact of the rise of extremist political movements in the United States. Canada has plenty of its own extremist, populist and su- premacist community groups across the country and the permissive polar- ized and divisive politics south of the Canadian border has changed and is changing political discourse in Can- ada. The leadership of The Evangeli- cal Fellowship of Canada has begun studying and responding explicitly to new and re-emerging Canadian Christian Nationalist movements.
The US – Canada Safe Third Coun- try Agreement regulating the entry of refugees and asylum seekers into Canada has been the subject of many cour t challenges, where the Council has played a prominent role. An appli- cation for a Supreme Cour t challenge is now in preparation and the Coun- cil will continue to be an intervenor alongside the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International Canada.
  View from Amphitrite Point towards the Barkley Sound and the archipelago of the Broken Group Islands, Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, B.C.

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