The art of government relations: a tapestry of stories, Quaker voices, and advocacy

In 2023 Canadian Friends Service Committee hired me for a newly created job based in Ottawa: Government Relations Representative. Components of the work I’m doing have been done by program staff and volunteers at CFSC before me. But my role as a full-time staff person in Ottawa makes this a bigger priority for CFSC than it’s ever been.

So what is it that I’m doing? I’m weaving a tapestry of relationships. Many are relationships that I have inherited. I’m taking those existing threads and passing them through the loom to build up the pattern. And I’m adding new threads too. This is an evolving effort that requires variation and change to be beautiful. I like this metaphor because it serves a dual purpose: it symbolises a process that needs many hands to create a complete picture, and it tells a story, which is at the core of what I’m trying to do.

Storytelling builds trust and is part of Quakers’ unique voice when it comes to engaging with decision makers. Even though CFSC’s office is in Toronto, the Quaker voice has succeeded in Ottawa before. For example, Jennifer Preston has had a huge impact in recent years through building relationships. Alongside partners, she has shared facts and stories in Ottawa to get decision makers to understand Indigenous peoples’ human rights and reconciliation.

“I’m weaving a tapestry of relationships.”


This culminated in the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which received royal assent in 2021. Achieving this Act took persistent voices, including CFSC’s, telling a story of hope and justice, for decades. Our quiet but insistent voice impressed those who heard it. And that led to lasting connections, adding to the tapestry, giving me a place to start my work.

There are many who’ve seen the impacts of the Indigenous human rights work we’ve done. They recognize CFSC as a trusted presence. They know us as good faith actors whose voice is balanced and truthful—seeking justice and peace as a way forward. I am trying to achieve this same level of recognition for CFSC in the criminal justice and peace areas we work in as well.

When it comes to criminal justice, it’s clear that the status quo does not work. I’m finding allies who recognize the ineffectiveness of a legal system that continues to ignore the human costs of incarceration. As CFSC’s end goal is contributing to a transformed justice system that is healing rather than causing further harm, I’m using current legislative priorities to demonstrate better ways to achieve this. In my work I’m tracking important developments in the House of Commons and the Senate.
I’m taking a particular focus on the Federal Framework to Reduce Recidivism Act and the recently released implementation plan for the Act.

This approach also holds for CFSC’s peace work. For a long time it’s been clear that Canada is not living up to its potential to help build a more peaceful world. This has been made starkly evident by the current Israel and Hamas war and Canada’s roles, such as continuing to arm Israel contrary to Canada’s legal obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty. Israel/Palestine has become a focus for my work over the past three months. Coordinating meetings, tracking developments in real-time, and finding the best strategies to influence government or individual MP’s positions has been paramount. Engaging directly with the Quaker community to contribute toward Canada’s support for a ceasefire has also been rewarding.

Despite all the devastation and grief that is being felt due to the violence, I perceive a glimmer of hope. There is such a groundswell of support for a future for Palestine/Israel that perhaps did not exist before and could become a reality. From what I see and hear in meetings, a space for change can emerge. But it will take the ongoing momentum from everyone invested in just and sustainable peace. New actions will be needed in the coming weeks and months as the situation develops. CFSC will continue to share action tools on our website and social media because it will be so important to support a commitment to a peaceful future for Israel/Palestine.

The networks, partners, and allies that I have met since starting my role all add to the story that I’m trying to convey in my work in Ottawa. I’m reminded of that quiet but insistent voice that I’m seeking to amplify with all the new connections I’m making. Many people I talk with have not heard of Quakers before. But some remember the echoes of the work CFSC has done, and make space to meet with me and hear what Friends are up to. Those who know Quakers know us as continuing to work on issues for years or decades rather than jumping onto a cause only when it’s popular. Our dedication over the long term is a strength that is needed, since the large scale problems CFSC seeks to address take lots of time and patience.

Being in Ottawa allows me to be persistent. It is with hope and optimism that I’m weaving the tapestry, creating new connections, and telling and adding to a story that will continue to evolve.

Sandra Wiens is CFSC’s Government Relations Representative.