Defund the police! It’s a demand that is all over the streets, the news, and in our minds right now. It’s a demand brought on by centuries of inequality and injustice. Although public attention was reignited in May following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States, Canada is certainly not immune to systemic racism. The experiences of Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, two recent victims of deadly police violence towards Indigenous peoples in Canada, made it clear that this is not an issue that Canadians can ignore.
What are the alternatives? What steps can we, as individuals and as communities, take to address the punitive and systemically racist justice system in Canada? How much change is society ready for? We at Canadian Friends Service Committee have been thinking about this a great deal in recent months.
What are the alternatives?
Quakers have acted under concern about the harms caused by the justice system for centuries, and have worked individually and collectively in attempts—some more successful than others—to alleviate problems caused by the system. As the peace and social justice agency of Canadian Friends, CFSC has acted on these concerns for decades, and our work has been more focused since Canadian Quakers came to unity in 1981 around the need to abolish the penal system (see https://quakerservice.ca/prisonabolition).
Now, more than ever before, people around the world are seeing what Friends have been trying to raise awareness of: the punitive justice system perpetuates cycles of harm, especially towards racialized communities. Although Friends have corporately supported penal abolition for a long time, this does not mean that we have all of the answers about what a society without police or punishment could look like, or that we are exempt from our own biases.
You’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about how police and other aspects of the criminal justice system are systemically racist, and in need of major reform. But you may or may not feel comfortable with the idea of tearing down structures that have a long history as cornerstones of how colonial societies like Canada enforce social contracts around laws and safety. CFSC has discerned that this is an opportune moment to provide a space in which all of us can learn more about these issues.
In the coming months, we will offer a five-part interactive webinar series on the topic of shifting punitive perspectives. With the help of experts, people with lived experience, and Friends, CFSC will examine the impacts of the existing punitive and racist justice system, alternatives to this system, and next steps.
But be warned: this series is not as easy as logging onto your Zoom account a few times to watch a panel. Everyone will be challenged to examine their own perspectives, biases, and roles in relation to systemic racism. We don’t want you to be a passive participant in this process. The series will be asking you to engage fully, and to bring your own knowledge, experience, perspectives, and concerns as we engage in deep re-thinking together.
These webinars will create space for discussing racism (both support of systemically racist institutions, and individual prejudices) and attitudes around crime, what crime is, how to keep society safe, and how to address transgressions (many of these attitudes may draw on some of Canada’s colonial and systemically racist ways of doing and knowing). This will require a willingness on the part of all participants to face some personal discomfort in order to achieve positive change. Like reconciliation, this path is a journey and it will require work. It’s the only way forward. Are you ready to do this work?
If you are, stay tuned. We will be releasing all of the details and how to register soon. Follow us on social media @CFSCQuakers or sign up to receive our e-news to get all of the information.
Keira Mann is CFSC’s Assistant Coordinator, Programs and Events. Find out more about CFSC’s criminal justice work.