Federation Office for Systemic Justice


Federation Office for Systemic Justice Staff:


Sister Sue Wilson, Director


The world is shaped by systems:  eco-systems (e.g. Carolinian forest),  economic systems (e.g. capitalism), political systems (e.g. parliamentary democracy),  cultural systems (e.g. postmodern ways of looking at life),  social systems (e.g. a city),  religious systems (e.g.  Roman Catholicism).  Like all systems, these systems behave as a “whole” but they are also “nested,” so it is helpful to remember that, no matter what system we’re looking at, it is made up of smaller systems and also is part of larger systems.

Systems-thinking is a way of thinking about the world:

  • It acknowledges the complex nature of society and earth community.  It urges us to see things in relationship.  How are individual or local behaviours influenced by the wider context?  What roles are being played by human consciousness and culture (assumptions, beliefs, values)?
  • It looks at social patterns in order to understand the underlying structures that support the patterns of interaction.  For example, when we stand with people who are experiencing poverty, we begin to see barriers to social and economic inclusion.  By studying these patterns, we can come to understand how systemic structures are creating these barriers.
  • It explores justice issues (e.g. poverty) from many different angles or perspectives, identifying the diverse factors that contribute to the problem and seeing how these factors interact.

A systemic approach to justice uses these “ways of thinking” in order to identify root causes.  Once we understand how diverse factors interact with each other, we can work toward change by identifying key leverage points for shifting systems.  Often the work of systemic justice takes us into dialogue with politicians and their policy staff because government policies are structures that can create barriers if the policy makers are not attentive to how the policy affects marginalized groups or sensitive bio-regions.

At the core, systemic justice is about transformation or deep change.  The Federation Office for Systemic Justice integrates contemplation and justice by focusing on the connections between the change that is needed in the world and the change that is needed in ourselves.   In this way, we open ourselves to enter the depth and breadth of the transformations into which we are called.


  • As we share life together in our earth community, we live in a manner which respects all beings as sacred.
  • In our everyday choices and actions, personally and collectively, our conscious desire to “become the change we seek” moves us towards transformation, towards the well-being of all the earth community. We believe that transformation comes from changes made at the root of unjust systems.

Our Federation Office for Systemic Justice is an expression of our mandate to live out our contemplative spirituality in ways that bring about systemic justice. We do this through research, political advocacy, activism and education. We collaborate with others to address many of the emerging needs of our society:

  • Poverty Reduction
  • Human Trafficking
  • Climate Change


Some perspectives look at poverty through the lens of income (e.g. If a household has an income less than half of the median income, they are living in poverty).  Another perspective focuses on basic necessities (e.g. A family needs sufficient income to be able to afford a market basket of essential goods and services). A third view emphasizes that poverty is about more than not having access to sufficient goods or services; it is a relation between people that is shaped by social exclusion. A fourth approach understands poverty as the extent to which a person does not have access to resources (e.g.  financial resources, social networks of support, personal coping strategies). Together, these perspectives illustrate that poverty is a complex reality that creates multiple barriers to social and economic inclusion.

Who is Poor?

Poverty levels are experienced disproportionately by racialized persons, women, immigrants, Indigenous persons or persons with a disability.

The Working Poor

The standard employment relationship characterized by full-time, secure employment, where the worker has access to good wages and benefits, is no longer the norm. Recent studies (e.g. Law Commission of Ontario 2012) are showing that more precarious forms of work are increasing.  Precarious work is work with low wages, few or no benefits, little job security and minimal control over work conditions. Workers in precarious jobs are disproportionately women, racialized persons, immigrants, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, older adults and youth.

Why Does the Gap Between Rich and Poor Matter?

The gap between rich and poor measures the degree of inequality in a society. Income differences within a society are also clear indicators of differences in social status, social power and social inclusion. Furthermore, sociological studies are consistently demonstrating that societies that have wider gaps between rich and poor experience higher levels of violence, poorer health for all, lower levels of trust and community participation, higher levels of racism and sexism (c.f. The Spirit Level, Penguin Books 2010).

Working Toward Systemic Change

Poverty is not inevitable. Effective policy choices can significantly reduce the rates and mitigate its effects. All levels of government should have comprehensive poverty reduction strategies. Such strategies might include: investments in safe, affordable housing as well as other public goods such as transportation, drug care, dental care, health care, day care,  job training for good jobs that pay a living wage, paid internships to help youth get into the workforce, child tax benefits and adequate levels of social assistance. There is also a need for proactive labour inspections to protect employment standards and reduce the level of precarious work. Such investments require progressive tax policies accompanied by transparency and accountability in the use of government funds.


Human trafficking happens in Canada.

A Human Rights Approach to Human Trafficking

Our congregations take a human rights approach to human trafficking. We work with groups that are addressing human rights violations that intersect and contribute to human trafficking. In our work, we have come to realize that the global community must stop the violation of a wide range of human rights (e.g. the right to earn a decent wage, to have labour protection, to migrate safely, to have one’s dignity as a person respected, to be free from poverty, racism and sexism, to be cared for in the midst of humanitarian and ecological crises), if we are to stop human trafficking.

United Nations Definition of Human Trafficking

Canada ratified The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (knownas the Palermo Protocol) in 2002. This protocol includes an internationally accepted definition of human trafficking.

Article 3(a) of the Palermo Protocol defines “Trafficking in Persons” as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion of abduction, fraud, of deception of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

The following equation is widely used to illustrate how the different aspects converge to create the reality of human trafficking:

  • Mobilization + Means + Purpose = Human Trafficking

A trafficker:

  1. Engages in an act of mobilization against another person, such as recruiting or transferring.
  2. Uses at least one means, such as violence or another form of coercion.
  3. And this is done for the purpose of exploiting that other person for financial gain or material benefit through, for example, forced labour or sexual exploitation.

N.B.  Consent from the person experiencing trafficking is irrelevant if obtained through offensive means, including coercion threat, abuse of power, giving of benefits or payment, or being in a position of vulnerability. Canada ratified the Palermo Protocol in 2002, committing us to the Three Ps of human trafficking:

  1. Prevention   – Preventing and combating human trafficking.
  2. Protection   – Protecting and assisting those who have been trafficked.
  3. Prosecution – Prosecuting the traffickers.



Global Issues
This site is easy to use and gives good facts related to global poverty and other justice issues.

Good information about global poverty


Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives does very good research related to Canadian poverty issues.  Many of their reports and studies can be printed free of charge.

OCASI: Federal Budget 2007 Does Little To Address Poverty


The Pembina Institute
A Canadian Institute based in Alberta which provides policy, research, leadership and education on climate change.

An education program of the Pembina Foundation – good resources

David Suzuki Foundation
A science-based Canadian environmental organization working to protect the balance of nature and our quality of life

Global Issues: Environmental Issues

Environment Canada
Contains good information about climate change and global warming