CASJ launched amid snowstorm

Community News & Features Feb 1, 2005 at 4:12 pm

Officers, members,  vow commitment to social justice campaign

TORONTO–Over fifty hardy souls braved the raging snowstorm last Saturday, Jan. 22, to take part in the formal launching at the Scarborough Civic Centre of the first advocacy group of its kind in the Filipino community.

It was not for an ordinary occasion, after all, that had prompted a father of five to drive through blinding snow all the way from Woodbridge; or for a father to take the long bus ride from West Toronto with his two daughters; or for an elderly couple to leave the warm comfort of their home to risk freezing temperatures; or for caregivers to forego a leisurely day of rest, just to be there.

The event, after all, was to mark the awaited launching of the political action and advocacy group in the Filipino community, following up on a major recommendation made by the conference “Strengthen Our Community for Social Justice,” held on Oct. 30, 2004, attended by about 200 people.

The Community Alliance for Social Justice, or CASJ (pronounced cas-jay) for short, apart from its social development, research, education and community mobilizing roles, was to formalize this mandate, with new members coming in — either as individuals or organizations.

Major issues were raised in reports read before the members, and these are now the issues in CASJ’s campaigns, as articulated in the Action Plan for 2005 presented to the body:  changes in the Live-in Caregiver Program; access to trades and professions; changes in policing and community safety; and the need for services in Scarborough, where a huge population of Filipino-Canadians live.

On the government’s caregiver program, CASJ is specifically campaigning for the scrapping of the live-in provision, the granting of landed immigrant status to caregivers and provision for immediate social services and benefits, and for Canada to sign the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights and Welfare of All Migrant Workers and Their Families.  Joy Sioson  reported on this issue.

On policing and community safety, Mithi Esguerra reported that  CASJ is seeking a change in the dominantly ex-police composition of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and for a system and process of civilian complaints on police involvement in incidents resulting in the injury or death of civilians.

On the issue of access to trades and professions, Mila Astorga-Garcia announced the plan to investigate the  extent of non-recognition of foreign-trained professionals  in the community and to  join established initiatives in other communities.

Flor Dandal explained the plan of CASJ to assist in establishing a consortium of existing community centres led by Kababayan and Silayan community centres, to build a family service centre for Filipinos and other ethnic communities in Scarborough.

A highlight of the event was the report by Co-Chair Pura Velasco on CASJ’s major actions to implement the recommendations of last October’s conference – laid out in text and photos in an impressive Power Point presentation produced by two CASJ youth – a founding officer (Mithi Esguerra) and a new member (Ching Esguerra).  Even before its launching, CASJ has brought to the attention of the three levels of government its issues:

Among these actions are:

– Raising CASJ’s issues at the City
of  Toronto’s “Listening to Toronto” consultation.

– Deputation at the budget hearing of the Toronto Police Services Board, seeking for changes in the SIU composition and investigation process.

– Seeking changes in the police complaints system, by advocating with the Lesage Commission for an independent investigation and adjudication process.

– Presenting a written policy brief to then Immigration Minister Judy Sgro outlining changes to the Live-in-Caregivers Program.

CASJ is taking further action on the LCP changes, following its exclusion in the recent roundtable discussion of the LCP conducted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada  under Sgro, as it currently seeks a meeting with the new Minister on the matter.

CASJ has also conducted a fundraising campaign for typhoon victims in the Philippines, in partnership with the United Church of Canada and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

An important part of its work is the alliances it has made and is making with social justice and equity groups, by participating in campaigns around common equity and social justice issues.

CASJ continues to maintain close ties with the Justice for Jeffrey Coalition, lending support in areas where it can assist, such as in increasing public awareness on the issues around the fatal shooting of the 17-year old student Jeffrey Reodica by Toronto Police officer Dan Belanger.

It has also taken initial steps to link up and work together with the newly formed Social Development Network in Toronto, an alternative social planning body working for the interest of ethnic and Aboriginal communities, including the new emerging communities in the City.

In affirmation of CASJ’s mission and objectives, CASJ’s officers and Board members took their oath in a unique ceremony officiated by a former lawyer and senior member of the community, and five others representing sectors of the community the organization has vowed to serve.  Those who officiated the oath taking included a youth, a live-in caregiver, a family member of Jeffrey Reodica, and a professional accountant facing barriers in the practice of his profession.

When new members were called in to the front for their oath-taking, almost all stood up to fill up the center of the Council Chambers to take their oath as CASJ members committed to work for social justice in the interest of the most vulnerable members of the community.  New members included leaders from other ethnic communities.

A  message of solidarity from the Vancouver-based National Alliance of Philippine Women was read by Yolyn Valenzuela of the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario.

Following are the officers of CASJ: Co-Chairs: Pura Velasco (Co-Chair, Equity Committee, Toronto Labour Council) and Mel Catre  (Past  President, National Congress of Filipino Canadians); Co-Vice Chairs: Hermie Garcia (Publisher and Editor of The Philippine Reporter) and Connie Sorio (Board Member, Federation of Filipino Canadians of Brampton); Secretary: Rick Esguerra (Philippine Network for Justice and Peace); Treasurer: Edwin Mercurio (Ang Negrosanon, SOCSARGEN Association); Auditor: Jose  Saavedra (President, Philippine Independence Day Council, and President, Canadian Multicultural Council-Asians). (All of them are Board members.)

Other Members of the Board of Directors are: Flor Dandal (Executive Director, Kababayan Filipino Community Centre); Mila Astorga-Garcia (Co-Publisher and Managing Editor, The Philippine Reporter); Mithi Esguerra  (Co-Chair,Filipino-Canadian Youth Network); Carol Bañez (President, Philippine Heritage Band); Julie Nanquil (Board Member, Circulo Floridablanca); Nora Angeles (Barbara Schlifer Clinic); Terry Olayta (Founder, United Filipino Mothers); Virgie Tigas (Publisher, Newspoint); Rose Tijam (President, Silayan Filipino Community Centre); Paul de la Cruz (President, Philippine Press Club-Ontario); Jess Mallari (Maharajah Heritage Association of Canada); Gene Lara (Federation of Metro Tenants Association).

CASJ’s list of member organizations, which continues to grow, as of this writing includes: Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC);  Filipino Canadian  Auto Workers Association; Federation of Filipino Canadians of Brampton; Philippine Barangay Association of Toronto; Philippine Women’s Centre of Ontario;  Philippine Network for Justice and Peace;  Kababayan Filipino Community Centre;  Silayan Filipino Community Centre; The Philippine Reporter; Filipino Canadian Youth Network; Parents, Youth, Family and Friends Association; Philippine Heritage Band; Flemingdon Park Parents Association; Irigueños Association; Filipino Workers Support Committee; Philippine Solidarity Group; United People of Colour; Balita; and  Diwata Works.

Individual members, now more than 100, include Adonis Reodica and Jerry Villanueva of the Justice for Jeffrey Coalition; Aguido de la Cruz, chair of Kababayan Filipino Community Centre; Sahar Badawy, President of Flemingdon Park Parents Asso-ciation; Yukyung Kimcho of Korean Canadian Cultural and Educational Centre; Voltaire de Leon of Diwata Works; Poy Caña, Regional Commander (Canada) of the Order of the Knights of Rizal; Jun Enverga, President of Lucena City Asso-ciation;and Frank Saptel of Asian -Canadian Labour Alliance.

Now formally established, CASJ moves on to pursue its Action Plan, which was presented to the body by Co-Vice Chair Hermie Garcia.  The plan concretizes the recommend-ations of the Oct. 30 Conference, through activities to be pursued and accomplished within the year 2005.

Since last Saturday until press time, scores of e-mails and phone calls from community members especially those unable to attend the launching due to the snowstorm, have been coming in.

Among them, the multicultural Flemingdon Park Parents Association president, Sahar Badawy, who was at the launching, who said her organization is enlisting as CASJ member.

Balita, a long-time newspaper in the community, and Diwata Works, a theatre production group, have been confirmed as  among CASJ’s  latest organizational members.

Altogether, everything that CASJ had set out for its launching day were accomplished, except for the press conference, although City Pulse 24 came to cover the event and broadcast it in the news that night. ABS-CBN was there too to cover the event for broadcast to its Philippine viewers. The Philippine Reporter, Bulatlat.com and a freelance writer were also there to provide coverage.

CASJ was launched amid a snowstorm, but apparently, its baptism of  ice, in a manner of speaking, has only strengthened its resolve. It was symbolic of CASJ’s commitment to realize its objectives no matter what the challenges are.