An important part of the Initiatives of Change network is the exchange of knowledge and experiences. Professionals with experience working in one country often get invited to partner with and train project teams of other countries. Their outside perfective can shine a new light on local challenges, as these professionals are not directly involved, and can therefore make it easier for people from the community to speak openly. In this regard Rob Corcoran was invited to join the conversation about building trust within the Quebec community.
Rob is a trainer, facilitator, writer, and racial healing practitioner. He has led trustbuilding workshops among diverse and polarized groups across North America and internationally. He served as national director of Initiatives of Change USA and founded its flagship domestic program Hope in the Cities in Richmond, Virginia. We invited Rob to share his thoughts about the two days he spent with the team in Quebec. Here you can read about his experience with the Canadian Trustbuilding Project Team. For an extended version of his column make sure to check out the xChange website or Rob's personal website.
'I sat down to write this column the day after Justin Trudeau won a second term as Canada's prime minister. He lost the popular vote and his Liberal Party lost its majority in the House of Commons. To the surprise of many observers, the Bloc Québécois, a party that promotes Québec independence and which had appeared very weak early in the year, emerged with the third highest number of seats.
Last year, the provincial elections saw a landslide victory for the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), a nationalist party, which went on to pass controversial legislation known as Bill 21 which bans certain public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols such as niqabs, hijabs and turbans.
In this context, a new project being launched by Initiatives of Change Canada seems particularly timely. Earlier this month, I spent two days in Montreal meeting with a group of community leaders who are engaged in a trustbuilding program to address the province's societal challenges. They say that 'Québec is a microcosm of the country as a whole, with the added complexity of identity, nationalism, linguistic difference, undocumented immigration, religious tensions, and the long-standing history of oppression and colonization of Canada's first peoples.' Our Canadian colleagues aim to train and equip a cohort of trustbuilding trainers and facilitators with tools and skills to bridge cultural, social and religious divides in their respective communities.
Along with my colleague Ebony Walden from Richmond, Virginia, and Roxann Kioko from Eastern Mennonite University, I took part in an information session and discussion in Montreal with about 40 people from interfaith and peacebuilding organizations, academia, government, business and the arts. We outlined the ongoing trustbuilding experience in a city like Richmond, VA, with its history of slavery and segregation, and we engaged the participants in discussing the roots and fruits of distrust in Québec.
I talked about its significance of the trustbuilding program with its two leaders. Joseph Vumiliya is Initiatives of Change's regional coordinator for Québec. He came to Canada in 2012 after many years of work with an international NGO in sub-Saharan Africa. Joseph says, 'I have experienced broken trust at a personal level as a survivor of genocide in Rwanda where I lost most of my family. I felt that Initiatives of Change was already doing good work in Canada, but it was not going deep enough. This is also true for our partner organizations.'
'Geneviève Dick, who teaches philosophy, is the trustbuilding program manager. Her mother is a Catholic Québecoise. Her father is a Mennonite from Western Canada whose father emigrated from Russia. Geneviève says that some of her interest in philosophy stemmed from the inherent tension in her own family. She drifted away from formal faith, but when she came across writings by Frank Buchman, she was intrigued by how he connected personal and social change.
Joseph and Genevieve believe that the program must address the interconnected issues of history, racism, and identity. 'A lot of French Canadians look at France as a model for exclusion and see multiculturalism as a threat. Xenophobia and racism are perceived as protecting local identity.' She says she is very sensitive to injustice.
They remarked that the presence of outsiders like Ebony, Roxann and me at the discussion enabled participants to hear truths in a new way, sometimes from people with whom they were already working and thought they knew. 'Because you were from outside, it gave them space. For example, an indigenous woman talked about how she found it hard to trust. This surprised some people. I am sure she had said this before, but she had not been heard.'
These two trustbuilders agree that it will be important to avoid blame and shame. 'With this program we need to be very factual and make room for people to tell their stories in ways that are really heard. We need experience supported by facts.''
The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.