The Compassionate Justice Speaker Series, hosted by Eglinton St. George’s United in Toronto, is celebrating its 10th season this year.
In 2010, two Eglinton St. George’s congregants, Dan Lang and Jim Black, were concerned that while incidences of crime were continuously going down in Canada, incarceration rates were going up. Lang and Black, a frequent volunteer who worked with formerly incarcerated individuals, decided to start a speaker series about criminal justice at their church.
At first, 40 to 50 people came, but that quickly grew after some outreach. Soon, Lang says, “you had a judge sitting beside a police officer sitting beside a social service provider.…We’ve had all kinds of really fascinating discussions.” Speakers have included defence lawyer Edward Greenspan, Justice Murray Sinclair and former Ontario premier Bob Rae. In 2018, the series hit a record of almost 500 attendees for one speaker.
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This year’s season begins on the third Sunday of October and runs until February. The speakers are Beverley McLachlin, the 17th chief justice of Canada; James Lockyer of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted; Paula Mallea, author of Beyond Incarceration; and Harry Nigh, a retired Mennonite chaplain who founded a volunteer organization to support sexual offenders after incarceration. Nigh will lead a panel about ex-prisoners rejoining society.
“Much of the social justice work that United churches do is largely invisible outside the congregation,” says Lang, so this series can show the community what initiatives churches are already active in. They’ve started to offer templates to other churches that want to duplicate the model of the series. Port Nelson United in Burlington, Ont., has already taken the idea and run with it: this fall, it launched a series on immigration.
The series “is another way for people to see progress in our world, to get out and connect with people,” Lang says. “There’s nothing more powerful than the spoken word.”
Broadview is a series sponsor.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s November 2019 issue.
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