How PBI-Canada is responding to the coronavirus pandemic
I wish everyone good health during this strange and scary time. My heart is with those who are feeling particularly vulnerable, worried about friends and family, wondering about the basic necessities of life, and those who are feeling financially precarious.
As a human rights organization, we are also deeply concerned about the impact this situation will have for at-risk human rights defenders, communities that may experience greater repression at this time, and those seeking refuge from violence.
Our field projects and country groups
We are also staying in communication with our field projects and country groups.
All of the countries where we provide accompaniment and direct support – Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Indonesia and Nepal – have confirmed cases of coronavirus. Our teams in these countries are having discussions about how to continue to keep at-risk human rights defenders safe at this time.
Apart from Canada, the United States and Australia, PBI’s ten other country groups are based in Europe. We are particularly concerned about our friends and colleagues with PBI-Italy and PBI-Spain, countries that have been hit particularly hard by coronavirus.
What PBI-Canada is doing
As a first step, we postponed an advocacy tour we had planned in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal from March 14-19. This tour was going to feature the legal coordinator for the Saltillo Migrant Shelter, which is accompanied by PBI, highlighting concerns including the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement, the reasons why people are displaced, the violence experienced by migrants, and the need for the human rights of migrants to be upheld.
It is our hope that we will be able to hold this tour by the end of the year.
Additionally, PBI-Canada has just one staff person, me, and I am working from home. This is also the result of the closing of our office last year to better spend the donations we receive on program costs rather than on overhead.
And given advocacy tours, public meetings and country visits are not possible at this time, we will continue to do our best to interpret and share human rights updates with you. We will also do all the online advocacy that is possible.
We’ve already joined with World Beyond War, CODEPINK and the Nobel Women’s Initiative to call on the organizers of CANSEC, this country’s largest arms fair, to cancel their planned gathering in Ottawa of 12,000 people from 55 countries after it announced their weapons show would go ahead despite the pandemic.
We have also highlighted and shared via social media the concerns being expressed by a Colombian social leader about a Canadian company possibly fracking near his community’s source of water and the fish that feed their village.
We will also be attempting to do as much of our administrative work online as possible.
It’s unknown how long this pandemic will last. USA Today has reported the cases will peak in late April/early May, while the BBC has noted a “best guess” that cases could peak towards May and June before a downturn.
In the meantime, we will do our best to virtually accompany, keep you informed about the issues faced by human rights defenders, and work to make space for peace.
Brent Patterson, Peace Brigades International-Canada, Ottawa