Shalom Life | June 16, 2015

Keeping the Promise to End Child Poverty in Canada

Two-year campaign to promote awareness of critical issue ends with event at June Callwood Park

By: Daniel Koren

Published: June 9th, 2015 in News » World

Keeping the Promise to End Child Poverty in Canada

Photo: Students taking part at Keep the Promise Event on June Callwood Day (June 2nd), 2015

Credit: Courtesy


On April 14th, 2007, Canadian author, journalist and social activist June Callwood died after a long battle with cancer.

She was 82.

Callwood was a strong advocate for social justice, instrumental in bringing several social issues to light. Sadly, she was unable to see her most ambitious goal, one she dedicated much of her life to, come to fruition: ending child poverty throughout Canada.

In 1989, the House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of a motion detailing their commitment to ending child poverty. Over 25 years later, with the ‘promise’ still incomplete, a new motion—M-534 put forward by MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan—was debated in the House of Commons, and passed, urging political parties to make ending child poverty a critical policy in their platforms.

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, child and family poverty has actually increased to 1,331, 530 children in 2012, from 1,066,150 children in 1989. Despite these struggles, Callwood was able to make significant strides in bringing this issue to the public light.

The Promise to End Child Poverty

Following her death, former Premier Dalton McGuinty declared June 2nd June Callwood day. Several of Callwood’s friends and colleagues also sought out a way to commemorate her, in a bid to celebrate her achievements. Mary Jo Leddy, co-chair of the Keep the Promise initiative (alongside Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld), explains that they were mulling over the usual methods when they realized: the best way for Callwood’s legacy to live on is by keeping the promise to end child poverty, once and for all.

“Arthur wanted to do something to remember her, and called together a group of people,” Leddy recalls. “We were thinking of doing a stamp in her honour, or a statue, but after several meetings at the Casey House [a nonprofit that provides support for people living HIV and AIDS] we decided that what Callwood really cared about was child poverty.”


June Callwood (Photo: Courtesy)

Born from the ripples of her inspiration, Keep the Promise began as a two-year campaign to reignite the commitment of Canadians, and the Canadian government, to end child poverty NOW. Mimicking the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) the campaign came to a close on June 2nd, 2015, cultivating with the Keep the Promise kid’s party. Children from schools across Ontario attended the event, not only to socialize and enjoy a day in the sun, but also, to discuss the need to eradicate child poverty, and promote awareness of this significant issue .

“It’s fitting that we’re sitting here in June Callwood Park, on June Callwood day, advocating for the end of child poverty,” says Todd Ross, Director of Community Development & Information Services at Casey House. “Callwood was herself an advocate of many things, but considered her unfinished business as poverty, specifically child poverty.”

A high percentage of aboriginal children in particular, Ross notes, are currently living in poverty in Canada, and it is KTP’s goal to help raise awareness of this issue, and significantly decrease those numbers.

In pursuing Callwood’s ultimate ambition, Keep the Promise has succeeded in promoting the severity of this issue through a very unorthodox, but effective, solution: going straight to the kids themselves.

“People were very impressed hearing these Grade 5 students talking about child poverty,” explains Ross, “and asking how we can move forward? What are the next steps? What’s the timeline to eliminate child poverty?”

A Moral Awakening in the Needs of Others

Speaking to Leddy, she explains that students grades 5- 8 are at an age where they absorb everything, and are eager to learn more than just how to post pics on social media or download apps to their iPads. As such, they’ve have proven themselves as leaders of the KTP initiative, empathizing with their fellow peers who are living in poverty, and taking a stand to help promote awareness of this important issue.

Photo: Courtesy

“We learned that students in that age group are at the best ages to work with because they have a moral awakening in the needs of others, not just their own,” Leddy says.

Keep the Promise is a coalition of volunteers and organizations from across Canada, including Family Service Toronto, Campaign 2000, the Canadian Teacher’s Federation, the June Callwood Center for Young Women, and other organizations. “We want to engage youth,” explains Anita Khanna, National Coordinator at Campaign 2000, “and give them leadership experience and enable their voices to be heard.”

Campaign 2000, a public education and advocacy movement, is one of the lead partners in the Keep the Promise initiative, and will be continuing to promote Callwood’s legacy now that the 2-year campaign is over. “We’re providing a larger, broader picture of child poverty in Canada, and making sure that there are solutions to these issues - that are well researched, proven effective, and within reach,” explains Khanna. “That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle - that it’s achievable.”

Since Campaign 2000 launched in 1991, the focus has been on keeping up momentum surrounding the 1989 resolution to end child poverty. Today, they have 120 partners across Canada who are committed to this issue and the goals. “We’re focused to, of course, drawing commitment to the promise itself, but as of January, we’ve moved into calling for action in a more concrete way,” Khanna adds.

Khanna at the KTP event on June 2nd, 2015 (Photo: Courtesy)

“We’re very clear that we’d like to see an anti-poverty action plan be a key component in every party’s election platform. That they have not just an aspiration, but an action plan.”

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