Social justice social work struggles in Canada: poverty, neoliberalism and symbolic resistance


In his lead article in this book, Garrett notes historical and contemporary differences between England and Ireland, many of which find their roots in colonialism. Similarly, with the exception of First Nations people, the country currently known as Canada has deep colonial roots and tends to avoid discussions about occupying stolen land. The post-colonial/colonial relationship shapes many of the realities of the lives of First Nations and non-First Nations peoples (Kulchyski et al., 1999; Blackstock, 2010; Freeman, 2011). Based in the local, social work theory and practice have been slow to address the complexities of colonialism and the global political economies that sustain and benefit from it, but it is appropriate that critical social work texts weave these themes in from the start. In Canada, First Nations people are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system, reflecting their impoverishment, misrepresentation and marginalisation within the larger economic, political and social systems (Blackstock and Trocme, 2005).

Other kinds of post- and neocolonial relations are also evident in the kinds of exploitive relationships most of the global North has with (un)developing countries and our governments’ unwillingness to assist Third World countries in humanitarian efforts or to support fair and sustainable development (Reader, 1999; Gardiner, 2007). The same inequity is echoed in the ways that many immigrants and refugees to Canada find themselves at the bottom of the labour market, pushed to the edges of our racially stratified society (Galabuzzi, 2006).

Garrett poses two strong challenges to social work in his lead article. First, he asserts that it is ‘misguided to simply view social work – with children and families or any other group – as an entirely benign and emancipatory activity’.

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