SEA program on rough waters

The SEA program at Brock University has been garnering much attention since 2006. Solidarity Experiences Abroad (SEA) was started in 2004 by the University’s Catholic Chaplaincy and almost 1,000 students from Brock University and 16 other Universities have been through the program.
The program offers experiences in Peru, Ecuador, South Africa, Namibia, Costa Rica and Brazil and claims to provide opportunities to explore the realms of hands-on solidarity, cultural immersion and spirituality, while working on community development projects.
In 2004 Brock University signed a Concordat (an agreement made by the Catholic Church with states or institutions, usually on religious matters) with the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines which served as the foundation for the development of “sharing international connections”, among other projects. Concurrent to this agreement was the establishment of SEA.
SEA and its challenges have made it into a number of news articles since 2011 – the most known being the National Post, but largely Catholic news agencies such as ACI Prensa, Catholic News Agency, and the Catholic Register – because of a campaign launched by the Centre for Women’s Studies and concerned Brock community members with SEA’s partners in Latin America – the Sodality of Christian Life.
A campaign started calling Brock to consider phasing out the SEA program and move to build partnerships with volunteer placement organizations that support international declarations on human rights.
According to the organization’s website, the Sodality of Christian Life (in Latin: Sodalitium Christianae Vitae) is a religious community founded in Lima, Peru in 1971. The local partner to SEA trips, Christian Life Movement, was founded by the Sodality of Christian Life founder, Luis Fernando Figari, in the 1980s.
The campaign started with a motion, passed by the Centre for Women’s Studies, Sociology, and CUPE 4207 at Brock and the distribution of information critiquing the SEA program and its partners. The motion requested a severance of Brock’s relationship with SEA’s program to Latin America due to “documented cases of physical and psychological abuse, classism, sexism, racism and homophobia in activities related to Solidarity Experiences Abroad.”
It also asked to “remove all ties to local partners of these trips (i.e., the Sodalit Family, Sodality of Christian Life, Solidarity in Action, Christian Life Movement, etc.).”
“We point out that the Sodality of Christian Life Movement embraces values that are antithetical to declarations of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which both Canada (1980) and Peru (1981) are signatories,” said the Centre for Women’s Studies Summary Report that is a public document.
“We are particularly concerned about the SEA partnership with the Sodalit Family, including the Sodality of Christian Life, Solidarity in Action and the Christian Life Movement in Latin America.”
The complaints by Women’s Studies of the SEA’s partners saw more complaints – this time by Brock’s current and former Catholic Chaplains Raoul Masseur and German McKenzie. Masseur, appointed as Chaplain since 2003, has been a consecrated layman of the Sodality of Christian Life for 25 years. German McKenzie identified himself as Regional Superior of the Sodality of Christian Life in Peru a letter to Caretas in 2003, a weekly newsmagazine published in Lima, Peru.
McKenzie served as the Regional Superior of the Sodality of Christian Life of Peru until at least 2006, according to a Sodalit news source.
As a Regional Superior, McKenzie was the authority over the activities of Solidarity of Christian Life in Peru and now continues to volunteer with the chaplaincy office at Brock.
The Catholic News Agency (an English version of Peruvian-based ACI Prensa, run by a Sodality of Christian Life member) and the Catholic Register said that Masseur, and other parties involved, including McKenzie, filed a complaint under Brock University’s Respectful Work and Learning Policy (RWLEP). Mckenzie also unsuccessfully filed a complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) against Women’s Studies professor Dr. Ana Isla. The RWLEP investigation is not complete, according to McKenzie and Masseur in the National Post and the Catholic Register articles.
The University’s “Internationalization Committee” investigated the allegations against SEA in January 2012 and found “there was no compelling evidence to support such an action [severing ties with SEA] and further affirms its support for this partnership.”
Although the Internationalization Committee found that the evidence of documented cases of physical and psychological abuse, classism, sexism, racism and homophobia in activities related to SEA was not compelling enough to support any action to sever ties.
At an Occupy Brock rally in February, 2012, it was announced to the public: “we ask to take a stand and only officially sanction volunteer opportunities with non-religious organizations. And that in fact, all course work opportunities at Brock also not be involved with specific religious organizations ,” said June Corman, Associate Dean of Social Sciences as reported in The Brock Press.
Murray Knutila, the head of the Internationalization Committee said that consenting adults should be trusted to make an informed choice about whether or not to participate with SEA, so long as the program was clear about its affiliations.
On the other hand, a critical approach can also be taken when deciding whether or not to participate with SEA.
“We trust that under the policy on academic freedom, the University would endorse the right of all faculty and students to participate in substantive academic debate about how best to organize University policy and partnerships. We suggest that giving the Sodality of Christian Life a platform to legitimize its conservative practices and values is inappropriate for a publicly funded secular Canadian University,” said the Centre for Women’s Studies Summary Report.
“The Committee after thorough research and investigation of the allegations presented against me and local partners determined that there is no evidence to support those claims,” said Br. Raoul Masseur to CNA who is the Roman Catholic Campus Minister, Director of SEA and consecrated layman of the Sodality of Christian Life.
“Therefore,” he added, “there is no longer any question about the integrity of the individuals involved nor of the organizations involved.” This statement was not supported in the committee’s report.
The committee never reported the evidence was not true against SEA, but the evidence was “not compelling enough” to severe ties.
The important question that people should continue to ask is this: why shouldn’t people question the integrity of the individuals and organizations involved? 

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