|The application form. If the attestation box was not checked,|
applicants could not proceed.
That’s the message many church groups have received from the federal government after sending in applications for funding for the Canada Summer Jobs program.
Since the online application form couldn’t be completed without checking agreement with the attestation of support for sexual reproductive and LGBTQ* rights, a number of groups sent in paper applications.
Attached to the form was a letter indicating why they could not agree with the attestation.
According to the Christian Council of Canadian Charities, an umbrella group for church-related non-profits in Canada, groups that sent in paper applications tell them their applications have been returned with note indicating there is “missing information.”
The note states that any “alteration or modification of the attestation” will result in an incomplete application.
The Council is recommended that groups who received these letters re-submit the applications, once again without checking the attestation.
They encouraged them to include another letter requesting accommodation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Unless there is a change of heart in Ottawa, I expect these applications will also be returned as incomplete.
But while some groups are testing to see what happens if they file an incomplete application, others aren’t applying at all.
That’s what’s happening in London, Ont., where the local Catholic Diocese didn’t apply for summer jobs funding.
“I believe that we need to take a stand against the position of the government of Canada and say that we will not be bullied into even the appearance of collusion on this issue,” says Bishop Ronald Fabbro.
“We can make a powerful statement by saying ‘no’ to the conditions as set down by the government.”
I don’t know how many other groups made similar decisions. I am aware of one church organization in Winnipeg that decided not to apply.
Now that the deadline for applications has passed, what’s next? One possibility is court action.
That’s what Lorna Dueck, CEO of Crossroads Christian Communications, told supporters in a letter earlier this month.
In the letter, she asks: “Is our Prime Minister and his government creating a climate of discrimination against Christianity in Canada?”
She notes that in the past ministries she has headed applied for funding from the program.
“Sometimes I got a grant, sometimes I didn't, but I always felt the process was fair,” she says.
But now, she states, “if we don't attest, our applications will be denied . . . we must now deny our own biblical beliefs to access the tax-payer-funded summer jobs program.”
Unless the policy changes, she says, “you can expect to see Canada's Christian leadership take the Canada Summer Jobs controversy to court to fight for our constitutional right of not being discriminated against for our Christian beliefs.”
Indeed, that is what’s happening; the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Christian Legal Fellowship have announced they are “contemplating commencing litigation” against the government over the attestation requirement.
In order for there to be a meaningful challenge, they are a calling on “willing organizations” to lend their names to the proposed litigation.
Meantime, at least one Parliamentarian has picked up the cause. Conservative MP Harold Albrecht of Kitchener-Conestoga has launched a petition calling on the government “to remove this discriminatory requirement.”
As of this posting, over 5,900 people had signed it.
While this situation has upset many faith-based charities, my own feeling is it will not financially hurt those that are rejected, or that didn’t apply, at least in the short term.
I expect that their supporters, and maybe others, will step up to make up any gap in funding out of need, principle, or in protest against the government’s action—or all three.
They might even come out of it stronger with new donors and higher brand awareness.
Another positive from the issue is how it has highlighted the role faith groups play in serving Canada’s neediest citizens.
To take one example, from here in Winnipeg.
At Winnipeg Harvest, the city’s food bank, about 58 percent of the groups that distribute food it provides are faith-based.
That number would be higher if programs outside of Winnipeg were included, according to Harvest spokesperson Donald Benham.
“We continue to count on those [faith-based] groups and those volunteers to provide a vital link to the people we serve, in the neighbourhoods in which they live,” Benham says.
In the weeks ahead, it’s going to be interesting to see the impact of the new policy. How many fewer groups received funding? Were services cut? And where will things go from here?
No matter what happens, I expect lawyers will be involved.
From the Feb. 24, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press. For more on this subject, see previous posts: Faith Groups and Change to Government Summer Jobs Program: "A New Era We're Into" and For Religious Groups, Change to Summer Jobs Program Shows a Changed Canada