Sunday, April 1, 2018

No Easter-Like Miracle for Faith Groups Over Summer Jobs Grant Issue

Faith-based groups hoping for an Easter-like miracle from Parliament over the summer jobs grant attestation issue were disappointed on March 19.

That’s when a motion from the Conservative Party to end the requirement for groups to attest to respecting abortion and LGBTQ* rights was defeated 207-93.

About the same time, information released by Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office showed there was an increase in groups requesting money—42,647 applications this year, compared to 41,961 in 2017.

Of those applications, an estimated 1,400 were rejected for failing to check the attestation box.

Included in that number were churches and other groups in Winnipeg.

I reached out to a number of groups that received funding in 2017 to see if they were getting money this year.

Of the 15 groups that responded, ten were rejected for failing to check the box. Four checked it, and are awaiting word on their applications. One—Harrow United Church—didn’t apply again, but not because they didn’t support the attestation.

Groups that checked the box included St. John’s Cathedral and three evangelical congregations—which didn’t want to be identified for fear of what their denominations might think of their actions.

Between them, they applied for a total of 11 student positions.

One that checked the box indicated it did so because “the ask is for our respect, not our agreement. This is quite a distinction.”

Another replied that “we were comfortable signing the attestation because it simply asked us to not infringe upon the legal rights of individuals through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Paul Johnson, Rector at St. John’s, indicated they signed although “some of us, including me, may disagree with the Liberal Government’s political gamesmanship.”

At the same time, “we as a church organization have a wide diversity of opinions and positions on almost any issue of importance or interest, and must be very careful about any form of advocacy in which we engage.”

One evangelical group that was open to signing the attestation was the Salvation Army. Its national office gave its churches across the country permission to check the box.

“The Salvation Army respects individual human rights and the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says John McAlister, the National Director of Marketing and Communications.

“Although our beliefs may differ from others on certain matters, such as reproductive rights, we respect the legal rights afforded to all Canadians,” he notes, but adds he is “concerned that the attestation may be interpreted as requiring individuals and organizations to set aside their freedoms of religion, expression and belief, principles also foundational to the Charter.”

The ten groups in Manitoba that told me they were rejected for not checking the box were Donwood Manor and Bethania Mennonite personal care homes, Ness Baptist Church, Athletes in Action Manitoba, My Church, New Hope Ministries, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Whyte Ridge Baptist Church, Heartland Community Church, and the Archeparchy of Winnipeg.

Between them, they hoped to employ as many as 60 students for kids clubs, camps and administrative work and, in the case of the care homes, recreational and therapeutic activities for residents.

The groups are now considering their next moves, which could involve fundraising to make up for the missing funding, or cutting back on their programs.

Looking ahead, what’s next for this issue?

For Rick Hiemstra, who directs research and media relations for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the result is “disappointing and troubling.”

The EFC “had hoped some accommodation would be made for groups unable to sign the attestation,” but isn’t surprised at the outcome.

Barry Bussey, who directs legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, believes the issue shows that Canadians “need to think long and hard” about the larger implications of the issue.

“Government has made it very clear that it has no problem with compelling speech of applicants for funding,” he says, adding that this could become an issue in the future for other groups that want other kinds of government funding.

Both agree that a legal challenge is an option on the table. “There is a lot of discussion about that right now,” says Bussey.

In the end, despite the ruckus raised by many faith groups, the government seems to have weathered the storm—although it remains to be seen if there will be consequences when the next election comes along.

As for those who disagree with the government’s action, they can do something right now: Donate to one of the groups which had its request for funding rejected. It sounds like they could use your help. 

From the March 31, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.

*          *           *

I didn’t have enough room in the column to include quotes from groups that responded to my query about the summer job grant issue. Here are quotes from some of them about what signing, or not signing, meant to them.

Faith groups that checked the attestation box

We were comfortable signing the attestation because it simply asked us to not infringe upon the legal rights of individuals through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Evangelical church that doesn’t want to be identified.

“The ask is for our respect, not our agreement of the Charter of Rights and this is quite a distinction.” An evangelical church that did sign and doesn’t want t to be identified.

Faith groups that did not check the attestation box

“We respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but we cannot, in good conscious state that we agree with reproductive rights because it conflicts with our belief in the sanctity of life . . . it is disappointing that our current government would take a program like Canada Summer Jobs, which has been a benefit to students, communities, and charitable organizations for so many years, and politicize it in this way.  

One would hope that it was not their intent to purposely segregate the country as either on-side with their ideology or not, but that has been the outcome.” Andy Woodworth, lead pastor, Heartland Community Church, Landmark.

“The attestation is vague enough that it could give room or suggest that government funding only goes to to groups that support the ruling parties mandate. But the government should be neutral and they should find another way to engage the groups that they were originally intending to without affecting the protected religious rights and freedoms . . . even though I understand why they enacted the attestation, they should have considered other ways to approach that without infringing on the protected rights of religion and religious groups. 

They are playing on the trust people had on them by doing things like this and refusing to back down when the first outcry was heard.” Ibukun Akin, provincial director, Child Evangelism Fellowship, which did not get funding.

“We were not satisfied with their definitions of what constitutes ‘core values,” ‘respect,’ and ‘undermining.’ These key words that are used in the attestation are highly subjective . . . we ultimately decided not to apply because we do not believe a further ‘values test’ is appropriate or constitutional for an already recognized charitable organization. 

We understand that we are not ‘owed’ this money, but if it is being offered, all charitable organizations that are recognized by the government of Canada should have access to it. Also, this idea of "reproductive rights" is legally incorrect.” Jeremy Olfert, lead pastor, Ness Ave. Baptist Church.

 “To me, the whole thing is so simple. If the Federal Government did not want abortion literature (one way or the other) distributed, all that was required was that people sign that they would not do so. To tie the abortion issue to a sports camp is absurd; the two have nothing to do with each other.” Dallas Williams, Athletes in Action Manitoba.

“We requested an accommodation under the Charter as we believe that this attestation was a violation of our constitutional rights.” Todd Poirier, Operations Pastor, My Church.

Not getting the funding will have a “huge, detrimental impact. It means less activities for our residents, less outings. It’s also unfortunate for students, who are probably not paying attention to this, who will look for jobs with us in April and there will be none. . . . the abortion attestation has nothing to do with the care of the elderly.” Nina Labun, CEO Donwood Manor Personal Care Home.

“We usually ask for three position through the program for therapeutic recreation and research . . . [the attestation] painted us into a corner. We would never make any declaration on this. We want the government to respect our charter rights . . . not getting the funding means we can’t have an enriched program for our residents, or fill-in staff when regular staff take holidays . . . [the who process] was upsetting, the board was disturbed, trying to force us to attest to something the government has no right to do.”  Gary Ledoux, CEO Bethania Group.

“I could not agree to the statement on the reproductive rights. Our organization does believe that life begins at conception... I hold to the same conclusion. Our core mandate is not opposing abortion, however, we believe a unborn child has rights and the line was too broad for us to sign.” Tim Enns, Senior Pastor, New Hope Community Church.

“We cannot not support the attestation as it was worded. We respect all human rights including the rights of the unborn . . . it infringes on our freedoms as given in the Charter of Rights.” Grace Elke, Director of Children’s Ministry, Whyte Ridge Baptist Church.

“We could not agree with being forced to take (declare) a position on matters for which we have our own developed and compassionate understanding and approach; and which would probably not even arise within the work detail or programs concerned (and if they did, they would be handled in a manner considerably more honest and compassionate than perhaps what some others might suggest). 

The Federal Government’s stipulation becomes a blatant curtailing of our right to religious freedom and conscience rightfully enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a patently political and divisive intrusion into the realm of our faith and conscience. 

The sad aspect, again, is that the Liberal government is demanding that we violate our consciences in matters that have little or nothing to do with the actual programs that we are providing. It is a blow to our program, but we cannot agree to the decidedly illiberal stipulations.  Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski, Chancellor, Archeparchy of Winnipeg.


  1. I understand both sides on this one. I totally understand the trouble that one might have with signing the attestation. But the thing that really troubles me is this: "which didn’t want to be identified for fear of what their denominations might think of their actions".

    Those who do not check the attestation can declare their choice with freedom and social amnesty within the Christian community. Those that that do sign it, must remain silent for fear of reprisal from the larger Christian community. :/

  2. I believe the Attestation is presented entirely wrong. Almost as if they are playing on the emotions that we all have for our youth and their well being. I have a problem and that is, I get really upset at issues like this that make me think our Government is not mature enough to see the big picture and/or heed vital information pertaining to decisions moving forward. Almost as if there is a personal agenda they need to, enough with the ranting. This "attestation" should not be the deciding factor as to whether we hire students. Granted, some of us absolutely need the additional funding to help out but others can still hire Students without it. So, in this case, and for those who are able, let’s not let the Government make the decision for us. Hire your Student(s). We need to continue looking forward to the well being of our Youth. With the right attitude and motive, the Good Lord will provide.