Changing summer grants – is this a test?
by Jack Taylor
The wild-fire of debate is raging once again in Canada. Strong convictions regarding right to life values are being fanned into flame by changes to a Government application form.
According to Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists of Canada, President, Steve Jones, the online application for funds to support student summer workers contains a box that requires applicants to check agreement to “…reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression”. There is no provision for legal exceptions based on religious belief – which both the human rights legislation and courts do otherwise provide for.
Not-for-profit organizations, small businesses (with 50 or less employees) and public sector departments can apply for wage subsidies to employ full-time students who are between 15 and 30 years of age. Churches are considered as religious charities functioning legally under the human rights code. The not-for-profits like churches and Christian camps can apply for 100 percent of the minimum wage while using their own budget to supplement the agreed on salaries.
The Government form:
12.1(i) Employers Declarations. This section states: ‘Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.’
Most Christian groups support the rights of the ‘unborn’. This implicit support for the Liberal party’s abortion policy, despite there being no specific written national legislation on the issue, got some attention. A small avalanche of emails and letters have been directed toward Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Thousands of churches have already communicated with The Canadian Council of Christian Charities or the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for clarification on how to respond.
Brad Jones, pastor at Woodgreen Prebyterian Church in Calgary has already been quoted in several media sources when he publicly declared that “the recent changes have been quite a shock and a disappointment.” His church has sponsored three Syrian refugee families and offered free English conversational opportunities to the community.
Will Christian students now have to decide on compromising their beliefs in order to get a summer job if churches and Christian camps can no longer fund them?
Julia Beazley, public policy director for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, sees the wording on the application form as “either very ambiguous and it needs to be clarified, or it’s completely unambiguous and it needs to be changed. The end result, is that those who can’t check that box may be denied access to a public benefit solely because of their religious belief.”
Back bone applicants
Christian camps, churches and charities are usually key participants in applying for the grants with an additional $113 million added for this year. These groups are a backbone in assisting the social arm of government to care for refugees, students, children and the disenfranchised.
Cedar Grove Baptist pastor, Kevin Cavanaugh, sees this as “yet another move by the Canadian Government towards restricting the rights and freedoms of Christians to live by and stand by what they believe to be morally true.”
Some groups, like Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, have praised the new changes for summer grants but are concerned that other groups calling themselves pregnancy care centers might check the box and still be funded if there isn’t careful scrutiny so certain charities are ruled out. A Global news report quotes public relations officer, Darrah Teitel, as calling for the government to go further and “revoke the charitable status of groups that advocate against abortion or that are anti-gay.”
The genesis of the issue seems to have started when the government had to settle a federal court case involving three anti-abortion groups who were denied the summer grants.
The groups in the Mississauga-Erin riding of Liberal MP Iqra Khalid had been awarded $56,000 in summer grants during 2016. Another group in Lethbridge had been given $12,000.
The change in legislation likely was intended to shut out groups whose core mandate included ‘pro-life’ action, but the wording looks like an overreach, creating the current controversy.
‘Core Mandate’ ?
Recent town hall meetings by the Prime Minister – normally a PR benefit for the Party, has seen some back pedaling.
In response to Christian charities, the Employment Minister’s office focused attention on the issue of “core Mandate” as the distinguishing factor. If a group’s primary purpose is to frame itself as anti-abortionist then it doesn’t qualify – others do. But, is checking that box to get a small amount of dollars compromising? Overlooking, what we know is the hidden message behind those words?
Woodgreen Prebyterian Church’s Brad Jones, advocates for sending a paper form of the application in by registered mail with your noted amendments so that there is no doubt where you stand.
Expressed respectful opposition to government policy is not what puts you at risk with CRA standing. Each church or charity will have to wrestle through the deeper implications on their own consciences and programming.
The application form on line. Google: