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Government employment program accused of discrimination

January 10, 2018 No Comment

OTTAWA – Changes to a popular Government of Canada employment grant program are causing controversy within faith-based organizations. The Trudeau government has changed the guidelines for the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program. Organizations that apply for funding to employ a student over the summer months will now have to attest support for individual human rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government has included LGBTQ2 and abortion rights in the attestation.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) states on its website that the government’s guidelines could in fact violate religious freedoms under the Charter even though the government states on the Canada Summer Jobs website that it is consistent with both the Charter and case law. However, the government website also emphasizes that the changes are within the scope of the government’s priorities in the area women’s rights and gender diversity. The EFC is concerned the changes will mean churches, Christian charities, and summer camps will lose funding they need to hire staff. Applications that do not have a completed attestation will be immediately denied.

The Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), an organization representing 3400 independent and church-affiliated Christian ministries across Canada, is taking action regarding the Canada Summer Jobs changes. In a discussion on its website, Director of Legal Affairs Barry W. Bussey calls the new policy “vague” and calls efforts to prevent young people from “exposure” to the government’s interpretation of charter values a troubling characterization of organizations that do not share its position on abortion and sexuality. The CCCC has written a letter of concern to Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour. Bussey is encouraging Christian organizations to still apply for Canada Summer Jobs funding, but using the paper forms which allow for applicants to explain why they disagree with the attestation policy. The online forms do not provide space for an explanation.

Reaction within Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) to the government’s policies are a combination of concern and waiting to see exactly what the consequences could be.

Outgoing LCC President, Dr. Robert Bugbee, observed, “With this policy it may be that a serious line is being crossed. It is one thing to expect individual Christians and church organizations to respect the law of the land, even though on some moral issues that law stands at variance with their faith convictions. It is going too far, however, to insist that applicants for government grants must think the way the current government does.” The president believes that “the current government’s priorities, while certainly well-intentioned from their own viewpoint, may not erase the basic equality of treatment religious people should expect under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

East District Mission Encourager Pastor Ron Mohr observed that the government move “is concerning to us all, although not surprising, given the current direction our society is heading regarding so many of these societal issues.” He added that the changes could mean one less source of funding. However, Pastor Mohr says although government support is a blessing, the church’s mission work should never be dependent on “the world.”

Bethany Lutheran Church in Campbell River, B.C. has used Canada Summer Jobs grants numerous times in the past. The congregation’s pastor, Rev. Tom Kruesel, who also serves as LCC’s Second Vice-president, says he is just beginning the application process and wants to get a better understanding of the changes and how they could affect the parish’s plans.

The Lutheran Association of Missionary Pilots (LAMP), an LCC Listed Service Organization, has also used the government job grants in the past. Chief Financial Officer Darrel Buchholtz says LAMP is concerned that the attestation discriminates against those with religious beliefs that are contrary to the government’s agenda. He says LAMP is a member of the CCCC and will rely on its guidance and support if they decide to apply.

Deadline for applications in February 2, 2018. Those wishing to express concern regarding the new policy are encouraged to contact their Member of Parliament.

UPDATE: On January 11 the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a statement expressing its concerns, stating that including the attestation “seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practise their principles and values in public.”

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