Natalia Opera (second from the left), who has been a camp counsellor the last two summers with St. Benedict's SummerDaze Day Camp, says the camp experience has been invaluable for helping “make a kid’s month.” Photo by Michael Swan

No compromise on Canada Summer Jobs policy

  • February 6, 2018
Catholic agencies that alter the controversial reproductive rights attestation on the Canada Summer Jobs application will be denied grant money, according to a government spokesperson.

Several organizations submitted forms that altered the attestation. In Toronto, for example, rather than attest that their “core mandate” respects “reproductive rights,” Catholic organizations were advised to cross out the government’s wording and instead “attest that my organization will abide by the law in our hiring practices and all our other activities.”

But that strategy won’t work, according to an official at Human Resources and Development Canada (HRDC).

“Organizations, including faith-based groups, are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant to Canada Summer Jobs 2018,” said senior media relations spokesperson Josh Bueckert.

Bueckert restated the government’s position that an organization’s “core mandate,” even for Church-founded agencies, is unrelated to faith, values and belief.

“Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program,” he said.

Bueckert refused to say whether applications with the alternate attestation will be passed on to MP offices for consideration.

After the original application deadline of Feb. 2 passed, HRDC quietly extended the deadline to Feb. 9.

In London, Ont., Bishop Ron Fabbro has decided against any participation in this year’s Canada Summer Jobs program.

“We will not be bullied into even the appearance of collusion on this issue,” Fabbro wrote in a Feb. 6 letter.

“While others may take an alternative path, we can make a powerful statement by saying ‘no’ to the conditions as set down by the Government.”

Fabbro estimates Catholic agencies in his diocese will need $35,000 to make up for the usual job grants from Ottawa. He has asked that the shortfall be covered by a special collection taken up through February.

As she mailed out her altered application form, Silent Voice executive director Kelly Mackenzie knew that her MP’s office was expecting to see the application, which in previous years was routinely approved.

“I’m hoping there isn’t an impact on our application,” Mackenzie said. “We don’t have reproductive rights services. We don’t do things that are related to these issues. For us to go through some changes because of how the government has worded things, I hope it wouldn’t jeopardize our funding.”

Silent Voice has applied for between $50,000 and $60,000 to staff its summer day camp for deaf children and their hearing brothers and sisters. The camp will require 13 staff — eight counsellors and three program support staff.

The program, which costs families $60 per week, plus $60 per week in bus fees so campers can visit the Ontario Science Centre, Rogers Centre and other Toronto attractions, actually costs $500 to $800 per week, per camper. According to the Canadian Hearing Society, more than half of deaf Canadians live below the poverty line.

For Grade 10 Monsignor John Redmond student Natalia Opera, more than a job is at stake. Opera grew up at the St. Benedict Parish SummerDaze Day camp — eight years as a camper and the last two as a camp counsellor.

“It’s taught me a lot about how to work with different people, responsibility,” she said.

She’s also very aware of how many of the families Summer Days camp serves struggle to provide safe, fun summer activities for their kids.

“It feels pretty good to help some of the families,” she said. “If feels great to make a kid’s month.”

Rose of Sharon executive director Anna Pavan mailed her amended form at the deadline, hopeful her agency that serves single mothers will be able to provide work experience to a young person aspiring a career in social work.

“We’ve had students come back two years in a row, because they love it. Any time you can put a social service agency on your CV, no matter what position, you always have opportunities to learn,” Pavan said.

Because it’s such a small agency, the charity can provide experience in all aspects of a social service organization — from fundraising to childcare to counselling.

At Loyola Arrupe Centre, just west of downtown Toronto, seniors will suffer if their application is rejected, said executive director Sandra Cardillo. Summer students are involved in every aspect of programming at the centre.

“They do exercise programs, craft programs. We go on trips and outings. We provide a food rescue program. We do bingo games. We do so many things,” said Cardillo.

Cardillo is sympathetic to the government’s wish to prevent abuse of the jobs program to fund political pressure campaigns. But she doesn’t see why that issue should sideswipe two or three students out of a job and dozens of seniors out of programs the students would run.

“It would certainly compromise the work that we provide throughout the summer,” she said.

Over 80 religious leaders have signed onto a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking that the attestation be reworded or dropped.

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