Youth summer camp counsellors at St. Benedict's SummerDaze Day camp worry about their jobs for the upcoming summer, with their camp at risk without government funding. Photo by Michael Swan

All options on table in fight over summer jobs funding policy

  • February 20, 2018

OTTAWA – Legal action is not off the table for charities and groups that have asked the government for accommodation of their Charter rights in the Canada Summer Jobs controversy.

“If the government is not going to accommodate, we will be looking at what all of our options are,” said Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC). “That may include legal action, but we’re kind of in a wait-and-see on how government is going to respond.”

“We’re wanting to be objective, reasonable and fair, but the current attestation as the government is demanding is unacceptable,” Bussey said.  “Our members are into doing ministry, not into going to court, not into fighting over this.”

“We have lots of street ministries, summer camps and programs various churches put on and they simply want to do ministry,” he said. “This is an unnecessary controversy, an unnecessary thing.”

In early February, before the Feb. 9 extended deadline for 2018 Canada Summer Jobs funding, groups that had altered the required pro-abortion attestation or provided their own, received letters saying they had 10 days to sign the attestation as is, or they would not be considered for funding.

Bussey said the CCCC suggested groups unable to sign the attestation write a letter asking the government to accommodate their Charter rights of freedom of religion, of conscience, of belief, of opinion, of thought and of expression as well their equality rights.

“Compelled speech violates our long-held democratic rights that have existed before the Charter and Rights and Freedoms, have been reiterated in the Charter, and are recognized in the Canadian Human Rights Act,” the suggested letter said.

“Our religious beliefs and obligations, our conscience, our beliefs, thoughts and opinions all preclude us from making the attestation as set out in the application and guide, including the supplementary information,” the letter said.

“We trust that you will consider the Charter and human rights accommodations we require,”

The CCCC published the sample letter on its website, as did the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). As of Feb. 19, Bussey said none of the groups he knows of that send a version of this letter have received a reply.

“We want to make sure that whatever we do is for the long-term health of religious charities in the country, so we’re going to be looking at all of the options,” he said. “Legal action if necessary, but not necessarily legal action.”

“We’re wanting to be wise, patient, to show concern, but we want government to recognize that you can’t simply walk over constitutionally protected rights,” Bussey said. “That’s what they’ve done in this case, in our view.”

“Groups like the CCCC, Christian Legal Fellowship, the EFC and others are considering all options, including the possibility of a legal challenge of the attestation,” said the EFC’s director of public policy Julia Beazley on the EFC’s website. “Although the Toronto Right to Life Association’s request for an injunction was denied, the court has yet to review their challenge of the Canada Summer Jobs program. The EFC will monitor this closely.”

“This kind of value-laden attestation sets a troubling precedent for federal government policy, and is something that should concern all Canadians,” Beazley said. “It is inappropriate, in a free and democratic society, for citizens to be subject to a values test in order to be eligible for public benefit.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Harold Albrecht is circulating a petition calling on government to remove the “discriminatory” attestation requirement.

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