In the Toronto archdiocese alone, the shortfall could be more than half a million dollars, according to communications director Neil McCarthy. Photo by Michael Swan

Dioceses not backing down from Summer Jobs policy dispute

  • March 1, 2018
OTTAWA – Neither the government nor parishes and charities are backing down from their positions on the new Canada Summer Jobs policy, which has left many organizations scrambling to find alternative funding.

“We’re not seeking a war with the government or anything like that,” said Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins in a Feb. 23 interview in Rome with Vatican Radio

“We didn’t start this controversy,” he said in reference to the pro-abortion attestation required in the application for the government grant. “We’re trying to be co-operative, but we cannot check off the box” that says “I believe in abortion and a couple of other things, because we don’t believe it.

“No citizen should be asked to pass a faith test or an ideology test,” the Cardinal said, noting the government “seems to be doubling down.”

“We don’t want to get into a dispute, so we’re trying to give them a way out,” he said, adding the groups would follow the laws of Canada. “If they still refuse us, we’ll have to find a way” of funding the programs such as summer camps for disadvantaged children.

In the Toronto archdiocese alone, the shortfall could be more than half a million dollars, according to communications director Neil McCarthy.

McCarthy said parishes and groups in the diocese had followed the lead of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC). It suggested to groups that had received letters giving them 10 days to sign the attestation to send another letter requesting accommodation under the Charter on religious freedom, conscience rights and other grounds.

“We are waiting to see what the government response will be,” said McCarthy.

“There is also a need for us to begin looking at contingency plans should these applications be rejected. For parishes alone in the Archdiocese of Toronto, we are talking about a financial shortfall of $500,000-$600,000.”

This will likely be a special collection, though nothing is “firmed up yet,” McCarthy said. “There may be some communities that can absorb the hit, but clearly many can’t.”

The government, meanwhile, is not bending on the attestation box on the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) form.

“Faith-based groups are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant to CSJ 2018,” said Josh Bueckert, senior media spokesperson for the ministry of Employment and Social Development Canada. “CSJ applicants will be required to attest that 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.”

The “other rights” include reproductive rights and the right to safe and legal abortion.

Bueckert said neither the number of applications received, nor the number that have been refused, is available.

Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London instructed his diocese not to apply for the Canada Summer Jobs grant under the new rules. Other dioceses had urged parishes to send in a hard copy of the application with part of the attestation struck out, or with an attestation supplied by the diocese.

“I believe that we need to take a stand against the position of the government of Canada and say that we will not be bullied into even the appearance of collusion on this issue,” said Fabbro, who then set up a special collection to raise the $40,000 to replace what the diocese would have ordinarily received from the summer jobs program to hire students to run summer camps.

“The response has been tremendous,” said Nelson Couto, communications officer for the Diocese of London. “People have appreciated the bishop has made a stand.”
The diocese began a collection in parishes the third week of February.  “Already we have received many generous donations,” Couto said.

The Catholic Women’s League of Canada (CWL), with more than 80,000 members, has added its voice to the outcry. 

“Canadian citizens, not just those with a particular set of religious values, are outraged that the federal government would take steps to force the people they represent to conform to the belief system of those in power in order to access services,” said a Feb. 17 letter from CWL National President Margaret Ann Jacobs to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with a copy to Employment Minister Patty Hajdu. 

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