Silent Voice camp counsellor and camper at Silent Voice's Sign Language Summer Program. Screenshot from Silent Voice Sign Language Summer Program/Youtube

Catholic groups scramble for summer job funds

  • April 10, 2018

Correction: A previous version of the story stated Matt Pascuzzo said the attestation came as a result of anti-abortion campaigners who used the jobs funding to aggressively campaign for criminal code sanctions on abortion. Pascuzzo did not make the statement. 

Agencies rejected for Canada Summer Jobs grants because they won’t tick the pro-abortion attestation box are scrambling to come up with private funds to cover the summertime services they provide to the poor.

“This is going to club us in the knees,” said St. John the Compassionate Mission Prior Paul Tadros. “That takes money out of the food and the people we serve for breakfast at five in the morning, the homeless men and women who come and sleep on our floors. It hits the entire organization.”

The Carpatho-Russian Orthodox mission under the Patriarch of Constantinople is most famous for its French artisanal bread, a social enterprise that trains recovering addicts, refugees and the hard-to-house in baking and food service. But they also run a summer camp for poor and at-risk children in Toronto’s South Riverdale community, and employ summer students in a variety of other programs.

The mission is one of about 1,400 organizations who were rejected for summer job grants this year after Employment Minister Patty Hajdu imposed a condition that applicants must attest that their organization’s “core mandate” respects “Charter values,” including “reproductive rights” specifically interpreted to mean open access to abortion.

The mission needed $20,000 to hire four summer students. 

“It’s not just any old summer job,” said Tadros. “We seek out candidates that would benefit from that. Very often these are youngsters who could easily be overlooked by other organizations because of their demeanour, their appearance, what-have-you. We give these guys a chance.”

But the mission simply couldn’t tick the box, Tadros said.

“It’s important that we stand by the conviction of being for life to the very end, even to the point where it hurts,” he said.

Attesting that they see abortion access as an unqualified human right would be “a slap in the face” to every parishioner, supporter and client who knows St. John the Compassionate as a refuge for the poor, the defenceless and the vulnerable, including the unborn, said Tadros.

“We’re definitely liberal and progressive minded. It isn’t a political stance. It’s above politics,”

There are no plans to rethink or re-word the attestation before the 2019 Canada Summer Jobs program rolls out, said Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary to Employment Minister Patty Hajdu.

The idea that attesting to a core mandate in contravention of basic moral teaching might upset religious Canadians misinterprets the intention, he said.

“We made it clear off the top to these groups — it was about their core mandate and the job description. It had nothing to do with their beliefs or values,” he said. “I would argue that the core mandate of the Catholic Church is not to prevent women from having abortions or to stop LGBTQ youth from participating in summer camps.”

The attestation came as a result of anti-abortion campaigners who used the jobs funding to aggressively campaign for criminal code sanctions on abortion. 

The attestation has put Silent Voice, a Catholic agency that serves deaf families in Toronto, up to $60,000 in the hole.

“We’re not cancelling our camp. It’s been running for 44 years,” said Silent Voice executive director Kelly Mackenzie.

But a small agency like Silent Voice doesn’t have a lot of fundraising options that could pull in $60,000 in less than two months.

“Our constituents, the majority of them live below the poverty line. So we’re not getting our fundraised dollars from our direct beneficiaries,” Mackenzie said. 

She hopes Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto can help make up the difference.

“We’re going to try to do what we can do,” said Catholic Charities executive director Michael Fullan.

Catholic Charities is the funding and support organization for 29 agencies that serve the entire community, regardless of religion. They can’t make up the entire difference, but hope to prioritize programs that serve the disabled and children, Fullan said.

“We’re hoping that in the future some of these constraints may change so that we can get access to some of the public resources that belong to all of us as Canadian citizens,” Fullan said.

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