Barry Bussey

Concerns being raised over added scrutiny

  • April 12, 2019

OTTAWA - Additional government scrutiny of some 2019 Canada Summer Jobs grants applications has raised questions whether Christian groups are being targeted for ideological reasons.

Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) said questions about hiring practices on CSJ grants is something new. The application for CSJ funding was changed in December following protests by many groups, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who objected to the pro-abortion attestation in the funding application.

The new attestation now refers to the projects to be funded and not the core values of the organization.

The changes have allowed many Catholic groups who refused to check off the attestation to apply for grants this year, although groups that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services” are still ineligible.

A number of pregnancy care centres, Christian camps and Catholic parishes and charities have received requests for additional information, Bussey said.

A spokesman from Employment Canada said the department could not comment on individual applications. “Generally, if an application to the Canada Summer Jobs program is missing information, such as the job duration, salary or supervision plan, or if the information provided on the application is unclear, the Department will contact the applicant in question to request the necessary information in order to determine the eligibility of the project.

“While we cannot comment on specific applications, generally, all applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program are assessed against 15 mandatory eligibility criteria,” he said. One of those eligibility requirements concerns “hiring practices and work environment” that are free of harrassment and discrimination.

Christian camps, and religious organizations in general, have exemptions under human rights legislation to discriminate in favour of co-religionists, Bussey said.

“You’re not deemed to be discriminating against anyone if your organization is for the benefit of your religious community,” Bussey said. “When you’re hiring, you want those who are going to be in sync with the thinking of your religious organization.

“With summer camps, you want to be hiring counsellors, camp staff and others who are in sync with the religious mission of the camp,” he said.

Neil MacCarthy, director of the public relations office of the Archdiocese of Toronto, said four or five parishes or charitable organizations in the archdiocese have received requests for additional information from Service Canada regarding their CSJ applications.

Some requests have concerned hiring practices, some are asking about health and safety issues at work and “one or two asked how we work with women and reproductive rights,” MacCarthy said. “We’ve tried to provide clarification as best we can to satisfy them.” While MacCarthy said the requests have not been “excessive,” and may be due to inexperience in filling out the application form, he said “it definitely would be concerning if there was a pattern targeting Catholic organizations.”

The requests seem to reflect a mindset that implies “religious communities are no longer seen to be involved in a joint project on the common good as they were in the past,” said Bussey.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has also been contacted by some organizations who applied for CSJ grants.

“The Service Canada response to the pregnancy care centre pointed out that projects or services that actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to reproductive or sexual health services are ineligible for funding,” said Julia Beazley, the EFC’s director of public policy. “The irony is that this is a pregnancy care centre that actually offers a range of health services for women, rather than restricting or limiting them.”

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