It’s back: new concerns raised over summer jobs program

  • December 23, 2023

Eligibility criteria for employers seeking government grants under the Canada Summer Jobs program for youth is still discriminatory despite modifications to previous requirements, say Christian groups. 

“We are concerned that the 2024 eligibility criteria for funding for the Canada Summer Jobs program could be used to exclude religious organizations,” Deina Warren told The Catholic Register. Her concern is that selections would be made on the basis of subjective opinions held by those evaluating funding requests on the applicant’s religious beliefs and values.

Warren is the director of legal affairs for the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities (CCCC), an umbrella group with over 3,200 members across Canada, including churches, overseas missions, relief and development charities, summer camps and more.

Controversy has swirled around the Canada Summer Jobs program since the Liberal government in 2017 added wording to the application requiring groups to say neither their core mandate nor the jobs funded worked to undermine abortion. The program provides wage subsidies to organizations to create quality summer work experiences for young people between the ages of 15 and 30.

“The attestation was widely understood as a values test whereby funding for the CSJ program was dependent on whether the applicant’s views aligned with those of the government,” said Warren. “This was problematic for many reasons including that the government is obliged to be neutral on matters of religion, to not discriminate on the basis of religion and to protect and respect freedom of expression.”

Following pressure from religious groups the 2019 attestation was modified, but faith-based groups say the values test has been moved to the back door and does not solve the problem for them, insisted Warren.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) agrees with Warren. In an Oct. 25 submission to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of People with Disabilities, the EFC stated that “the review process … can be subjective, arbitrary, inconsistent, unpredictable, lacking in transparency and which, in some cases, seem to involve ideological screening.” It added that after hearing from faith-based groups, “we are concerned these are not just isolated incidents.”

Warren has similar concerns about the screening process.

“The reference to ‘reproductive rights’ was removed from the attestation, but similar wording still appeared in the description of ineligible projects and job activities.”

She pointed to follow-up questions posed to religious organizations that are a cause for concern, such as churches being asked why ministers need to adhere to a doctrinal statement.

“When concerns and questions are specifically linked to religious beliefs, doctrinal statements or church membership requirements, it can give the perception that faith-based applicants are treated differently,” she said. “The current process invites religious groups to apply, but there is a notable lack of transparency in how their beliefs might impact the outcome of their applications.”

Warren pointed out that if religious organizations were excluded from funding, it would have a significant impact on many valuable summer programs.

“There is a multi-layer impact when faith-based organizations are rejected,” she said. “Communities lose valuable programs and services, such as affordable summer camps, staff to support campers with disabilities, liaising with Indigenous communities to support summer programs; youth lose an opportunity to gain experience that integrates faith and work; charities lose the opportunity to demonstrate the richness and value of the charitable sector to the next generation of workers and volunteers.”

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