A change to the government of Canada’s student summer jobs program has groups like the Canadian Council for Christian Charities (CCCC) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) reacting with concern and advocacy on behalf of their members. The Christian Reformed Church is affiliated with both of these organizations.
Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) helps successful applicants—anyone from small businesses, not-for-profit employers, public sector, and faith-based organizations—create quality summer jobs for students by providing wage subsidies.
The River Community Christian Reformed Church’s Discover Canada Camp in Edmonton, Alta., and The Bridge’s Summer Art Camp in Niagara Falls, Ont., are past recipients.
Each year employers submit the application describing the job and attesting that the form is complete and the job wouldn’t be created without this financial assistance. Local members of parliament (MPs) assess the applications for their region and make selection recommendations.
In the 2018 CSJ grant application the attestation includes a new clause. “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. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
The addition of this clause has sparked some controversy, with the government having to answer to groups expressing concern over what they describe as an ideological test to access funding. The government, however, describes it as simply an undertaking to uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the rights and privileges that are guaranteed under the constitution.
The CCCC and the Evangelical Fellowship have submitted open letters of concern to The Hon. Patricia Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. They have also published a list of FAQs on the issue and are offering advice to applicants who don’t see the clause as simply an agreement to uphold Canadian law. “One concern with the CSJ guidelines is that organizations are asked to affirm that they ‘respect’ not only individual human rights, but also undefined ‘values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other rights’ surrounding matters of reproduction, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. It is unclear what is required by ‘respect,’ or what the ‘values underlying the Charter’ refer to in this context,” wrote the EFC.
The Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue (CPD) has consulted both the CCCC and EFC in framing advice for those who raised the issue with the Canadian Ministries office; they posted this information on the Network.
Mike Hogeterp, the Centre’s director, said they are also “encouraging local advocacy on this because local MPs are key decision makers for the program.” In the Network post, CPD encouraged those intending to apply for the grants to consider including an addendum to the application based on a sample by CCCC. Bethany CRC in Fenwick, Ont., which has been a recipient of CSJ grants for 10 years, plans to include a letter in its 2018 application. In part, the letter reads: “Please accept our application with this statement as our understanding of affirming the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the values expressed therein, even as our statement here may differ from statements set forth in the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs Application/Agreement and in the Applicant Guide.”
In St. Catharines, Ont., where Jubilee Fellowship CRC is a past recipient for its accessible day camp, a spokesperson in the office of MP Chris Bittle restated that the new clause does not intend to compel a particular belief. “No one is being required to attest to agree with the government’s position. My hope would be that all Canadians, including those who are applying for funds, support our Charter of Rights, and being asked to attest to that support and to upholding the laws of our country is in no way being asked to support a position, but the law in general,” the spokesperson said. By January 15 he said he had heard from one potential applicant seeking clarity on the change in attestation and “once it was provided they were satisfied with the answer and were proceeding with their application.”