In Canada, many Christian Reformed churches regularly apply for and receive government wage-supplement grants to hire students for summer initiatives—including programs to feed people in need of housing, helping those newly settled in Canada, and offering summer camps for children. A change to the application process this year and differing opinions on what it signified added complexity, confusion, disappointment—and, in at least one case, even opportunity—to the work of running summer ministries.
The 2018 Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) application form required applicants 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. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, color, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
“At first blush the attestation appears innocuous,” said Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), a partner of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. “Who could be against the values underlying the Charter and the freedom from discrimination? However, behind that velvet glove is an iron fist,” he suggested. “The government is telling us that we must accept its values. The values of prenatal life and traditional marriage that many of our members attest are anathema to this government.”
“This attestation sets a very troubling precedent of requiring respect for values and rights in order to be eligible for a government program,” stated the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), another CRCNA partner, on its website. “This kind of values test violates the fundamental freedoms of Canadians guaranteed in the Charter, such as the freedom of religion, conscience, belief, speech, and opinion.”
According to a government spokesman, the attestation was added because in the past some funded organizations had used their grants “to undermine the rights of Canadians. For example, funding was used to support organizations that distribute graphic images of aborted fetuses and organizations that do not welcome LGBTQ2 young people at their youth programs.”
Because the human rights in the attestation include “reproductive rights,” and “the right to access safe and legal abortions,” many applicants felt they could not in good conscience check the box.
“The political tempest over the attestation requirement is a troubling example of wedge politics,” said Mike Hogeterp of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. “We’re frustrated with it because it diminishes trust in this government that has done some important things in critical areas of justice—Indigenous rights and refugee protection, for example.”
A motion by the opposition party that raised thoughtful concerns about the attestation was defeated in Parliament on March 19.
For churches concerned about the attestation, the back-and-forth while deadlines passed created some stress and confusion. Mountainview CRC in Grimsby, Ont., serves as an example. Mountainview offers a summer camp for children that runs over six weeks and is one of the few that accepts kids with special needs. In the past, the church has used its CSJ grant to hire camp counselors and support staff. The church decided in January 2018 to submit its application without checking the box and with an attached explanation. In April, the church received a response to the initial application: since the attestation had been modified, it was not acceptable. They were given 10 days to reply, signing the application with the attestation as written. The church sent it back the same way as previously with a request for an accommodation. While this correspondence was going on, the CCCC informed its members by email that some members’ “CSJ applications have been approved and funds granted despite their opposition to the attestation.” Confusing, indeed. However, the Council’s reports turned out to be misunderstood—anyone altering the application was not considered for funding.
On June 1, Mountainview received official word from CSJ that their application was declined because they had modified the attestation. That left Mountainview in search of other funding. Here was the opportunity.
“God has provided abundantly,” said Christine Winter, Children’s Ministry and Camp Director. “We raised around $20,000 from our congregation ($11,000 in one Sunday morning offering alone) and a few thousand [dollars] more from the community to help pay for one of our special needs counselors. We raised camp fees from $100 to $125 a week.” Winter said the camp ran with 19 paid staff and about 25 volunteer leaders-in-training, filling more than 500 camper spots.
Not every Christian Reformed church responded to the CSJ application as Mountainview did. A few completed the application process, checked the box, and went on to receive funding for their summer staff. In those cases the applicants did not see the attestation as holding them to any political position—as their Member of Parliament offices assured them. Citing the potential misunderstanding on what has become a flashpoint issue, and the lack of space in a single quote to detail their perspectives, none wished to be identified for this article.
The Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue has encouraged churches and other Christian groups to consider the advice of the CCCC and the EFC over this issue. The Council continues to raise funds and review legal options to challenge the policy change.