In a judicial review of a government of Canada decision about eligibility for Canadian summer jobs funding, the Federal Court of Canada found in favor of Redeemer University last week. In the judgment, written by Justice Richard G. Mosley, the court declared Redeemer “was denied procedural fairness” in the consideration of its 2019 application for a Canada Summer Jobs grant, and it ordered the government to cover the school’s legal costs.
Redeemer, a university in Ancaster, Ont., founded in the Reformed Christian tradition, had requested the review after its 2019 application for summer jobs funding was rejected. In a June 30 news release the school said it was deemed “ineligible on the basis of discrimination and harassment,” despite having provided to the government its personal respect policy, when asked for “further information to show that it provides a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.” Lawyers arguing for Redeemer said the decision interfered with fundamental freedoms—those of freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association—provided for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The judge didn’t rule on the Charter issues, but warned the government that not adjudicating that claim isn’t an endorsement of the government’s funding assessment process. “There is no evidence in the limited record of the decision-making process that the Respondent (Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour) made any overt attempt to consider Redeemer’s rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, or freedom of association in considering its application. Should it be established in another case that officials discriminated in administering funding programs against faith-based institutions because of the sincerely held religious beliefs of their community, a finding of a Charter violation may well result. Such institutions must be treated not just with procedural fairness but also with respect for their Charter-protected rights.”
Christian Legal Fellowship, a national association of Christian lawyers and law students, was an intervener in the case. “CLF is pleased with Justice Mosley’s inclusion of this stern warning to the federal government in his reasons. There is no room in our free, democratic, and pluralist society for religious tests or other discriminatory means of administering publicly funded benefits,” the group said in a statement.
Redeemer is awaiting another review of a 2018 decision that deemed the school ineligible for the same summer jobs program that year. In 2018 the Government of Canada added a controversial mandatory attestation to its funding application that many considered to be a test for alignment with the government’s views on abortion. The Canadian Centre for Christian Charities and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, along with others, lobbied for a change, and in 2019 the attestation was no longer part of the application. But, says Barry Bussey, the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities director of legal affairs, the government didn’t give up its values test, it just made it less visible.
Background included in Justice Mosley’s judgment shows that the Canada Summer Jobs grant applications “were subject to internal review” by Employment and Social Development Canada. Program officers were instructed “to risk assess ‘to help ensure that youth are not subjected to unsafe, non-inclusive, or unhealthy work environments.’ The program officers were to review information from the present and past application forms and information in the public domain. Applications deemed to be at high risk of being ineligible by a program officer were to be referred to an Escalation Committee, which would review the officer’s concerns.”
That’s when applicants, such as Redeemer, were asked for more information.
“What appears to have happened is that the ESDC program officer reviewing the application did a cursory search of the internet for information about Redeemer’s policies and practices, turned up a few pages about its faith-based approach to education, and submitted them to the Escalation Committee as evidence of Redeemer’s ineligibility,” Justice Mosley wrote. The subsequent request for missing information “was not, in my view, a genuine attempt to seek clarification or further information from the Applicant (Redeemer) as the letter did not address the real concerns held by the Respondent (government). Those concerns related to the undoubtedly sincere beliefs of the Applicant’s community regarding the nature of marriage. Most importantly, the Respondent failed to give the Applicant an opportunity to demonstrate how those beliefs did not result in discriminatory practices. Sending the letter was simply going through the motions to appear to be fair, not an exercise in fairness itself.”
Redeemer also applied to the Canada Summer Jobs funding program in 2020 and 2021. Its 2020 application was found eligible, though not until December, the school said in its press release, “by which time summer had passed and there were no funds left in the program.” In its 2021 application, Redeemer requested funds for three positions. The application was approved June 17, 2021. “However,” said communications manager Shannon McBride, “because we received notification at this late stage, it's not possible to recruit employees for the eight-week period of funding for the two research positions.” The hiring process for the third position is going ahead, she said. The school said it has hired students through the Canada Summer Jobs program since 2006.