The Canada Summer Jobs program operates by allowing Members of Parliament to allocate funding to groups in their ridings that submit applications asking for funds to hire students. This can include jobs at summer camps, and other various advocacy and community groups.
On December 15, the government was changed the rules. Under the new rules, organizations must check off a box in their online application that states that both their core mandate and the job they want to use federal funds to fill, both respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights and associated case law, which 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.” This means that some faith groups and anti-abortion groups would require them to betray their beliefs.
A number of faith groups and anti-abortion groups have cried foul over the new ruling since requiring them to agree to the attestation is not only a violation of their core beliefs but also a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in a letter dated January 11 that the new rules are detrimental to young people in many ways. “In addition to the obvious and regrettable infringement of freedom of conscience and religion in such matters as are raised by the new policy, there will be unfortunate consequences on the ground: summer camps will be forced to close; the services of numerous non-profit organizations will be reduced; valuable opportunities for apprenticeship will be lost. These effects, to name but a few, will be felt in Catholic dioceses and organizations as well as in many other faith communities across Canada.
The CCCB also said that the new ruling will affect faith communities in Canadian democracy because it will “limit their participation in the public square.”
Even Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says he is petitioning his own government to reverse the new policy. The Liberal MP said its unfair that churches and Christian groups are being asked to violate their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding for jobs and programs that are non-political, or unrelated to reproductive rights.
“Just last week, I spoke with one of the churches about housing, affordable housing. The Salvation Army is constantly doing things for anti-poverty. So I have a close connection with these groups, and I represent them, even if we have a difference in belief,” Simms shares.
“We couldn’t hold our integrity and check off the box about the reproductive rights,” said Jeff Hillier, lead pastor at Community Pentecostal Church in Orléans. Hillier said he was “very shocked” by the new program rules, which reminded him of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s requirement for Liberal MPs to vote pro-choice during the last elections.
The Canadian Council of Christian Charities has outlined a three-part strategy for churches to “pray, express concern, contact MPs.” It is also advising churches to continue to apply for the program, but to do so using a paper form, where they can express their concerns with the policy.