On January 25, members of various faith communities met together to express their concern and sign a statement over recent controversial changes to the federal Canada Summer Jobs grant.
The change requires applicants to attest “that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada.” Within this, the attestation includes Charter rights, reproductive rights and the right to freedom from discrimination on various bases, including “sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
The government implemented this after receiving complaints about some organizations using government money to engage in activities that contradict “Canadian values,” such as the production and distribution of antiabortion pamphlets. Employment Minister Patty Hajdu has since clarified that the attestation applies only to a group’s core mandate and primary activities, not its specific religious beliefs.
Nevertheless, these faith communities are concerned with the blanket nature of the statement they are being asked to sign. Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, spearhead behind the multi-faith meeting, explained, “If the government has a difficulty with a particular group doing something which they feel is not acceptable, I would say they should speak to that group. But to put in a kind of wide-open ideological test for everybody – which we cannot in conscience sign – I think that’s not fair.”
The statement, with over 80 signatures, opens with a “call on the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada to amend the Canada Summer Jobs guidelines and application process so that it does not compel agreement or belief, and allows religious organizations to stay true to their communal identity and beliefs.”
The meeting was attended by representative Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders as well as some previous recipients of the grant.
A Reformed perspective
Also in attendance was Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda, who shared with this interviewer his thoughts on the controversy. He noted a conflict between what the government is calling Canadian values and what we as Christians consider important values to our faith. Both groups wish to affirm their values, but these changes to the grant applications implement a hierarchy.
Roorda respects the government’s concern that all groups receive appropriate treatment, but he wonders what would happen if all the faith-based community enterprises across Canada that do not sign the attestation had to cut back or shut down after receiving no funding.
He particularly noted the Toronto City Mission, which had attendees at this meeting. They provide missional opportunities for students each summer all over Toronto, which includes serving kids, teens and parents impacted by poverty through day camps and other community outreach and service projects. Without employment grants, programs like this across the country will either become too expensive for the people they are trying to serve or will have to be cancelled entirely.
Despite these concerns, Roorda sees some good coming from this conflict. “In a healthy Reformed faith tradition,” he explained, “we have often said that Christ is Lord over all the earth, and there isn’t part of it that Christ hasn’t already claimed. We have often found ourselves engaged in every facet of the world, but one area not so strong from church to church is our political engagement.”
If nothing else, Roorda hopes this controversy will encourage individuals and churches to take action, to write their MPs and to be willing to express their concern on this and other faith-based issues.
For anyone still wondering how to approach an application for this summer, he says CRC Canadian Ministries is happy to work with churches and provide sample addendums that can be sent in with grant applications saying why the church cannot in good conscience sign the attestation.
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