Changes to Canada Summer Jobs program have wide impact

29 January 2018

Stories continue to come in about how changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program will hurt Canadian society, even as the Feb. 2 deadline to apply looms near. Religious leaders from many faiths are calling for removal of an attestation that requires respect for undefined “Charter values” and “other rights” including access to abortion.

The EFC has been sharing many of these stories on Facebook and Twitter, as groups email them in to us and agree that we can share them to make others aware of their situation. Here are two more:

I am the director of a children's program run by a church for kids in low income housing. As an individual who grew up in low income housing, living below the poverty line for 19 years, I remember each organization that came with children's programs to make my summer and school year better. Our program has been running for more than seven years and every summer we serve more than 100 children.

We have run onsite programs in the summer at each low income housing site providing nutritious snacks, games, hands on activities and a chance to be a kid. We work with parents through the year with food and clothing security and provide a weekly after school program for children aged 4-12 to attend for free. For these kids, not only is it the highlight of their week, but a safe spot to come and have a meal; for some one of their only meals for the day.

Each summer, we try to hire students who grew up in our program and have aged out and want to give back. Individuals who are from visible minorities living below the poverty line, and some who otherwise would not be able to find a summer job due to various personal factors. This year however, without a clear definition of wording in the attestation, we are forced to choose between our personal values and running our community outreach programs without any summer students.

Here’s a second example, this one from the EFC affiliate ministry Scripture Union Canada, reprinted with permission:

Every summer SU Canada runs sports camps in 32 communities in Southern Ontario. More than 2000 children from all ethnicities, religions and abilities attend these camps.

Every year, like many camps across Canada, SU Canada receives funding subsidies through the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ), a first-rate federal program that enables not for profits like SU Canada to provide young people with job experience while delivering community services.

This year, though, SU Canada may not get grants for the 16 university students they usually hire to serve as sports coaches, camp directors and inclusion coaches (working with children with disabilities) because the CSJ application requires an attestation that “the job and the organization’s core mandate” respect “reproductive rights,” meaning “the right to access legal abortions.”

SU Canada cannot sign the attestation in its present form because the clause could be interpreted as compelling grant applicants to hold specific beliefs and opinions to qualify. SU Canada respects and abides by the Charter. But the bigger matter for SU Canada, and other faith-based organizations, is their rights under the Charter itself. So signing the attestation would be in conflict with the fact that the Charter grants freedom of religion, thought and expression as guaranteed in Section 2(a).
And more, the divisive nature of the attestation is going to deeply harm the people that the CSJ funding is supposed to help. Thousands of children are looking forward to a fun-filled week of sports camp. But they may not be able to attend this year. It’s a sad debacle. At the end of the day our kids are being adversely affected.
Yes, this is a mammoth issue concerning religious rights, but it’s also a big issue when it potentially concerns a little girl with cerebral palsy who will be devastated and not understand when her mom has to tell her that there’s no summer sports camp this year (with all the benefits of the inclusive programming provided by SU Canada) because the government refuses to discuss, change or remove the problematic elements of the attestation.

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