Three questions on summer grant announcements for 2018

14 May 2018

Now that the government has announced its Canada Summer Jobs grants for this year, we asked the EFC’s Julia Beazley, director, public policy, to help us make sense of what’s happening with this controversy and the organizations that applied. See more of our Three Questions Series of short online interviews or more about the Canada Summer Jobs controversy.

Q1. Did some Christian groups agree with the CSJ attestation?

I’m not sure I would necessarily say they agreed with the attestation. But some groups did read through the attestation and decide they were able to sign it. They may have decided that saying they respected what the government was asking didn’t mean that they agreed. Some groups felt that the specific examples of allowable activities in the department’s Supplemental Information were similar to their ministry, and gave the clarity they needed to proceed. Some groups may have signed out of a deep concern for the vulnerable populations that would not be served without their ministry. We do know that there were Christian groups who felt, for various reasons, that they were able to sign the attestation in good conscience.

But there were also significant numbers of Christian churches, ministries and employers who did not feel they could, in good conscience, sign an attestation that requires them to respect undefined values and “other rights,” including access to abortion. Some chose not to apply. But many submitted applications that in some way registered their objection to the attestation. It seems reasonable to infer that most of the 1,500 applications rejected by the government this year were from groups that in some way objected to the attestation.

While we may not all agree on what signing the attestation means, and whether we should or how we should respond to it, I think we all agree that no one should be required to sign a statement of values against their conscientious objection. And that government programs should be available on a level playing field without requiring a values-test.

Q2. Were all groups that objected to the attestation rejected this year?

No, and that is a surprise. The Minister, both in person and in the media was very clear that there would be no accommodation or exceptions made for groups who objected to the attestation. If the box was not checked without qualification or modification, the applications would not be approved. And as expected, the vast majority of applications from groups that somehow registered their objection – for example by attaching or writing in an alternate attestation, or requesting religious accommodation – did not receive a grant. Certainly, if the box wasn’t checked at all, the application was rejected.

However, we are aware of a number of groups who were somehow approved, even though they objected to the attestation in the same ways those many others did. From what we have been able to assess, the approvals seem to be completely arbitrary, meaning there is no consistent pattern to what kinds of objections may have slipped through. So we’re not sure whether this is a result of departmental error, or whether there was some intentionality to this. But this has certainly added even more confusion to what has already been a very difficult and confusing process for many groups.

It’s also troubling because it is potentially divisive. That some objecting groups were awarded grants in spite of their objections while most were denied – or even that some applied without objection - has the potential to evoke feelings of mistrust, anger or betrayal. We are the body of Christ. As David Guretzki wrote last year, we share a common relationship to God in Jesus Christ by the Spirit, and “as brothers and sisters in the family of God, [we] labour together while seeking to resolve disputes, forgiving, and reconciling whenever possible.”  It’s so important that we guard against division.

Q3. What’s next?

As the final rejection letters on the Canada Summer Jobs program are received, an avenue of legal action will open. The EFC and other Christian groups continue to explore options for a legal challenge.

This attestation sets a very troubling precedent. That government would screen for values in this way has been widely recognized and criticized, yet there is no indication the government will change this requirement without legal action. Still, we will continue to call the government to take principled action.

Concerned Christians can continue to press their local MP to protect freedom of religion and conscience and freedom of expression. Letters can also be sent to Minister Hajdu and the Prime Minister, asking for this troubling policy to be corrected for next year. The EFC has a sample letter on our website. MPs recognize their constituents care about this issue and will be increasingly motivated to respond if it seems that their constituents are still paying attention and remain concerned.

Continue to tell the stories of how this change affects you, your church and your community. Write letters to the editor and post on social media using the hashtag #CanadaSummerJobs.

Learn who the churches and organizations are in your community who were affected directly, and consider supporting them, with your prayers, your time and your resources.

It’s easy to be discouraged. This process has been long and difficult for many groups, and as we deal with the outcome, there is a risk of either apathy or hostility, which are opposite ends of the spectrum. Romans tells us that our fight is with principalities and powers, not with flesh and blood. We are called to faithful Christian engagement, to seek the good of the land where God has placed us, to pray for those in authority over us. 

So, we ask you to join us in praying for our country and our elected officials. Pray for organizations involved in responding to this issue. Pray for local ministries affected by this change. Pray for unity within the church and for us to be known by our love for one another. Pray for God to be glorified.