Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
House of Commons
Dear Minister Hajdu,
It is with deep dismay that we read the new Canada Summer Jobs grant program guidelines. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is the national association of evangelical Christians, with affiliates including 44 denominations, 65 ministry organizations and 33 post-secondary educational institutions. It is estimated that there are 6,500 congregations that belong to our affiliate denominations across Canada.
We believe the new Canada Summer Jobs grant guidelines violate the fundamental Charter of Rights and Freedom guarantees of freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression. As a condition of being considered for a public benefit, the application compels affirmation of “Charter values” that are neither delineated in the application nor anywhere stated by Parliament or Canadian courts. This condition is not necessary for the purposes of the program and has never been imposed previously. Further, it is a form of compelled speech by the government and, as such, is contrary to the guaranteed freedoms in section 2 a and b of the Charter. The new requirements are also contrary to the long Canadian tradition of cooperation and collaboration between religious organizations and governments.
Thousands of churches and organizations across Canada are religious charities. They benefit the communities in which they are located and our nation as a whole. Religious charities foster vibrant social networks, spark local volunteerism, and foster community resiliency. Animated by their religious beliefs, they engage in caring for those who are vulnerable or marginalized in a variety of creative and meaningful ways. Although their work and service flows out of religious commitment and belief, these positive ends are experienced by many in the community, regardless of faith.
With these changes, many religious organizations will be deemed ineligible because they cannot attest that they align, for example, with the Liberal Party’s views on abortion. These groups will be denied equal access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs. In managing its programs, the government should respect and accommodate the diversity of Canadian society and abide by the Charter in its treatment of individuals and groups.
Further, we are concerned that the new guidelines would not allow religious charities to hire only students who share their faith to participate in the activities and services provided by the charity as an outworking of its religious beliefs.
Religious organizations operate lawfully under existing employment law and provincial human rights codes, and are afforded certain specific exemptions to the principle of non-discrimination under Canadian law (for example, s. 20 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms).
Parliament has discussed religious discrimination many times in the last year in the context of Motion M103. One of the tasks of the Canadian Heritage Committee is to recommend a whole of government approach to addressing religious discrimination. In our view, whether intended or not, this new policy constitutes a form of religious discrimination whose impact will be broadly felt, not just by religious groups and programs, but by the many Canadians who are served by them.
We note that in its recent decision in Ktunaxa, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that governments must carefully consider claims that their actions may violate the religious freedoms of individuals and communities. We ask you to carefully consider how this new policy infringes on religious freedom.
Our desire is to seek the good of our nation. We would like to work with you collaboratively to find a solution and to enable the positive contributions of religious organizations in local communities to continue.
We urge you to respect the diversity of beliefs of all Canadians and to engage meaningfully with those whose beliefs may differ from your own. We urge you to amend the Canada Summer Jobs application guidelines and process in order to allow churches and other religious organizations to stay true to their communal identity and beliefs.
Director, Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
[Website editor's note: Read more on this issue at TheEFC.ca/CanadaSummerJobs.]
Author: Julia Beazley