Thousands of churches and organizations across Canada are religious charities which operate legally under provincial human rights codes. In carrying out their work, they benefit the communities in which they are located and our nation as a whole. Such charities foster vibrant social networks, spark volunteerism and foster community resiliency, providing a religious rationale for activities like poverty alleviation and caring for those who are vulnerable. Although these positive ends are experienced by many in the community regardless of faith, they are offered out of a religious context, with a religious rationale.
The federal government introduced new requirements in 2017 for employers applying for the Canada Summer Jobs grant. To be eligible to receive this grant, employers began to be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect certain “values” as determined by the federal government.
Specifically, the 2018 guidelines mention “individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These 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 policy change introduced in late 2017 meant that to be eligible for the grant, organizations had to attest that their core mandate affirms the government’s view on a list of issues, including the government’s position on abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Organizations unable or unwilling to make this attestation in whole or in part were deemed ineligible for the grant.
Many religious organizations that had applied for these grants and received them in past years became ineligible as a result of these changes. The policy also raised concerns that churches or Christian summer camps, for example, might be ineligible to receive the grant if they wish to hire only students that share their religious beliefs.
These changes in eligibility had a major impact on a wide range of Christian ministries, organizations and programs in 2018. But even more seriously, we believe these changes were a violation of the guaranteed freedoms of religion, thought, belief, opinion and association offered by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially the provisions under Section 2.
See the latest news below on how the government revised the rules in 2019 in an attempt to improve the situation for religious groups.