MPs facing pressure over Canada Summer Jobs funding

As concern grows about the impact the Canada Summer Jobs attestation could have on charitable status, groups are urging their constituents to keep up the pressure on their MPs.

Warnings about impacts on charitable status reached a crescendo in a debate March 1 in the House of Commons on a Conservative Motion put forward by MP Karen Vecchio asking the House to agree that “organizations that engage in non-political activist work” be able to “access” CSJ funding whether or not they sign the attestation. That motion will come to a vote on March 19.

MP Karen Vecchio

“This is a huge issue for many of our members,” said Vecchio in an interview. She said they are hearing from groups who are worried about what is next. “I’ve heard from groups who told me, “Surely they won’t allow charitable receipts for the work that we do.”

“A lot of people are expecting to it expand,” she said, noting a similar attestation is now required for the government new youth program. But biggest warning came from former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt.

“I am sounding the alarm right now,” MP Lisa Raitt told the House of Commons on March 1.

“We could be in for a major problem with charitable status in this country and ripping the carpet out from so many vulnerable people who depend on charities and their good work.”

Raitt said she was worried about “legislative creep” that could affect the charitable status of churches and organizations that already gone through “an incredibly in-depth” process to show they are in line with public policy to obtain that status.

The CSJ grant application requires organizations to attest that its “core mandate” respects Charter and reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, drawing protests from faith groups across the country.

If the CSJ attestation “was about creating a new definition of Canadian public policy and a new determination of what it represents, which has been ripped from the Liberal platform,” Raitt said, she “wondered whether this now would be determinative for charitable status.”

Raitt warned Canada Revenue (CRA) officials could “take it upon themselves to determine that the new definition of Canadian public policy for the purposes of charitable organizations is the one that the government has slammed into the Canada summer jobs attestation.”

In addition, other groups could write CRA to launch challenges against the charitable status of organizations based on the attestation, she said. “This is a mess and we have to absolutely oppose it.”

“The Opposition Day motion offers us an important means of keeping the conversation going,” said Julia Beazley, director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

“And the timing is ideal With MPs in their ridings over the next two weeks, it’s an excellent opportunity for those who are concerned individuals, as well as leaders of affected to call or visit their MPs to talk about the issue, how it impacts their community, and ask them to support the motion on March 19.”

Though Beazley notes the deadline for CSJ applications has passed, “serious concerns with the attestation haven’t been resolved.”

The ideal scenario would be for the government to respond to faith community concerns and change the policy for next summer, she said. “This is unlikely to happen though without significant ongoing communication from Canadians.

“Beyond the significant impact of this policy on religious freedom and on communities across the country, we’re very concerned about the precedent of the government imposing a values-test in order to access programs or services,” she said.

“The government has not raised the prospect of a similar screening for charitable status, but we know the question has been raised in other settings and are concerned that at some point things could head in that direction.”

Barry Bussey

Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) has been warning about the vulnerability of charitable status for months. He pointed to a position paper by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada that has endorsed removal of charitable status for groups that support abortion.

“Almost all anti-abortion groups are religiously-based and motivated, because the anti-choice viewpoint is fundamentally a religious doctrine,” the position paper said.

“Given the fact that the federal government is highly attuned to the demands of the pro-abortion community, this latest call for the removal of registered charitable status for religious communities that have an anti-abortion position has got to be taken seriously,” said Bussey on the CCCC website.

“This forms part of the reasoning which compels CCCC and other religious groups to push back against the CSJ attestation requirement. In short, the attestation is but the thin edge of the wedge.”

At a news conference March 2 in London, Ont., Employment Minister Patty Hadju said the government had no intention of removing the attestation as a result of a backlash from religious groups.

“We’ve had a number of applications from faith based groups that have agreed to respect the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms and a woman’s reproductive choice, which is by the way the foundation of gender equality,” Hadju said.

“If a woman can’t choose how and when she chooses to reproduce it makes all other questions of equality pretty moot.”

Canada’s Catholic bishops have also raised their voices in opposition to the attestation.

The week of March 5, various regional assemblies of Catholic bishops are holding plenaries. Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec told social media the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec would discern their next steps at this meeting.

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix

Cardinal Lacroix waded into the debate on Twitter and Facebook March 3 to challenge an account by Randy Boissonault – the Liberal MP for Edmonton Centre – who told the House March 1 the “cardinal of Montreal” had encouraged people to apply for the grants after a conversation with the Prime Minister.

“This is a fantastic example of constructive dialogue between government and faith organizations,” Boissonnault said.

Except, there is no cardinal in Montreal, and Cardinal Lacroix, tweeted March 3 objecting to the “incomplete information shared in the House.”

“I asked the parishes of the Archdiocese of Québec to send their Canada Summer Jobs application without signing the new controversial attestation,” Lacroix explained on Facebook. “Injustice for hundreds of charities across the country that had their application denied, including parishes from our diocese.”

The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) is the latest organization to call on the Liberal government to “rescind the requirement that organizations seeking funding to support summer student employment make affirmations that cannot, in conscience, be made by Catholics or many other faith communities,” according to a statement issued by its president Robert Berard of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

On March 2, the Catholic Civil Rights League launched a petition “against the government’s demands for ideological conformity.”

“We must dare to dissent,” said the League in a news release. “As Catholic Christians, we need to live within the truth.”

“The effort of the federal government to impose the euphemism of ‘reproductive rights’ or ‘inclusion,’ in opposition to profound understandings of science and our Catholic faith, in order to secure a modest public benefit, is an outrageous diktat more suited to oppressive regimes,” the League said.