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Who is thinking about summer when we haven’t even celebrated Christmas? The Federal Government is, and as a Christian you should be too. Why? Because next summer many Christian churches, charities and para-church organizations will be unable to hire summer students. This is because of government changes to eligibility for the Canada Summer Jobs program.

What is Canada Summer Jobs?

The Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program provides funding to small business (50 or fewer employees), non-profits and public sector organizations to create summer jobs for full-time students between 15-30 years of age. It is mutually beneficial as an employer can hire additional staff and students gain paid summer work experience and in summers past, many churches, charities and Christian organizations like summer camps, have been able to participate in this program.

Providing up to 100 percent of the minimum wage and other employment-related costs for non-profits and up to 50 percent for the other categories, the program is a valuable one. According to one news report, almost 69,000 spaces were created in 2017 and the program has attracted millions of dollars from the federal government.

What is the problem?

This year, however, the federal government has added an “Attestation” that all employers must affirm in order to be eligible. According to the Applicant Guide:

To be eligible, the core mandate of the organization must respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) as well as other rights.

So far, so good. But the Guide goes on to define these “values”:

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.

The Attestation is characterized as consistent with Canadian human rights, Charter rights and case law, and the Government’s commitment to human rights, which – in case you were uncertain – includes “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

For more clarity, the Guide specifies that women’s rights are human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, which boil down to “the right to access safe and legal abortions.” According to the Guide, “these rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies”.

This policy change and moral mandate should not come as surprise given the Prime Minister excludes pro-life MP’s from his own party. But whether or not you’re surprised, the more important question is, what does all of this mean?

Problems & Implications with the Attestation

There is a marked divergence between the moral position taken by the Federal Government and Christian communities as it relates to gender, sexuality and life.  And unless something changes, Christian churches and organizations will almost certainly not receive CSJ funding in 2018 because it is the Federal Government’s moral position that determines funding.  And therein lays the rub – the Government is wrongly using the Charter as a “blueprint for moral conformity” (para 10).

The Charter is intended to protect the citizen from the power of the state, not to enforce compliance by citizens or private institutions with the moral judgments of the state. The Attestation is state action that transforms the Charter from a protective shield into a coercive sword, a role for which it was not intended.

Let’s briefly consider the Attestation and its purpose in light of the Charter and some (not all, we don’t have space for that!) of the problems that arise. The Attestation’s purpose is to prevent funding grants to organizations “whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights” and to prevent youth “from being exposed” to organizations that “may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter.”

First, this purpose is internally inconsistent and ignores many of the very rights it purports to protect. Two fundamental freedoms listed in the Charter are (a) freedom of conscience and religion and (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. Free expression is fundamental to the exercise of other freedoms, and where the topics expressed engage a critical core of social debate (i.e. life, identity), state censorship becomes particularly dangerous. Religious freedom is the right to hold beliefs of your choosing, to openly declare those beliefs and to do so in the absence of coercion or constraint.

Section 15 is another key section of the Charter, and it affirms equality rights on the basis of religion and sexual orientation amongst others. The Attestation takes one equality right – on the basis of sexual orientation – and places it in hierarchy above others, including both religious freedom and religious equality. Placing Charter rights in hierarchy is impermissible.

Ironically, the Attestation itself is “contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter” because it fails to recognize that there exist other belief systems beyond the one it represents. It also fails to affirm religious equality. In fact, by rejecting the individual’s beliefs and values, it denies equal worth and casts doubt on the value of those who share those beliefs.

Second, it ignores exemptions in provincial human rights codes that allow for religious and other groups to lawfully discriminate. In Ontario, for example, sections 18 and 18.1 of the Human Rights Code allow Special Interest organizations such as churches to hire only those who adhere to that church’s particular doctrinal statement, for example. It is necessary for organization with a specific mandate to be able to include and exclude on the basis of characteristics that would, in other contexts, be discriminatory. The dog owners’ club can limit its hiring and services to dog owners; the coffee shop cannot.

Third, it declares “reproductive rights” to exist as a Charter value or right. This is common parlance, but it is misleading. A fair reading of the 1988 Morgentaler decision shows that the then-current regime violated the Charter but that did not in and of itself create a Charter right to abortion. In fact, the decision left the door wide open to future restrictions, limitations and regulations on abortion.

Fourth, it sets a dangerous precedent. As the Supreme Court has held, the state is obliged to be neutral, not favouring or hindering any particular belief or non-belief, recognizing that “neutral public spaces” does not mean homogenization of private players in that public space. It also means the state cannot express its own preference thereby promoting the participation of believers to the exclusion of non-believers and vice-versa. But if the state is free to violate these norms, it will certainly not end with a summer jobs program. Consider the vast swath of intersection between government and your life. Every licence, grant, permission, status, financial benefit is vulnerable.

Fifth, policies like this one fail to recognize the public good that faith-based organizations bring to society as a whole. The government is so myopic in the pursuit of its own set of morals and values that it fails to see the myriad ways churches and para-church organizations meet societal needs and benefit the public.

The Attestation raises more problems, and the descriptions above merely scratch the surface of each topic but the issue as a whole is eloquently summarized by the British Columbia Court of Appeal is its Trinity Western law school decision:

This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.

Response to the Attestation

Likely, the first question churches and other Christian organizations have to ask themselves is whether to apply for the grant again this year. Despite government claims that religious affiliations “does not itself constitute ineligibility,” Christian (and other religious) organizations will be unable to affirm the attestation with its implied meaning. Is there value in applying nonetheless? Assuming that practically speaking the application process allows for it, doing so would create a record of government rejecting organizations and individual students for funding on the basis that their religious beliefs do not align with state morality. There is great value in creating, maintaining and publishing records of such state behaviour.

There is also great value in sharing your church or organizational concerns either with groups who participate in the public square or who are politically engaged or through another effective avenue. Policies don’t change when unopposed.

A more reflective response is to consider what gap would be left if your church or group was unable to serve in the way it had planned? Would a gap even exist? Would it be felt by the community? Or only by the people within the four walls of your church building? Our neighbours ought to notice when the church has fewer tools with which to serve.

Lastly, we need to be prepared for more of this. We know our calling is to serve others. Our government used to facilitate some of that through the CSJ Program, and we should pursue whatever avenues are available to keep that option open. However, our calling isn’t to serve only when government-funded, or when the majority of people agree with, appreciate and affirm the faith from which our service flows. Selfless, sacrificial service is to always be the mark of the believer. In light of the SCJ program and continuing cultural changes, the sacrifice may be greater and the service might be harder but let us not grow weary, and let our good works bring glory to the Father in heaven.