Freedom, Government and Appropriate Response: Canada Summer Jobs

Originally published January 2, 2018 at The Free Methodist Church in Canada blog of Bishop Cliff Fletcher, CliffsNotes.

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I’m sure that by now you have heard about the Trudeau’s government new requirements for all applicants for the Canada Summer Jobs funds. I asked Don Hutchinson to help me sort out this very concerning development.

Cliff Fletcher

Canada Summer Jobs: 3 Questions Concerning Changes in the 2018 Application Process – Q&A with Don Hutchinson

Question 1: What is the new requirement for all potential recipients of the Canada Summer Jobs internship funds?

There are actually two new requirements. They cause separate but related concerns.

First, let me summarize the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) initiative of the federal government. CSJ provides wage subsidies to employers who hire for summer employment to full-time secondary and post-secondary students (ages 15-30) who are planning to return to their studies. Not-for-profit employers, which includes registered charities, are eligible to receive from 50% to 100% of the hourly minimum wage in their province for each summer-student employee.

CSJ has been running for as long as I can remember. In addition to other summer job opportunities, CSJ has become a foundation for many summer activities run by young adults and teenagers for children who are on school break, including church-based care and camp programs.

The employment priorities of CSJ are adjusted from time to time, however for 2018 the federal government has added a requirement to the application process that presents an obstacle for many faith-based organizations. I use faith-based because this isn’t just a concern for Christian organizations. The Applicant Guide states the Articles of Agreement requirement that must be agreed to by all applicants, as follows:

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. 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 required for the application to be considered complete and eligible for assessment.

“Churches, religious and faith-based organizations” continue to be listed under the category of eligible employers, and the Guide includes the following note in the section on ineligible employers:

NOTE: That an organization is affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.

The other problematic requirement for faith-based organizations is the eligible activities for funding, which now includes the following requirement for jobs to be performed by students employed under CSJ:

To be eligible, the job must respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) 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.

There is no provision permitting exemption from the attestation requirements in regard to core mandate of the organization or details of the summer job.

Question 2: What are the implications?

Applicants who do not attest their agreement are ineligible for CSJ. This is problematic for both the potential applicant and the federal government.

First, the federal government.

The Charter is constitutionally intended to protect against abuse of power by government or government agencies. The Charter is not intended for use to coerce agreement, or conformity, with ideological positions taken by government.

The attestation requirement mistakenly asserts recognition of reproductive rights (a.k.a. a right to abortion) under the Charter and requires conformity with the government’s position. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down an existing law that restricted abortion. In its decision, the Court noted the legitimate constitutional interest of the federal government to legislate limitations on abortion that would protect the child in the womb. An effort to do so by the government of the day failed in the Senate. There can be no violation of the Charter by a non-governmental organization, and there is are no constitutional “reproductive rights.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has noted there is no legal or constitutional recognition in Canada of the separation of church and state, which is a U.S. constitutional concept. In Canada, the Court has stated a requirement for government to be neutral in regard to religion, i.e. neither to favour nor discriminate based on religious beliefs. This includes government funding of programs generally available to the public, such as CSJ.

The Court has also recognized a positive right of religious organizations to be selective in employment based on religious requirements of belief and practice. In the case of summer employment, religious requirements must be known to candidates and specified in the job description, including statement of responsibilities that legitimately require the employee to meet religious requirements as part of the job (e.g. setting a Christian example, leading in devotional times, providing spiritual counsel, etc.).

That leads us to implications for a religious organization that would like to apply for CSJ funding, and cannot truthfully attest to the CSJ core mandate or job requirement statements.

While some religious organizations might attest to the Articles of Agreement – perhaps considering their religious status to exempt them from the reproductive rights and discrimination statements contained in the descriptive sentence following reference to Charter values, or assessing the resulting good as worth the risk – the government cannot legitimately require such forced expression that may be at odds with religious beliefs and practices. An organization that attests may find itself being held to the attestation requirements (endorsing abortion, hiring people based on their gender identity/expression, etc.) contrary to their religious beliefs and practices.

More obvious, several organizations that have a long history of accessing CSJ for qualifying programs may find themselves unable to access CSJ funding in 2018 for reasons that are unconstitutional and not merit based. This may require finding alternative sources of funding or cancelling long standing programs of community service.

Question 3: What can we do?

This is a particularly good question. The application deadline is February 2, 2018 and the changes were announced just before Christmas. The timing creates logistical problems.

A number of Members of Parliament have prioritized this issue, but the reality is the announcement was made after Parliament started its Christmas break and Parliament is not scheduled to resume until January 29, 2018.

Organizations such as the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada have initiated contact with MPs and the Minister of Employment, Hon. Patty Hajdu. They are requesting the government amend the CSJ application process so that religious organizations may apply and stay true to their constitutionally protected beliefs and practices.

Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Pray for religious freedom to be respected and the CSJ application process to be amended accordingly;
  • Review the application criteria to see if you otherwise qualify;
  • Create a network of CSJ applicants who can keep each other in the know (it may be helpful to designate an individual or steering group to be the hub for communications);
  • Contact your MP by phone, email or letter (letters addressed to any MP by name may be sent postage-free to: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6) – MPs are required to read paper letters and their staff filter phone and email messages; and,
  • If you belong to the EFC, 4Cs or other organizations that are engaging the government on this issue, let them know of your concerns and any action you take. Track the action they’re taking so you can notify your CSJ applicant network as soon as there is news.

Don Hutchinson has been a leader in the Canadian Church for over thirty years. Pastor and lawyer, Don is the principal of ansero, a ministry engaged on religious freedom in Canada and with the global persecuted church. He is the author of Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). To find out more visit