Many local organizations in our community take advantage of the Canada Summer Jobs program. This is a program that provides organizations with government funding for summer student positions. It has existed for a long time, and many well-known organizations and young people in our community have benefited.
This year, the government is making a change to the program — they are now requiring all applicants to sign an attestation form about the beliefs and values of the organization. They must sign that, “Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect 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.”
Essentially, then, before a church group running a day camp for children, or a community centre providing assistance to refugees, or a business or a local government can participate in this program, they now have to declare their support for this set of liberal values and priorities.
I do not believe that this government-imposed litmus test is appropriate. But more than that, it is an attack on the independence of charities and civil society organizations.
Most, if not all, of the groups in our community who have received Canada Summer Jobs funding in the past have nothing to do with the issues touched on by this attestation — but likely would not feel comfortable taking positions on political issues which are outside the scope of their work. In some cases, worthy organizations might have a certain faith-based orientation which makes them uncomfortable with some of the language in the attestation. In many cases, the volunteer boards which are responsible for these organizations will have differing views on these issues — and will now be forced into divisive debates which have nothing to do with actual activities of the organizations in question.
It is wrong to try to force groups who simply want to provide services to the public to sign a form assenting to government-defined values. Funding should be available on the basis of what you do, not on the basis of your private convictions. A strong civil society is one in which charitable and non-for-profit organizations can take whatever position they want, or no position at all, on contentious issues. They should be able to maintain their perspectives without being threatened.
Imagine this in reverse — imagine if a Conservative government demanded charities sign a form saying that they oppose the carbon tax before they can participate in an equal basis in government programs. I do not think anyone would struggle to see the problem with that.
This mean-spirited ideological attack on charitable organizations is causing a great deal of consternation for worthy organizations in our community who have benefited from this program in the past. I hope to see this new policy reversed.
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018