WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg member of Parliament says she will never agree to new rules blocking Catholic employers' access to federal grants to help pay for summer students, and in fact, she says, Catholic groups are still eligible to apply for such funds.
MaryAnn Mihychuk, Liberal MP for Kildonan-St. Paul, blames miscommunication from the federal Liberals for causing confusion among pro-life organizations and even panic for those who depend on summer student help. Mihychuk is calling on the federal government to extend the deadline to apply for the Canada Summer Jobs program.
In a letter to Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon, Mihychuk states, "I would never support an initiative that required any individual or organization to compromise their values and beliefs. Please be assured that I have raised our concerns with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and the office of the Prime Minister."
Mihychuk's comments are in response to Employment and Social Development Canada announcing a major change to its requirements regarding applications for federal funding under its Canada Summer Jobs program for youth employment. Attestation must now be included that "both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada." These include reproductive rights, specifically the right to access abortions. According to the department, this is intended to "prevent youth (as young as 15 years of age) from being exposed to employment within organizations that may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law."
In Mihychuk's view, the requirement that both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, "are the same as last year and years before."
"For many religious groups," writes Mihychuk," their mandate may be similar to the description of 'ongoing programs' that they provide to the Canada Revenue Agency at tax time, which focuses on what the organization does in a given year. For example, in the case of religious groups, the core mandate of the group or church is often to promote their religion and includes activities such as summer camps, Bible study, and hosting activities for seniors. None of these activities or the mandate goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, making the organization or religious group eligible to apply to the CSJ program.
According to Mihychuk, "Faith-based groups are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant to CSJ 2018, and I must stress that it is not a new requirement for applicants to outline their organization's mandate and the key activities of the proposed job.
"Contrary to what has been implied," she writes, "applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values nor are these taken into consideration during application for the program, including pro-life beliefs. Due to the misinformation that has been spread, I have requested that the CSJ application deadline be extended past the Feb. 2 deadline to both the Prime Minister and to Minister Hadju."
In her letter, Mihychuk tells Archbisohop Gagnon, "Faith-based groups such as yours provide tremendous value to our community. I encourage you, and all eligible employers, to apply (to CSJ), to grow the local economy this summer and help young Canadians gain the experience they need to succeed in the job market. Your concerns over the CSJ attestation are understandable. I hope I have been able to provide clarification on the subject and you take it into account when making the decision to participate in the program."
Catholic and other religious groups across the country have been rocked by the CSJ changes. In a report in the Winnipeg Free Press, the president of Lorette-based Eastman Youth for Life called the new rules "absolutely bogus." Justin Jeanson said he is left wondering "how (Prime Minister Trudeau) could decide that only the people who believe what he believes can receive this kind of money."
Kevin Prada, director of the Catholic School of Evangelization in St. Malo, Man., which runs Catholic camps year round, said his organization relies on CSJ funding to provide the camping experience to children and youths.
"It's going to hurt us," he told the Winnipeg Free Press. "The government's actions transcend the abortion debate and should bother pro-choice Canadians, too. For me, this is a serious affront on my liberty and the liberty of Canadians: their liberty of conscience, their freedom of expression and freedom of religion."