OTTAWA (CCN) — The Canada Summer Jobs attestation controversy has put the charitable status of many organizations at risk, a former Conservative cabinet minister warns.
“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.”
On March 19, MPs will vote on the motion debated in the House March 1 that revived the CSJ controversy. Put forward by MP Karen Vecchio, the motion asks 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.
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.”
The government has received applications from organizations, including faith-based groups, from across the country and she was “confident” the CSJ would fund about 70,000 jobs this summer.
In the House debate, several Liberal MPs accused the Conservatives of deliberately stirring up fears among faith-based groups, and insisted the attestation had nothing to do with the beliefs of an organization, only its activities.
Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault told the House: “The prime minister spoke with the cardinal of Montreal, and the cardinal encouraged all Catholic parishes to apply for the fund.”
“This is a fantastic example of constructive dialogue between government and faith organizations,” Boissonnault said. Except, there is no cardinal in Montreal, and the cardinal of Quebec, Gerald Lacroix, tweeted March 3 objecting to the “incomplete information shared in the House.”
“I asked the parishes of the Archdiocese of Quebec 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 cardinal said the Quebec bishops would discern their next steps at a plenary assembly of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec, which was the week of March 5.
Many parishes are now scrambling to find money to run their summer programs for youth and now that their applications and requests for accommodation under the charter have been denied.
Salt and Light TV, Canada’s Catholic TV network, sent an urgent appeal to viewers and donors March 1 asking them to help them raise $100,000 so it could continue providing internships for students to give them valuable media training in the mission of education and evangelization.
“As Catholics, our position is that no one should be forced to make application for a government grant that requires support of abortion or other issues that are clearly against the teaching and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church,” said Salt and Light TV CEO Rev. Thomas Rosica in an email. “Due to this regrettable action on the part of the Government of Canada, Salt and Light cannot in good conscience apply for these grants.”
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.”