Changes to summer jobs program causes a stir

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A local MP is frustrated with the new restrictions on the federal summer jobs program and said the changes discriminate against churches and faith-based organizations.

St. Albert MP Michael Cooper said that the new rules around summer jobs violate the charter rights of religious organizations.

“It is wrong that churches and faith-based groups are being asked to violate their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding for summer jobs for students,” Cooper said.

In December, the government changed the students summer jobs program so they now require any group applying for grants under the program to prove that they respect reproductive rights, including abortion. The government said it will deny grants to groups advocating against abortions or groups advocating against other human rights.

The Canada Summer Jobs website has been updated to clarify the new regulations.

“Individual human rights are respected when an organization’s primary activities, and the job responsibilities, do not seek to remove or actively undermine these existing rights,” the website said.

Cooper said that the new regulations discriminate against churches and faith-based organizations that do good work in communities across Canada.

“It’s completely unacceptable, it’s mean-spirited and it’s divisive,” Cooper said.

Across Canada, around 70,000 summer jobs are funded through the summer jobs program. Last summer in St. Albert 143 organizations used the program to hire 216 summer students. Of those organizations, four of them have a religious affiliation and in 2017 those organizations had eight employees. The four organizations received a total of $43,783 from the federal government.

“Under this policy they are going to have a choice. Either they are coerced into violating their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding or they get no funding at all,” Cooper said.

One of the four local religious organizations that uses the summer jobs program is the Salvation Army but in a statement a spokesman said that they do not believe this change will impact their funding.

“Although our beliefs may differ from others on certain matters, such as reproductive rights, we respect the legal rights afforded to all Canadians. At this stage, we do not believe these new requirements for the Canada Summer Jobs program pose a barrier to Salvation Army units who wish to submit applications for funding,” the organizations said in an emailed statement.

The organization did express concern with the changes and said that the change may be interpreted as “individuals and organizations having to “set aside their freedoms of religion, expression and belief” which are found in the Charter.

Across Canada, other religious organizations are speaking out against the move and a legal challenge has been filed against the government by the Toronto Right To Life Association.

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters on Tuesday that the Liberal government is prepared to defend itself in court to protect Canadian citizens from discrimination.

Hadju said that last year during the summer the government received complaints that funding from the program had been given to groups advocating against abortions and to camps that would not hire LGBTQ employees.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.