The Harper government has awarded over $20 million of its infrastructure funding to Christian colleges and universities since the launch of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program in 2009.  

Some of the schools receiving federal infrastructure funds prohibit things like homosexual relationships, based on the educational institution's moral code or religious teachings.  

A new analysis by Radio-Canada finds that out of the $2 billion allocated in the Harper government's 2009 Economic Action Plan to support infrastructure improvements at universities and colleges, $20 million went to 13 Christian schools, including:

  • $6 million for Crandall University of Moncton, N.B.
  • nearly $3 million for Ancaster, Ont.-based Redeemer University College.
  • $2.6 million for Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C..

In total, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program has funded some 500 projects at 241 colleges and universities.

The 13 Christian schools include religious seminaries as well as colleges and universities offering educational programs in non-religious subjects. They represent a range of Christian faiths, from Evangelical to Baptist to Mennonite. 

But the funding awarded to Christian institutions has sparked concern because these institutions may require staff or students to adhere to a moral code.

This type of code may ban, for example, homosexual relationships, because they are considered contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Funding 'gives legitimacy'

"The federal government should not subsidize institutions that have discriminatory practices," said Robert Johnson, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of University Teachers.  

While the amount of funding may be small, "it is still very symbolic, because it gives legitimacy to these colleges and these institutions," Johnson says. "And it is especially surprising in a context where the postsecondary system – universities, public colleges in Canada – are underfunded."

Christian Higher Education Canada, a group that works to expand and improve Christian higher education in Canada, argues that religious institutions have rights in Canada's pluralistic society.  

Even if they have moral codes, argues the group's CEO Justin Cooper, the colleges and universities still comply with the requirements of human rights legislation.

In an article in Faith Today magazine in 2010, Cooper called the funding for his institution, Redeemer University College, "a historic change, and nothing short of amazing."

At Redeemer, the infrastructure funding was for increasing research and energy sustainability initiatives across campus, the article said. At other schools, the funding is improving science labs and information technology.

The same article quoted Harry Fernhout, the president of King’s University College in Edmonton, as saying that receiving federal infrastructure money would help increase his school's public profile so that people realize "we do real research in real labs."

Requirement to balance rights?

Angela Cameron, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, agrees that private religious institutions have the right to advance their own religious teachings.   

However, when a private institution receives public funds, this leads to new obligations to balance religious rights with the rights of individual gays and lesbians, she says.

Over a thousand students from eight Canadian law schools signed letters protesting Trinity Western University's proposal to open a law school, claiming last month that the university's policies discriminate against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community.

A written statement from the office of Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, says that all accredited colleges and universities were eligible to apply for the Knowledge Infrastructure Program.  

The government did not provide a specific explanation for the decision to fund private religious schools.

Private colleges and universities often aren't included in public rankings or studies of post-secondary institutions, and aren't eligible for provincial government funding – except in Alberta and Manitoba, where private religious schools are eligible for some capital funding, although at a lower level than public institutions.

with files from Radio-Canada's Brigitte Bureau