Bible camp denied government funds over stand on 'reproductive rights'

The Southern Alberta Bible Camp north of Lethbridge refused to affirm support for reproductive rights on a federal grant application, and now it's trying to figure out how to pay counsellors.

Southern Alberta Bible Camp refused to check mandatory box on application for Canada Summer Jobs grant

A counsellor and child at the Southern Alberta Bible Camp. (Southern Alberta Bible Camp)

The Southern Alberta Bible Camp north of Lethbridge refused to affirm support for reproductive rights on a federal grant application, and now it's trying to figure out how to pay counsellors. 

Instead, officials with the camp included a two-page letter explaining why expressing that would violate their own religious beliefs. 

Bible camps worry about losing Canada Summer Jobs money

However, Service Canada did not accept the application and replied with an email saying it was incomplete and would not be considered because "the attestation cannot be altered or modified." 

Jon Gartly is executive director of the Southern Alberta Bible Camp. (Submitted by Jon Gartly)

"It just feels tough that the reason that we got … not approved is because of our beliefs," said Jon Gartly, executive director of the Bible camp. "That's a tough one to swallow."

The attestation required on the application form states 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 ... 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 or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression."

'Not about the beliefs of the organization'

Officials with the federal government maintain the application requirement is not designed to undermine faith-based organizations.

"It's not about the beliefs of the organization, it's not about the values of the organization. We have said from the beginning it's about the core mandate and the job description," said Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary to Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

According to Pascuzzo, the requirement is due to concerns some recipients of the Summer Jobs grants worked to actively "undermine people's rights," specifically citing the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

"[They] used taxpayer funds to have their summer students design graphic posters of aborted fetuses," said Pascuzzo.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu in Ottawa on March 25, 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Nationally, applications for the Canada Summer Jobs program increased slightly from 41,961 last year to 42,718 this year. However, the number of rejected applications increased significantly, jumping from 126 to 1,561.

A spokesperson for the federal ministry said applications can be rejected for a variety of reasons, including improperly filled-out forms and groups not checking the box for the attestation.

In addition, multiple applications could have come from a single national or provincial organization. According to Pascuzzo, that could mean a higher rejection rate if a single organization's application had problems.

Harder to attract staff without guaranteed wages

Officials with the Southern Alberta Bible Camp set a budget for the year in September 2017, and they were still expecting to qualify for a Canada Summer Jobs grant at that time as they'd received funding for the past few years.

The ineligibility for a summer student grant means approximately six camp positions could be at risk, with wages based on how much money the Bible camp, which has 17 member churches, can raise.

The Southern Alberta Bible Camp outside Lomond, Alta., has not qualified for the Canada Summer Jobs grant this year. (Southern Alberta Bible Camp/Facebook)

"We raise donations," explained Gartly. "There's no guarantee of whether that's coming in. So there's no guarantee that our staff are going to get X amount of dollars. With the grants, we're able to say you get X amount of dollars. We're gonna pay you this much money for this job."

"It's just a lot more work of trying to find staff who are willing to come without a guaranteed salary," said Gartly. 

To resolve the financial shortfall from losing this grant, the Bible camp may need to turn to what is considered a core activity for them: prayer.

"[We] trust in the Lord that we're going to find good staff, and you try and expect these young people to trust the Lord for their finances as well, and that's a tough place to be sometimes," said Gartly.


Anis Heydari

Senior Reporter

Anis Heydari is a senior business reporter at CBC News. Prior to that, he was on the founding team of CBC Radio's "The Cost of Living" and has also reported for NPR's "The Indicator from Planet Money." He's lived and worked in Edmonton, Edinburgh, southwestern Ontario and Toronto, and is currently based in Calgary. Email him at