Saskatoon

Saskatoon churches short tens of thousands of dollars due to summer jobs abortion clause: pastors

Some church leaders in Saskatoon say they are short tens of thousands of dollars because of a new abortion clause in a federal funding application.

Some city churches chose not to agree to clause regarding reproductive rights

One Saskatoon church says it usually receives tens of thousands of dollars to employ young people the the Canada Summer Jobs program. (Southern Alberta Bible Camp)

Some church leaders in Saskatoon say they are short tens of thousands of dollars because of a new abortion clause in a federal funding application.

The clause in the funding application for the Canada Summer Jobs program — which funds short-term contracts for high-school and post-secondary students — requires applicants to check a box affirming they respect reproductive rights.

The form asks applicants to attest that their "core mandate" respects the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The program will not consider applications unless the box is filled out. It was added in 2017.

City church applied for 6 workers

Eldon Boldt is the lead pastor at the Circle Drive Alliance Church in Saskatoon.

He said the church has received varying amounts of funding through the summer jobs program in the 35 years it has been running its summer camp for kids.

I think that they were trying to accomplish something and then used a sledge-hammer to kill a mosquito, unfortunately.- Marvin Wojda, lead pastor Elim Church

In the previous round of funding, Boldt said they received between $35,000 and $40,000 to employ five people to work in kids' programs, grounds-keeping and video work.

This year the group applied for about $43,000 to fund six positions but Boldt said the organization has not received any funding. The church did not agree to the clause. He said doing so would go against his religious conscience. 

"Just as you want to protect women's rights for reproductive rights, should I also not be protected under the Charter for my convictions and have freedom of speech?" said Boldt.

"And the way this application was put forward it feels like I am alienated, and I'm not protected, and I'm punished."

Clause added after funds used to "shame women"

Announced earlier this year, the addition to the application form was controversial with anti-abortion groups and some religious organizations across Canada.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has previously said that prior to the change, the government heard some groups were using the funds from federal grants to "create graphic pamphlets that featured aborted fetuses as a way to shame women about reproductive rights."

"This is about the activities of the organization and the job description," Hajdu told CBC News in January.

"This is not about beliefs or values."

Pastor questions legality of clause

But Boldt does not believe the federal government had jurisdiction under the law to add such a clause as a condition for receipt of funding.

He said the church will use its own money to cover the cost of employing workers this year and avoid cancelling its camp, for which about 300 children are registered.

He is worried that approach will not be sustainable in years to come.

"We will have to see how we do this year and evaluate next year," said Boldt.

"I know of other places that have had to cancel various activities because the funding was not there."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau battle it out over free speech and funding for the summer jobs program. 1:11

Backlash from religious groups

Announced earlier this year, the addition to the application form was controversial with anti-abortion groups and some religious organizations across Canada.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon said in January that he disagreed with the government's interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes women's reproductive rights relating to abortion.

Marvin Wojda, lead pastor at the Elim Church in Saskatoon, said his church originally submitted the application without agreeing to the clause. They also attached their own attestation.

"We were attesting to the fact that we honour all of the rights that are within the Canadian Charter," said Wojda.

But the federal government replied to say the application was incomplete. At that point, Wojda said they re-submitted the application and agreed to the clause.

Church resubmits — and signs

"Our core mandate, though we believe differently than our prime minister does, none of the jobs had to do with anything to do with reproductive rights and anything that was in the attestation," said Wojda.

"In the careful reading of it, and because of the clarifications made by the minister, I understood what the government was trying to do and they didn't want to stand in the way of churches or faith groups receiving the funding, and that was what was stated by the minister."

Wojda said his church applied to the summer jobs program to fund two positions working in youth and children's summer programs.

No word on funding

Although he does not believe the Elim Church's application has been formally declined, he said it would usually have been accepted by this time of year.

"It's different because we have received funding virtually every year for as long as I can recall," said Wojda.

His church is opposed to abortion but he said it would not oppose a person's right to exercise their reproductive rights.  

"I think that they were trying to accomplish something and then used a sledge-hammer to kill a mosquito, unfortunately," he said.

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