Windsor-Essex faith groups grappling with new federal policy for summer jobs funding

With the deadline to receive federal funding for summer camps looming, several Essex County faith groups are expressing concern about a clause in the application form.

Programs put on by the Diocese of London could lost $50K without federal funding

Rev. David Chotka said Heritage Park Alliance Church said the government does not have the right to compel someone to sign something that contravenes their religions beliefs. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

With the deadline to receive federal funding for summer camps looming, several Essex County faith groups are expressing concern about a clause in the application form. 

The new requirement forces organizations to check a box saying they respect the values set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including women's reproductive rights. 

"In other words I have to say 'Yes' to anybody's lifestyle," said Rev. David Chotka from Heritage Park Alliance Church. "and I have no right to monitor anybody's lifestyle about anything for a job in church to teach kids. It's not just about abortion. What's scary is the prime minister is asking us to say 'Yes' to something and it's undefined."

Chotka said church officials refused to check the box and instead attached a statement of faith to their application, which states, "We believe the Minister does not have the jurisdiction under law to compel someone to make a statement or adopt a belief, especially one that conflicts with out [religious] conscience under the Charter as a condition for receipt of funding."

Officials with Heritage Park Alliance Church refused to sign the government's new clause for summer jobs funding and instead attached this attestation to their application. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"We're saying the ground upon which the Prime Minister and Minister have acted is contrary to the very Charter of Rights and Freedoms they're trying to uphold, in other words, it's discriminatory in the extreme," the pastor added.

Chotka said the church has used government funding to help pay four or five students for positions in summer camps — this year the pastor expects they'll have to fundraise to cover those costs and keep kids employed.

Dioceses stands to lose thousands

Nelson Couto, spokesperson for the Diocese of London, wrote in a statement to CBC News that the Catholic church is wrestling with the question of whether to apply for grants.

He added without that funding their programs could see a shortfall of up to $50,000.

Officials with the Hindu Mandir Temple have also formed a committee to consider what to do about the new requirement as well.

But the government is not backing down.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd in Winnipeg they will not bar religious groups funding for summer camps based on their beliefs, but added his government is also not going to roll back the clock on women's rights.

"This government will continue to be unequivocal," said Trudeau. "We will defend women's rights and the rights of the LGBT community, regardless of what folks in certain religious groups try to push us against."

Churches considering charter challenge

Now church groups are considering a charter challenge to the requirement, something University of Windsor assistant political science professor, Emma Richez said might be possible based on precedents set by other cases that have come before the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, the even if the court sides with the faith groups, Richez said the government could just invoke the notwithstanding clause and disregard the ruling.