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Justice Centre in court today challenging government discrimination against Christian summer camp

CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is in Federal Court today, challenging the Federal Government’s denial of a summer camp’s Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ) application, because the summer camp is Christian.

For over a decade, BCM International (Canada) received federal grants through the Canada Summer Jobs program. BCM used the funds to provide summer jobs for high school and college students to work at its camps, and to allow for underprivileged children to attend these summer camps in cases where parents could not afford any fees. But in 2018, the Federal Government rejected BCM’s applications because BCM could not accept the controversial 2018 Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) attestation which required BCM to express agreement with abortion, as a condition for receiving a government grant.

On behalf of a different client, the Justice Centre commenced a court challenge against this 2018 attestation, arguing it was compelled speech and contrary to freedom of expression as protected by the Charter. The Federal Government then changed the attestation, and no longer required non-profits and small businesses to express support for abortion as a condition for accessing a government program.

In January 2019, under the new Canada Summer Jobs grant requirements, BCM submitted an application so as to employ young people at Mill Stream Bible Camp and Retreat Centre, near Scarborough, Ontario. Surprisingly, Service Canada rejected BCM’s application on May 2, 2019.

Without providing a detailed or specific explanation, Service Canada claimed that the summer camp positions at Mill Stream for students would “restrict access to programs, services, or employment, or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds, including sex, genetic characteristics, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”

Mill Stream was therefore unable to hire enough staff for the summer of 2019, and had to turn away over a dozen children from summer camp.

Documents uncovered by the Justice Centre in the litigation process reveal that Mill Stream was deemed ineligible for grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program on account of its Christian beliefs. Documents obtained by the Justice Centre record how government employees described the summer camps’ beliefs as “controversial church doctrine along with discriminating hiring practices based on church beliefs”, and denied the summer camps’ applications. Service Canada did not provide the summer camp with any opportunity to respond to these accusations.

As explained in a court-filed affidavit, some of the summer job positions at Mill Stream require a mature understanding of Christian beliefs. Hence, Mill Stream asked job applicants about their Christian beliefs, so as to allow the summer camp “to determine what role they are able to fulfill” at the camp.

In its court application, BCM asks the court for a declaration that the decision deeming Mill Stream ineligible to apply for CSJ grants was unreasonable, and also an unreasonable interference with Charter rights and freedoms. BCM also seeks a declaration that the decision-making process used by the government lacked procedural fairness, and that the government acted with bias and in bad faith. Finally, BCM seeks a court order overturning the government decision deeming Mill Stream ineligible for CSJ grants.

There is evidence before the court showing that other Christian camps from across Canada were also denied eligibility to participate in the Canada Summer Jobs program.

“Despite the fact that religious organizations do an incredible amount of charitable work in Canada, Canada’s federal government has sadly continued its campaign of discriminating against those who hold beliefs the government disagrees with,” states John Carpay, lawyer and President of the Justice Centre.

“Such actions are directly contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the right of religious groups to hold and profess their beliefs, and to associate accordingly to carry out their charitable purposes. Allowing government employees to dictate who can and cannot participate in a government program, based on the beliefs or bias of those government employees, is absolutely unacceptable in a free and democratic society,” adds Mr. Carpay.

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