Subsidizing employers to hire young people for summer jobs should not be among the more controversial of federal government activities. The Canada Summer Jobs program is part of Ottawa’s Youth Employment Strategy (YES), a well-established initiative whose origins date back to the Chrétien government in the 1990s. During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to increase funding for YES and, once in office, they did.

Canada Summer Jobs provides grants to nonprofit and public-sector organizations and small businesses to allow them to hire youth aged 15 to 30 (until 2018 the program was limited to students) for six to 16 weeks of summer employment. Grants are allocated by parliamentary constituency and local members of Parliament have input into who gets them. The list of recipients reads like a cross-section of Canada:

  • Kiwanis Club of Kelligrews, Newfoundland, $8,957 for three jobs
  • Bouffe Pontiac, Campbell’s Bay, Quebec, $2,781 for one job
  • City of Mississauga, Ontario, $6,720 for four jobs
  • Sinnett Pork Farm, Leroy, Saskatchewan, $1,048 for one job
  • and on and on and on, for a total of $204,992,914 for 70,033 jobs in 2018.

A small proportion of the nonprofits that receive grants are religious organizations. And that’s where the trouble began.

On April 10, 2017, after applications for that summer’s program had been submitted but before the grants were announced, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada issued a press release headed “Grants from Canada Summer Jobs Program Support Political Attacks on Human Rights.”1 The press release went on to say, “Federal government grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program for youth have provided ongoing support to political organizations that advocate against human rights, including the right to abortion, doctor-assisted dying, and LGBT rights.” It provided figures going back to 2010 for grants to four anti-abortion organizations: the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Campaign Life Coalition, Life Site News and the Wilberforce Project (formerly Alberta Pro-life).

In response, Matt Pascuzzo, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s press secretary, told a reporter for the iPolitics website that “any funding provided to an organization that works to limit women’s reproductive rights last summer was an oversight. That’s why this year we fixed the issue and no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”2

Because of MPs’ involvement in deciding who gets grants, Pascuzzo could not speak for constituencies represented by the opposition. His statement indicated that the government had undertaken a rescue operation, but hardly “fixed the issue” as he claimed. So the government set out to implement a more comprehensive solution for 2018.

This solution took the form of an “attestation” that every applicant had to agree to in order to be eligible for a Canada Summer Jobs grant. The attestation read,

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 as well as other rights. These include 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, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The expansive nature of this attestation is noteworthy. First of all, it applied not only to the job itself but also to the “core mandate” of the organization. In addition, the organization had to go beyond saying that it upheld the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it had to respect the “values underlying” the charter, “as well as other rights,” including reproductive rights. The attestation would seem to exclude any organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical Christian denominations, Orthodox Judaism or many branches of Islam.

Not so fast, said the government. The phrase core mandate referred to an organization’s “primary activities undertaken” and “not the values of the organization.” The Roman Catholic Church may be against abortion, but that’s not its “core mandate.” Hajdu told Maclean’s that “there are very few organizations in this country that would have a hard time attesting that their core mandate respected the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”3

Nevertheless, the religious groups were not happy. They (unsuccessfully) sought an injunction against use of the attestation, launched court challenges and made representations to Hajdu. They maintained that the attestation itself was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on grounds that it violated religious freedom. As the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada saw it, groups that opposed abortion were being “denied equal access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs.”4

In June 2018, another – separate, but related – controversy arose. The Islamic Humanitarian Service (IHS), based in the constituency of Waterloo, Ontario, had been a recipient of Canada Summer Jobs grants for several years, including a $20,715 grant for six jobs in 2017. The leader of IHS, Sheikh Shafiq Hudda, delivered a fiery speech at the Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto on June 9, in which he dared Israeli soldiers to come fight Palestinians hand to hand and predicted they would go home in body bags. He also called for “eradication of the unjust powers, such as the American empire, such as the Israelis and Zionists.” The matter quickly came up in the House of Commons, as Conservative MPs demanded to know why an organization whose leader made such speeches was receiving government grants, especially in light of the government’s values test for the summer jobs program. The Islamic Humanitarian Service received its grant as usual in 2018, according to the organization; however, it does not appear on the online list of organizations receiving Canada Summer Jobs grants in 2018.

For 2019, the attestation that had aroused so much controversy is gone. Instead, applicants are required to attest that “any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” In addition, the list of ineligible programs and job activities includes:

Projects or job activities that:

  • 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;
  • advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice; or
  • actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.5

The new criteria applied only to the jobs being funded by the program, and not to the broader activities or values of the organizations that sponsored them. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, one of the leading critics of the 2018 attestation, expressed its approval of the changes. “We believe these changes will allow Canadian churches and faith-based organizations to apply and be eligible for funding under this program,” said the fellowship’s director of public policy, Julia Beazley. “The new wording should also mean that pro-life organizations are not excluded simply because they are pro-life.”6

So after oscillating between funding anti-abortion groups and excluding a wide range of groups on the basis of their values, has the Canada Summer Jobs program finally found the sweet spot?

Perhaps. But there are reasons why the government has had to travel a winding road to get to this point. The interface between religious groups and government programs is never going to be smooth. Many religious groups routinely discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and actively work to undermine or restrict women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. We accept all this (much of which we would not accept were it to occur in private corporations or other organizations) in the name of religious freedom.

What the most recent Canada Summer Jobs guidelines are saying to religious groups amounts to this: you can still engage in discrimination, and we will still give you government money, as long as you don’t use the government money directly to engage in the discrimination. But any government assistance is subject to what a U.S. AID official, in a congressional hearing during the Vietnam War, described as the “principle of fungibility”: aid is aid, whether military or economic.7 Similarly, a Canada Summer Jobs grant to an organization benefits the entire organization, not just the little piece that is involved in the summer jobs.

More fundamental questions arise. Does the 2018 attestation, or the 2019 list of ineligible activities, implicitly represent a statement of “Canadian values”? If so, why limit it to the Canada Summer Jobs program? What about other government grant programs? Or even charitable status, which effectively amounts to a government top-up grant for individual contributions? Is this the core of what Gareth Morley, elsewhere in this issue, refers to as an “ideological identity” for Canada (see page 28), with the attendant problems that he identifies?

So many questions. And all from an innocent program to provide young people with summer jobs.


1 Retrieved from here.

2 Amanda Connolly, Anti-Abortion Group Got $56K Federal Grant from Liberal MP, iPolitics, April 12, 2017.

3 John Geddes, How the Trudeau Liberals Stumbled into a Fight with Religious Groups, Maclean’s, February 2, 2018.

4 Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Letter to the Minister of Employment on Canada Summer Jobs Program, December 22, 2017.

5 Service Canada, Canada Summer Jobs 2019: Providing Youth with Quality Work Experiences: Applicant Guide.

6 Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, The EFC Responds to Revised Attestation for Canada Summer Jobs Program, December 7, 2018.

7 U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee of Committee on Appropriations, Foreign Assistance and Related Agencies Appropriations 1972, Part 2, p. 337.