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Catholic camp soldiers on without summer jobs grant

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 05/6/2018 10:00 AM

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Community members are stepping in to fill a funding shortfall created by changes to the Canada Summer Jobs grant, says the head of a Catholic camp in St Malo.

"We’ve been really fortunate to have different community organizations getting together and believing in our camp," said Kevin Prada, associate director of the Catholic School of Evangelization and director of its summer camps, which run for five weeks beginning July 8.

"It’s kind of putting this fire in people to act."

The camp is out the $10,000 it usually receives from the federal government after refusing to tick a box attesting its "core mandate" respects human rights and charter values, including reproductive rights.

"This year, because of the new attestation, we were unable to sign," Prada said.

Late last year, the federal government announced 2018 applications for the grant, used by many faith-based organizations to hire summer staff, would include the new attestation to ensure federal funds stayed out of the hands of political advocacy groups seeking to restrict reproductive or LGBTQ rights.

"When I first heard about this change in December, I was flabbergasted," Prada recalled.

The missing funds represent 14 percent of the camp’s annual budget. In years past, the money was used to hire a program director or two of the camp’s 15 bilingual counsellors, Prada said.

But rather than striking out the section or leaving the box blank, he wrote in a response, explaining the camp’s refusal to "betray our beliefs or conscience" was based on its interpretation of fundamental freedoms outlined in Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We received a response about two weeks later saying that we were not eligible because our application was deemed incomplete," Prada said.

"This change means that we’re just going to have to work extra hard on the back end to try to make up these funds, but our staffing situation is not going to change. Kids and parents are not going to notice any kind of a difference."

While canoeing and swimming aren’t exactly political activism, Prada explained those activities are an extension of the "culture of life" embedded in the camp’s Catholic outlook.

"Our pro-life identity is part of everything that we do," he said. "Everything we do at camp is there to bring kids to a better understanding of their dignity and of their value as human beings and as children of God."

He later added he opposes any belief-based litmus test for government grant funding, even if the tables were turned and applicants were forced to make a pro-life attestation.

For the season at hand, Prada said the camp received an outpouring of financial support at its annual banquet two weeks ago.

Knights of Columbus councils across the province have also mailed cheques, and La Broquerie’s chapter has organized a May 12 fundraising social.

"For us, it’s really touching that these people not only believe so much in what we do, but they also see the huge issue that’s there," Prada said.

Duane Goertzen, executive director of Roseau River Bible Camp, declined to comment on the attestation’s impact, but said nine weeks of camp will go ahead as planned.

"We’re actually doing really well with our registration, so we’re a fair bit ahead from where we were last year."

Spokesperson Chandler Epp of One Hope Canada, RRBC’s parent organization, said the non-denominational camp received $9,000 in Canada Summer Jobs funding for three staff positions last year, but could not agree to the attestation this year.

Epp confirmed no program cuts or fee increases will occur, and said the camp is asking local donors for support.

In a statement last Thursday, Provencher MP Ted Falk called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize to potential Canada Summer Jobs grant recipients now excluded from consideration as a result of the attestation.

After corresponding with several federal elected officials, Prada said he is hopeful changes are afoot for 2019.

"I’m hoping that next year they’re going to give this some serious thought and some serious consideration before repeating the same mistake."

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