Legal group to go to court after bible camps denied federal summer jobs grant

A file photo of John Carpay taken in 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

A legal group is taking Ottawa to court over its denial of jobs grants for bible camps in Ontario and Nova Scotia, with the camp’s operators suggesting the rejection is due to their evangelical beliefs.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms says it will seek to overturn the federal refusal to fund summer counsellors for the two Bible Centered Ministries camps in Cooks Brook, 70 kilometres northeast of Halifax, and near Omemee, Ont., west of Peterborough.

John Carpay, the founder of the Calgary-based centre, said Tuesday the group will ask Federal Court to declare that the rejection unreasonably “interferes with the camps’ rights to religious freedom.” The application is expected to be filed this week.

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The official reason given in the rejection letter from Service Canada is that the camps did not demonstrate “that measures have been implemented to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.” The letter says there’s no possibility of appeal.

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However, Phil Whitehead, executive director of the camps, said in a telephone interview the camps provided comprehensive copies of discrimination and harassment policies, including its anti-bullying measures. He says he suspects Ottawa is refusing the two camps’ applications for funding of about eight counsellors because it has an evangelical Christian background that includes opposition to abortion.

Last December, the federal Liberal government was pressured into dropping contentious wording in its summer jobs program that tied pro-abortion beliefs to funding eligibility.

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Instead, Ottawa reworked the 2019 version of the program to require that groups show neither their core mandate nor the jobs being funded actively worked to undermine constitutional, human and reproductive rights.

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Employment and Social Development Canada declined comment on the camps’ specific application and argument. It said in an email Monday that applicants in general were given the opportunity to provide added information on their projects and “needed to demonstrate that they didn’t include ineligible activities.”

Carpay said his group will ask the court for a declaration that the minister’s decisions were unreasonable. He said the camps had received funding for close to a decade before Ottawa introduced its new policies last year. Carpay also said his group decided to take the case to court because the government’s decision was considered final.

“The only way to deal with it is to go to court,” he said. “The government had more than a fair chance to provide clear reasons for its denial… there’s no intelligible explanation that’s come with it.”

Whitehead said the camps will proceed regardless of the funding, drawing on funds raised privately by his group. He said more than 600 children aged between eight and 15 attend the two camps annually.

Bible study is included in camp activities, but the topics of reproductive rights and sexual orientation are not part of the curriculum, Whitehead said. “Summer camp is not about that,” he said.

“We’re here to reach kids. We’re here to minister to kids. Nowhere on our website, nowhere in our material do we even address that (abortion).”


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