BCM International v Canada

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BCM International v Canada

 

A registered charity running summer camps for youth has filed court applications (1, 2) against the federal government after the charity’s applications for 2019 Canada Summer Jobs grants were denied.

BCM (Canada) International runs Mount Traber Bible Camp & Retreat Centre located northeast of Halifax and Mill Stream Bible Camp & Retreat Centre, is located near Peterborough, Ontario.  Both summer camps provide recreational and religious programing for youth aged 5 to 18.

For over a decade, BCM had received Canada Summer Jobs grants. BCM used the funds to provide summer jobs for high school and college students to work at its camps. But in 2018, the federal government rejected BCM’s applications because BCM could not accept the controversial 2018 Canada Summer Jobs attestation which required BCM to express agreement with the following statement:

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 Justice Centre and other organizations commenced several court actions across Canada, challenging this “attestation” as compelled speech that violates freedom of expression as protected by the Charter.

In December 2018, Employment, Workforce and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu announced the federal government was scrapping the controversial 2018 Canada Summer Job attestation. The new attestation for 2019 states: “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 January, BCM submitted applications to Canada Summer Jobs to employ students again at both Mount Traber and Mill Stream, but Service Canada rejected both CSJ applications on May 2.

Regarding the Mount Traber application, Service Canada claimed that BCM had “failed to demonstrate” that it had implemented measures to provide a harassment and discrimination-free workplace.

In the application, BCM had already thoroughly outlined its anti-discrimination policies and the training its staff underwent to ensure an environment free of harassment and discrimination on its camps. BCM holds training sessions for staff with local RCMP and health professionals on harassment and bullying; it enforces a zero-tolerance harassment policy and maintains a confidential complaint process its complaint process to all staff and campers. BCM reviews its harassment complaint policy annually and interviews all staff and volunteers with three references and vulnerable sector checks. Finally, BCM requires all staff to attend a four-day staff training, and to complete various related courses; and has the camp director at the beginning of each camp week explain in detail to all campers and staff the importance of having a harassment and discrimination free environment.

Service Canada denied the Mill Stream application, claiming, without any explanation, that the summer camp positions 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.”

BCM had fully completed the 2019 application forms, including the revised attestations, and responded to Service Canada’s inquiries. These decisions have left BCM without any clarity as to why its CSJ applications were rejected.

In its court applications, BCM asks the court for a declaration that the Minister’s decisions were unreasonable, and unreasonably interfere with BCM’s rights protected under sections 2(a), 2(b) and 15 of the Charter. BCM also seeks a declaration that the Minister, in her decision-making process, breached her duty of procedural fairness owed to BCM by failing to provide notice of the case to be met, and by acting with bias and bad faith. Finally, BCM seeks a court order to approve its application for summer students grants and quash the original decision.

Documents uncovered by the Justice Centre in the litigation reveal that two Christian summer camps were deemed ineligible for grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program on account of their 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, without providing the summer camps with any opportunity to respond to these accusations.

As explained in recently filed affidavits (12), some of the positions at the summer camps required a mature understanding of Christian beliefs. Hence the summer camps used employment application forms that included a section asking applicants about Christian beliefs, so as to allow the summer camps “to determine what role they are able to fulfill” at the camps.

Mount Traber and Mill Stream are two of numerous religious summer camps barred from receiving Canada Summer Jobs grants in 2019. According to an internal government email obtained by the Justice Centre, the new 2019 rule used to bar these camps from the CSJ program was created under the specific direction of the Prime Minister.

A November 16, 2018 “secret” internal memo to federal Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu about eligibility (“the Eligibility Memo”) proposed two different options for new “ineligibility criteria” for organizations applying for grants. Option A deemed ineligible employers who “discriminate on the basis of prohibited grounds”, including religion, among other ineligibility criteria. Option B did not include the focus on whether employers “discriminate”; rather, it focused on the nature of the specific projects and job activities set out in an organization’s CSJ application.

The Eligibility Memo noted that government staff were going to take more time “related to screening and assessment” of CSJ applications, and raised the concern that under Option A “too many” organizations, specifically “faith-based employers” would be deemed ineligible. The Eligibility Memo states that under Option A “[e]mployers governed by or linked to faith-based organizations would disproportionately be deemed ineligible for grants given potential links made by program staff to broader doctrine adhered to by faith based organizations.” The Eligibility Memo specifically mentioned the heightened risk to “a faith-based employer that runs a summer camp”.

In response to the Eligibility Memo’s recommendations to Minister Hajdu, the Prime Minister became directly involved in framing the new rules.  A November 12, 2018 email states “Please find attached language that [has] been approved by the Prime Minister and the Minister.”  The language approved by Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Hajdu specifically added “restrict[ing] access to … employment” on the basis of religion (and other enumerated grounds) as grounds to deny a CSJ grant to a summer camp.

Utilizing this new rule and citing Mount Traber’s and Mill Stream’s religious beliefs, CSJ staff deemed BCM’s applications for CSJ grants ineligible.

 


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