A lawyer representing a Christian university in a case against Ottawa regarding its student hiring program says everyone should be concerned when government funds are conditional on adherence to state-imposed ideas.
“It’s about whether or not the government can dictate what people believe, and what beliefs are appropriate and what beliefs are not,” Albertos Polizogopoulos, a lawyer for Hamilton-based Redeemer University, told The Epoch Times.
“It ought to be of concern to everybody.”
On June 29, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley ruled that the federal government breached its “procedural fairness” obligation when it denied Redeemer University’s 2019 application for the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program without giving Redeemer the chance to provide evidence that its beliefs did not result in discriminatory practices.
Administered by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), the CSJ program provides wage subsidies to charities, not-for-profit groups, and small businesses to create summer jobs for young Canadians aged 15 to 30 years to allow them to gain work experience and transition into the labour market.
Polizogopoulos said that when Redeemer applied for the 2019 CSJ program, it submitted proof of a workplace free of discrimination as well as its 35-page anti-discrimination policy, but it was refused funding. The government “never provided Redeemer with the opportunity to respond, or to alleviate any concerns or explain their position,” he said.
Justice Mosley notes in his ruling that Redeemer “holds and affirms the Reformed Christian understanding of sexual morality that sexual activity is only permitted within the context of an exclusive, lifelong, marital union between a man and a woman.”
He noted that while Redeemer requires its faculty and other staff to be Christian or to abide by certain religious beliefs, the university does not make that requirement for its Canada Summer Jobs positions. He also said that in its 2019 CSJ application, the university targeted LGBTQ2 youth for hiring.
The judge’s June 29 decision concluded that Redeemer University’s grant application was not rejected due to contents of the college’s application, but because of an ESDC program officer’s “cursory search of the Internet for information about Redeemer’s policies and practices.” He also noted the government didn’t give the college an opportunity to demonstrate how the beliefs it adheres to “did not result in discriminatory practices.
“If the concern of the decision maker [ESDC] was that Redeemer discriminated based on sexual orientation, there was no contemporaneous evidence of that in the file,” Mosley wrote.
Mosley also ordered the government to pay Redeemer’s full legal costs totalling $102,000.
The judge noted that while he made his ruling based on procedural fairness rather than evaluating the Charter issues involved, the government ministry “should take no comfort from this conclusion.”
“There is no evidence in the limited record of the decision-making process that the [ministry] made any overt attempt to consider Redeemer’s rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression or freedom of association in considering its application,” Mosley wrote.
“Such institutions must be treated not just with procedural fairness but also with respect for their Charter-protected rights.”
The Epoch Times reached out to ESDC for comment but did not receive a response.
Redeemer University had successfully applied for and received CSJ funding from 2006 until 2017. Then in 2018, the program became the centre of a freedom-of-religion controversy after the Liberal government effectively excluded anti-abortion groups from accessing the funding.
The government announced in late 2017 that all organizations applying for a 2018 CSJ grant would be required to make a “compulsory attestation” that they “respect individual human rights in Canada,” including “reproductive rights”—a move that led to a public outcry.
“It was a huge controversy, particularly for religious organizations, many of which [previously] got such funding, because they kept saying we can’t and we won’t make an attestation saying we support … rights to abortion,” Polizogopoulos said.
When Redeemer applied for the 2018 CSJ grant, it omitted signing the attestation, resulting in its application being denied, the court filing states.
Redeemer, along with a number of religious or pro-life organizations, challenged the new attestation policy in court. This 2018 case is a separate case that has yet to be heard by the Federal Court.
Facing several other court actions across Canada also challenging the attestation, the government abandoned the policy at the end of 2018. However, when the 2019 CSJ program was released, a new mandatory question was added, requiring applicants to specify “how your organization will be providing a safe, inclusive, and healthy work environment free of harassment and discrimination.”
Redeemer’s interim president David Zietsma told The Epoch Times in an email that the institution is pleased with the outcome of the court ruling.
“Even though the court did not need to decide on the Charter issues raised here, the decision sends a strong message to the government about remembering the Charter rights of faith-based institutions,” he said.
“This is very important in the context of religious freedom. Canadian citizens and organizations hold varying religious views. So long as they are legal, the government should remain neutral and those views should not disqualify them from programs or benefits.”
Zietsma said Redeemer applied for CSJ funding for the summer of 2020 but was only found eligible in December that year, by which time “summer had passed and there were no funds left in the program.”
Redeemer’s application for the 2021 CSJ was not approved until June 17, some two months into the summer for university students. Zietsma said the university anticipates that only one position will be filled this summer.