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Bible camps worry about losing Canada Summer Jobs money

Government funding to hire summer staff at religious summer camps in Alberta may not come through after changes to the application process require organizations to express respect for "reproductive rights."

Religious groups such as the Southern Alberta Bible Camp say they can't agree to that. 

"We don't believe that abortion is right and we're being told that in order to be able to access these grants we need to affirm that," said Jon Gartly, executive director of the SABC.

According to this year's application form for the Canada Summer Jobs program, "the employer attestation ... is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada's commitment to human rights, which include women's rights and women's reproductive rights."

One camp could lose out on $40k

The Canada Summer Jobs program subsidies wages for high school and post-secondary students looking for summer work. Both businesses and not-for-profit organizations are eligible, and the federal government specifically says they welcome applications from faith-based organizations in the application form.

According to Gartly, the SABC stands to forego approximately $40,000 in funding for around six summer counsellor positions if they cannot access Canada Summer Jobs funding. The Southern Alberta Bible Camp is planning to apply without including the affirmation on reproductive rights. If not, the camp will privately fundraise to make up the shortfall.

Camp Evergreen in Sundre, Alta. is unsure how they will proceed. 

"The initial reaction is that it would be very difficult for us to sign that," said executive director Bob Kroeker. They aren't sure if they will apply without the affirmation or forego applying entirely.

In 2017, Camp Evergreen had six young people working for them under the program, and without that funding they might need to limit operations.

"Worst case scenario would be [limiting] the campers that can come," said Kroeker.

A "kerfuffle" over the program

At a town hall in Hamilton, Ont. on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referenced the change, referring to it as the "current kerfuffle around the Canada Summer Jobs program" after he was asked about freedom of speech and anti-abortion views.

"An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women's rights by removing rights to abortion and the rights for women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society," said Trudeau.

In a statement, a representative for Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu said, "We are committed to ...  ensuring that federal funding supports employment opportunities that respect existing laws, including human rights law and labour law, to which public, private and not-for-profit organizations are already subject."

Faith groups still encouraged to apply

Hajdu's office also told CBC News they actively encourage faith-based groups to apply for funding, and that groups would only be excluded if their core mandate was connected to anti-abortion or anything that violates human rights under the Charter.

Both Kroeker and Gartly say abortion does not factor into their core activities or curriculums at camp, and that the topic only comes up rarely.