Bible camp denied government funds over stand on ‘reproductive rights’

The Southern Alberta Bible Camp north of Lethbridge refused to affirm support for reproductive rights on a federal grant application, and now it’s trying to figure out how to pay counsellors. 

Instead, officials with the camp included a two-page letter explaining why expressing that would violate their own religious beliefs. 

Bible camps worry about losing Canada Summer Jobs money

However, Service Canada did not accept the application and replied with an email saying it was incomplete and would not be considered because “the attestation cannot be altered or modified.” 

Jon Gartly is executive director of the Southern Alberta Bible Camp. (Submitted by Jon Gartly)

“It just feels tough that the reason that we got … not approved is because of our beliefs,” said Jon Gartly, executive director of the Bible camp. “That’s a tough one to swallow.”

The attestation required on the application form states that “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 … 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 or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”

‘Not about the beliefs of the organization’

Officials with the federal government maintain the application requirement is not designed to undermine faith-based organizations.

“It’s not about the beliefs of the organization, it’s not about the values of the organization. We have said from the beginning it’s about the core mandate and the job description,” said Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary to Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

According to Pascuzzo, the requirement is due to concerns some recipients of the Summer Jobs grants worked to actively “undermine people’s rights,” specifically citing the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

“[They] used taxpayer funds to have their summer students design graphic posters of aborted fetuses,” said Pascuzzo.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu in Ottawa on March 25, 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Nationally, applications for the Canada Summer Jobs program increased slightly from 41,961 last year to 42,718 this year. However, the number of rejected applications increased significantly, jumping from 126 to 1,561.

A spokesperson for the federal ministry said applications can be rejected for a variety of reasons, including improperly filled-out forms and groups not checking the box for the attestation.

In addition, multiple applications could have come from a single national or provincial organization. According to Pascuzzo, that could mean a higher rejection rate if a single organization’s application had problems.

Harder to attract staff without guaranteed wages

Officials with the Southern Alberta Bible Camp set a budget for the year in September 2017, and they were still expecting to qualify for a Canada Summer Jobs grant at that time as they’d received funding for the past few years.

The ineligibility for a summer student grant means approximately six camp positions could be at risk, with wages based on how much money the Bible camp, which has 17 member churches, can raise.

The Southern Alberta Bible Camp outside Lomond, Alta., has not qualified for the Canada Summer Jobs grant this year. (Southern Alberta Bible Camp/Facebook)

“We raise donations,” explained Gartly. “There’s no guarantee of whether that’s coming in. So there’s no guarantee that our staff are going to get X amount of dollars. With the grants, we’re able to say you get X amount of dollars. We’re gonna pay you this much money for this job.”

“It’s just a lot more work of trying to find staff who are willing to come without a guaranteed salary,” said Gartly. 

To resolve the financial shortfall from losing this grant, the Bible camp may need to turn to what is considered a core activity for them: prayer.

“[We] trust in the Lord that we’re going to find good staff, and you try and expect these young people to trust the Lord for their finances as well, and that’s a tough place to be sometimes,” said Gartly.

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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