The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is pleased to announce that the Federal Court has struck down a discriminatory federal government decision against Mill Stream Bible Camp, operated by BCM Canada International. The Justice Centre appeared in Court on April 14, 2021, challenging the Federal Government’s denial of the children’s summer camp’s application for funding under the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ). Internal government records indicated that the camp had been deemed to adhere to “controversial Church beliefs”.
The Honourable Justice Richard Mosley ruled the summer camp was denied procedural fairness, and had been subjected to an unreasonable decision to withhold $45,600 to fund six jobs for summer camp counsellors. The federal court has ordered legal costs to be paid by the government to the summer camp.
For over a decade, BCM International (Canada) received federal grants through the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program. BCM used the funds to provide summer jobs for high school and college students to work at its camps, and to allow for underprivileged children to attend these summer camps in cases where parents could not afford any fees. In 2018, the Federal Government rejected BCM’s applications because BCM could not accept the controversial 2018 CSJ attestation, which required BCM to express agreement with abortion as a condition for receiving a government grant.
On behalf of a different client, the Justice Centre commenced a court challenge against this 2018 attestation, arguing it was compelled speech and contrary to freedom of expression as protected by the Charter. The federal government then changed the attestation, and no longer required non-profits and small businesses to express support for abortion as a condition for accessing a government program.
In January 2019, under the new CSJ grant requirements, BCM submitted an application so as to employ young people at Mill Stream Bible Camp and Retreat Centre, near Scarborough, Ontario. Surprisingly, Service Canada rejected BCM’s application on May 2, 2019.
Without providing a detailed or specific explanation, Service Canada claimed that the summer camp positions at Mill Stream 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.”
Mill Stream was therefore unable to hire enough staff for the summer of 2019, and had to turn away over a dozen children from summer camp.
Documents uncovered by the Justice Centre in the litigation process reveal that Mill Stream was deemed ineligible for grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program on account of its 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. Service Canada did not provide the summer camp with any opportunity to respond to these accusations.
As explained in a court-filed affidavit, some of the summer job positions at Mill Stream require a mature understanding of Christian beliefs. Hence, Mill Stream asked job applicants about their Christian beliefs, so as to allow the summer camp “to determine what role they are able to fulfill” at the camp.
Justice Mosley determined a Charter analysis of the decision to deny the CSJ application was not required, because the case could be decided on other grounds.
The Justice noted, “The Minister did not provide [BCM] an opportunity to provide relevant evidence” in denying the decision. Justice Mosley specifically noted “nothing in the correspondence” between the government department and the summer camp would have suggested the project would be deemed ineligible. “As a result, the Minister breached her procedural fairness obligation.” Further, wrote Justice Mosley in his decision, the evidence before the court suggested that the government in fact considered a different summer camp in Nova Scotia deemed by government bureaucrats to have “controversial church beliefs”, and used that to justify its decision to refuse funding for Mill Stream Bible Camp.
The Justice noted the Minister never assessed if the summer camp discriminated, yet still denied the project on the basis of unspecified discrimination. Justice Mosley noted, “It remains to be considered, perhaps in another case, whether government officials should be basing their program advice to Ministers on their opinions of what constitutes ‘controversial church beliefs.’”
“Despite the fact that religious organizations do an incredible amount of charitable work in Canada, this ruling shows that the federal government has continued its campaign of discrimination against those who hold beliefs the government disagrees with,” states Jay Cameron, Litigation Director with the Justice Centre.
“Such actions are directly contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the right of religious groups to hold and profess their beliefs, and to associate accordingly to carry out their charitable purposes. Allowing government employees to dictate who can and cannot participate in a government program, based on the beliefs or bias of those government employees, is absolutely unacceptable in a free and democratic society,” adds Mr. Cameron.