Canadian church-based group says Ottawa cut its funding for foreign projects

December 2, 2009
By John Cotter
The Canadian Press

TORONTO - A Canadian church-based group that does human rights and environmental sustainability work says the federal government has cancelled its funding for overseas projects without warning or reason.

Kairos, an ecumenical social justice group representing 11 different churches and organizations, said the decision by the Canadian International Development Agency will force it to stop operating in troubled areas such as Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, central America and the West Bank.

"We are disheartened that this long-standing relationship and decades of support by the Canadian government has ended," said Mary Corkery, Kairos' executive director.

"Kairos and the millions of Canadians we represent through our member churches and organizations do not understand why these cuts have been made."

Corkery said a CIDA official called Kairos on Monday afternoon to say the group's application for $7 million to cover its overseas costs until 2013 would not be granted. When she asked why, Corkery said the official told her that Kairos no longer fit within CIDA's priorities.

Kairos and earlier church groups have been receiving federal money for such overseas work since 1973.

"It is just shocking that after such a long relationship an organization of the size and scope of Kairos wouldn't have more than that phone call," she said.

Later this week, a Kairos delegation is to travel to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to help lobby for an agreement that would include cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

Last May, a Kairos delegation of church leaders toured Alberta's oilsands region to see how the projects are affecting aboriginal people and to help determine if they are environmentally sustainable.

The delegation included leaders from the Anglican, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian and United churches, as well as representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At the time the group said it planned to share its impressions with their congregations, reach a consensus position and present it to the federal government as early as this fall.

The group met separately with officials from the four main federal parties in Ottawa last week and called for greater action on climate change and for a halt to new oilsands projects.

"We basically told our concerns about climate change and we thought it would be important for Canada to be represented (in Copenhagen)," she said.

"In terms of the oilsands, we asked for a halt for new approvals. Not to stop anything that is happening, but that there would be a halt to new approvals."

Last year Kairos published a position paper that questioned the amount of taxes Ottawa allows the oilsands industry to defer on the capital cost of projects.

Corkery would not speculate on whether these activities and policy positions had soured the group's relationship with the Harper government. She said Kairos wants to know what it did wrong.

"Why did you cut us? That's the question. We need them to put it on the table."

Corkery said Kairos would issue a news release later Wednesday and its members churches and groups were also preparing to make statements.

Officials at CIDA and International Minister Beverley Oda's office were not immediately available for comment.