I was listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, as I am wont to do while driving in to work, when a story that boiled my blood came on. Indeed, any time secular government considers funding sectarian activity I go into a blood rage. You believers out there can do what you want within limits, but not on my dime! The podcast of the full discussion from diverse points of view (one of the reasons I love listening to The Current) can be listened to below (23 min running time).
A walk-in proposal to Winnipeg city council by Crusade for Christ for an inner city youth facility at Main and Higgins will be voted on today. The proposal was a rush job, today being city council’s first look at the proposal. To be fair, such rush-to-vote issues occasionally happen. The MTS building proposal was apparently one such. However, I fail to see that the ethics of erecting a building that houses the headquarters of a telecommunications company compares to the questions surrounding the public funding of a facility run by an organization whose stated objective is converting people to their form of superstition.
The proposal (unanimously voted in favor of by the city’s executive policy committee last Wednesday) would hand over $2.6 million in cash funding, plus a grant for the $500,000 vacant lot (which is admittedly an eyesore, but no reason to fund a sectarian initiative). They are hoping for $3.1 million from the federal government. The remainder of the $11.7 million would be raised privately. The youth facility would “feature an indoor skate and BMX park, a performing arts theatre, dance studio, gyms, a climbing wall, job skills training centre, counselling space and an off-campus classroom school, among other amenities” John Courtney, executive director of Crusade for Christ, told the Winnipeg Sun. The piece itself was a shameless promotion of the proposal that gave not even a hint opposition to it exists.
Fortunately, not everyone glosses over the slippery slope Winnipeg city council may find itself on like the author of the Sun piece did. Voices of secular reason are making themselves heard. Pat Martin (NDP Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Center) told CBC News:
“On behalf of all the other organizations that are providing darn good service to kids and who have applied for money and been turned down, I resent this process and I hope city council denies this loan because I don’t think its the best bang for our buck.”
Mayor Sam Katz just doesn’t understand the hooplah – or the ethical issues raised:
“My understanding is the majority of our youth who attend those facilities are not Christian — anybody can go there. And it appears they’re not trying to do at all what Pat Martin says.”
Dude, it is their stated purpose to convert people to believing in zombie Jesus. Of COURSE they want non-Christians to come! You are being incredibly naive if you believe that this organization is going to pass up on opportunities to convert the most vulnerable demographic. Especially when it is their raison d’être!
“To impact every young person in Canada with the person, work and teachings of Jesus Christ and discipling them into the Church.”
Even more apropos to the residential school tragedy is who Crusade for Christ intends to target –
“YFC will boldly move into areas where we do not now exist, both geographically and culturally. The aboriginal youth community is a prime area for development.”
At least they’re honest about their incidious nature. Why is my skin crawling?
In fact, all of the proponents interviewed in the podcast above completely gloss over this potential (and almost certain) problem, and the spectre of the residential school fiasco is not lost on the aboriginal community. Indeed, Nahanni Fontaine (director of justice for the Southern Chiefs Organization) said,
“[We] saw religion used as an abusive and violating mechanism in which to assimilate aboriginal children into euro-Canadian mainstream,” she [Fontaine] said.
“Aboriginal people were assured that these sort of infringing practices and strategic policies would never occur again.”
Damon Johnson (head of the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg) added,
“This is not 1876. You will not get away with this, let me assure you,” he said, eliciting applause.
This underscores one of the main problems with moving what used to be under government sponsorship to faith-based organizations – no oversight. And we in Canada have seen the abuses that can result when faith-based programs, such as the residential school fiasco, when accountability is removed. No more of that, thank you.
One has to wonder how he’d feel if, as Pat Martin wonders,
“What if this group was called Youth for Allah?” Martin said. “I wonder if the money would be contributed then.”
I wonder that, too, Pat. In funding this facility, I don’t see much difference between what Winnipeg city council would be doing if they voted their approval and buying the candy a pedophile uses to entice children. And, yes. I feel that strongly about it.
Nor is everyone on city council on-side. Councilor Dan Vandal can be heard in the above podcast expressing his concerns, and Councilors Harvey Smith and Jenny Gerbasi are similarly nervous at the prospect of funding an initiative put forward by an evangelical group:
“I don’t think we should be having a religious organization coming up with the recreational facility that the city should have. We should be doing it,” he [Smith] said. “I think we want to have recreational facilities open to all and we want to be able to monitor it and know what’s happening.”
“It’s a sensitive issue because you’re talking about people’s belief systems, and obviously you know its very touchy and I’m trying to be sensitive to that,” Gerbasi said.
“But we have a public recreational system and there’s got to be a trade off when we’re … spending these kind of huge dollars on essentially a private evangelical organization as opposed to our public community centres,” she added.
They are also concerned about how the issue was raised in council:
“This money is all going into capital to build this massive new facility that has not been scrutinized,” Gerbasi said.
“There was a one page piece of paper with a motion on it that was walked onto an agenda [Wednesday] and the decision has to be made next week by council with virtually no information provide to members of council who have to make this decision.
“That’s not a way to run a city.”
I also wonder at the motives of city councilors trying to railroad this proposal through. They are going to approve funding for a new facility when existing programs are underfunded. Kemlin Nembhard, executive director of the Daniel McIntyre-St. Matthews Community Association, was stunned when she heard the news.
“Given that we’re constantly told that the city has no money, [that] they’re constantly amalgamating and closing centers, and then they all of a sudden turn around and find $2.6 million to give to a group to run programming that won’t be available to a broad range of youth?”
Let me set those who think I want to deny youth in what is unquestionably a problem area of Winnipeg facilities for building self-esteem and personal worth in troubled youths straight – I applaud such initiatives. My question to Winnipeg city council is this – if you are going to use public moneys to set up such a facility, why not do it yourself (as Smith suggests) and do away with the incidious stealth prosthyletization, or – at the very least – increase funding to already-existing programs?
Let’s hope Winnipeg city council at the very least holds off on approval and looks at the ethical issues here. Better yet, tells Crusade for Christ “No”.
Winnipeg city council voted 10-4 in favor of funding the youth center. (From CBC News) Here is how the council voted….
For Mayor Sam Katz, and councillors Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Bill Clement (Charleswood), Scott Fielding (Brooklands), Grant Nordman (St. Charles), Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas), Gord Steeves (St. Vital), Justin Swandel (St. Norbert), Lillian Thomas (Elmwood-East Kildonan), and Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski).
Against Councillors Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre), and Russ Wyatt (Transcona).
Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) left the meeting prior to the vote, and Coun. Mike O’Shaughnessy (Old Kildonan) was absent.
Here we go again. Can anyone say, “Mount Cashel”…?