Hill Times: KAIROS seeking to build bridges with Liberal Government

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KAIROS Canada, an international development group famously dumped by a Conservative federal minister, is looking to build bridges with the new Liberal government.

The government ended its relationship with KAIROS Canada in 2009 after 34 years of federal funding. About $7 million in funding had been approved by top bureaucrats with the Canadian International Development Agency, but International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda denied it.

A handwritten “not” was added to the approval document with her signature. As details emerged in 2010 and 2011, the decision became the topic of major controversy on the Hill. Ms. Oda’s answers to questions about the decision were confusing, and opposition MPs in a raucous minority Parliament accused her of lying.

Jennifer Henry, the group’s executive director, said the organization prepared a subsequent proposal aligned with the government’s “priorities,” but it was denied too. After that, the organization was “experiencing challenges in even meeting with government officials,” so it stopped asking. It does not currently receive any government funding, Ms. Henry confirmed, and it hasn’t since the funding fiasco.

The tides may now be turning. The Liberal government’s priorities and its “renewed way of working with civil society” has presented an opportunity, Ms. Henry said.

She was told last week that a funding proposal submitted in January was under what she said was active review at the foreign affairs department. Her group is asking for the government to fund 75 per cent of a $5-million project, which works out to $3.75-million.

Chantal Bilulu co-ordinates the Women and Children's program at Héritiers de la Justice, a human rights organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization is one of five partners for which KAIROS Canada is currently seeking government funding. KAIROS Canada photograph by Ian Thomson

Chantal Bilulu co-ordinates the Women and Children’s program at Héritiers de la Justice, a human rights organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization is one of five partners for which KAIROS Canada is currently seeking government funding. KAIROS Canada photograph by Ian Thomson

Under the new government, the organization has already had the chance to meet with some government officials, Ms. Henry said. A representative of KAIROS also appeared before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee earlier in April, speaking on women, peace, and security.

“We are genuinely hopeful about this new government,” said Ms. Henry. “There’s a tangible change in ways of working, and we have had some good actions off the top.”

The proposed funding would benefit programs that fall under the women, peace, and security theme in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Colombia, and Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

“We think that our work is complementary to what the government’s goals would be in those places,” Ms. Henry said.

Bernard Boutin, the press secretary for International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Compton—Stanstead, Que.), said the department doesn’t comment on projects that are under review.

“Our international development assistance projects are funded based on the development merits of their proposals and not on an affiliation, religious or otherwise,” he said. “They are selected following rigorous analysis.”

The backstory

The Conservative government’s explanation for why funding was cut off shifted as time went on.

Less than a month after Ms. Oda’s 2009 decision, then-immigration minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.) said publicly that the cuts had to do with ending support for anti-Semitic groups.

But KAIROS Canada had instituted a policy in 2007 saying its member churches and organizations, along with its board, were “against advocating sanctions against Israel or a boycott of products from Israel.” It was suggested Mr. Kenney had confused the Canadian organization with a different group in the Palestinian Territories, with which it had no affiliation.

Mr. Kenney later revised his statement, saying the decision had to do with the project not meeting CIDA priorities.

But CIDA officials told a parliamentary committee about a year later that they had originally approved funding.

The controversy surrounding who ultimately made the decision to cut funding, and who wrote the “not,” prompted significant debate in the House of Commons from late 2010 to early 2011. The Liberals, then the House’s third party, tabled a Foreign Affairs Committee report asking for the House Speaker to investigate possible sanctions. The House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee began an investigation.

On the third day of committee hearings in February 2011, Ms. Oda appeared and stated she had had the document altered and had acted of her own accord, absent any direction from Mr. Kenney or then-prime minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Heritage, Alta.).

Ms. Oda, notorious for having charged $16 orange juice to her expense accounts, stepped down as an MP, and from the ministry, in the summer of 2012.

On the five-year anniversary of losing its funding, KAIROS Canada hosted several parties to celebrate “resilience” and “the fact that KAIROS is still here, dedicated to human rights and ecological justice,” according to its 2014 annual report.

It describes the cut-off from government as sudden and unexpected, and features a message from comedian Rick Mercer, saying, “congratulations KAIROS on the occasion of you still being a thing.”

The group, which is faith-based and affiliated with the United Church of Canada, reported expenses for that year at just shy of $2.5-million, funded in large part by donations.

Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Op Eds


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