Organizations that oppose LGBTQ+ rights, spread false information about abortions and push pandemic conspiracy theories are among the recipeints of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
HuffPost Canada reviewed Canada Revenue Agency’s wage subsidy registry of businesses, non-profit organizations and associations that received taxpayer money to help them pay workers during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Third Day Worship Centre, Journey Canada, Real Women of Canada, close to 20 anti-abortion groups and the Epoch Times are among the growing number of controversial groups that qualified for wage subsidies, known as CEWS.
Questions have also been raised about why profitable oil companies, foreign-owned airlines, white nationalist Paul Fromm’s Canadian Association for Free Expression, and a business run by a man accused of financing terrorism received emergency funding.
The registry doesn’t disclose the amount each group received but Ottawa has approved more than $59 billion in subsidies.
CEWS recipient Third Day Worship Centre, an Evangelical church in Kingston, Ont., made headlines last fall when a leaked video showed pastor Francis Armstrong preaching against homosexuality and the Muslim community and cast doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Armstrong promoted the conspiracy theory that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is using the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to implant microchips into billions of people to track their movements.
In a statement, Third Day Worship Centre said it “is a legally constituted Canadian corporation fully entitled under the requirements of CEWS to receive benefits to aid our employees.
“Nowhere do the CEWS regulations reference, as prohibited grounds for receiving funds, media-contrived definitions of ‘controversial’ that just happen to suit reporters desperate to invent a story, perhaps to save their own jobs.”
“Under no circumstances should public funds be used to support organizations that openly promote discrimination, prejudice or hate against Canadians.”
MacEwan University’s Kristopher Wells described these groups qualifying for emergency relief as “extremely disheartening” and “quite shocking.”
“I would call on the federal government to immediately revoke that funding and take necessary steps to ensure that any anti-LGBTQ organization is deemed to be ineligible,” said Wells, a Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual Gender and Minority Youth.
“Under no circumstances should public funds be used to support organizations that openly promote discrimination, prejudice or hate against Canadians, regardless of their identity or background. That’s just an affront to Canadian values and the entire purpose of public service and support.”
He said he’d much rather see emergency relief support minority groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
Conversion therapy is a discredited, pseudoscientific practice intended to change the sexual orientation of people in the LGBTQ+ community, or repress non-hetrosexual attraction or sexual behaviour, according to the federal government’s proposed Bill C-6 that aims to ban it.
Journey Canada offers a seminar to equip “pastors, ministry leaders, friends and caregivers to walk with those who are experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction” and “explore God’s design for sexuality,” says its website.
Spokesperson Graeme Lauber denied Journey Canada provides conversion therapy and said it “has never attempted to change anyone’s seuxal orientation.”
But in a recent video Lauber said that Journey Canada opposes Bill C-6 because its definition of conversion therapy is too broad and efforts to change someone’s sexual behaviour should still be allowed.
“We’re really worried that (Bill C-6) is going to start to interfere with our ability to reach out to people to let them know there is a good plan,” he said in the video for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Watch: Why the NDP supports a conversion therapy ban. Story continues below.
Anti-abortion group Real Women of Canada is another CEWS recipient, despite opposing same-sex marriage and transgender rights, and repeatedly making homophobic statements on its website, social media and to elected officials.
At a 2012 justice committee meeting, Real Women’s Diane Watts spoke against a federal bill to protect people from discrimination because of their gender identity or expression, including for transgender people. She made outlandish transphobic claims, suggesting the legislation would lead to more rights for pedophiles.
NDP MP Randall Garrison called her remarks, “frankly offensive” and “simply inaccurate.”
Watts responded to HuffPost’s comment request to say Real Women of Canada was “working on a response through other channels of communication.”
When the federal government launched CEWS in April 2020, it was less to help businesses stay afloat and more to avoid layoff that would have significant economic repercussions.
“We knew we had to move quickly to support workers right across the country and obviously that meant sending help immediately to families … so that people could keep food on the table and could continue to pay rent, regardless of the job or organization they worked for,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.
“Obviously that requires checking after the fact. And there is a lot of work ongoing with the Canada Revenue agencies and others to ensure that the companies that received these benefits actually needed them.”
Currently, organizations that have experienced any drop in revenue qualify for CEWS.
More than 30,000 groups received the wage subsidy and it has ensured four million Canadians stay on payroll, said Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The CRA is reviewing recipients and said that anyone found to have made a fraudulent claim could face fines or jail time.
“The government categorically condemns white supremacy, far-right extremism, and racism in all its forms,” Cuplinskas said.
Abortion advocates want Trudeau’s government to change CEWS criteria as it did for the Canada Summer Jobs grants, a program that subsidizes wages for student workers to incentivize business and nonprofits, a few years ago.
To receive summer job funding, organizations must declare they do not actively work to infringe upon any Canadian’s legal rights, disqualifying groups that attempt to restrict reproductive health services, like abortions, or discriminate against people based on their sex, religion, ethnicity or gender identity.
In 2019, Employment and Social Development Canada reported it received nearly 40,000 applications for the program and ruled out 400 applicants, including 26 groups for their stance on abortion.
“The federal government was trying to get the (CEWS) money out quickly because of the pandemic, but still, they should’ve put some basic safeguards around it and built in some accountability,” said Joyce Arthur, executive director of The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which has started a petition calling for anti-choice groups to be prohibited from receiving CEWS.
“They need to move quickly now to restrict future funding to groups like this and also claw back funding that was given to them. We want them to change the criteria ... to ensure that recipients are going to respect charter rights in general and cannot discriminate against minorities and women.”
Along with Real Women of Canada, close to 20 anti-abortion groups and another 29 crisis pregnancy centres that ARCC says spread misinformation about abortions received CEWS.
These recipients include the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, which displays graphic aborted fetus imagery on buses, flyers and protest signs and stigmatizes women and transgender people who choose abortion. It did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The international newspaper the Epoch Times was also a CEWS recipient.
The publication is tied to the Chinese spiritual community Falun Gong, which is opposed to the Chinese communist government. Recent investigations by NBC News and The New York Times revealed the Epoch Times’ huge social media presence and showed how it advanced conspiracy theories embraced by alt-right groups like QAnon.
The publication did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The Epoch Times has sent free, unsolicited copies of its paper to Canadians across the country as recently as this week. An edition delivered last April promoted the unfounded belief COVID-19 (which it has called the Chinese communist party (CCP) virus) was created in a Chinese lab. An editorial said the cure was to “say no to the CCP.”
The Epoch Times has also made baseless fraud claims about the 2020 presidential election and has been a platform for anti-vaccination propaganda.
The Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice is concerned about any publication, including the Epoch Times, that portrays COVID-19 as “a Chinese virus” and pushes misinformation that Chinese Canadians are the carriers of the disease, said president Amy Go.
But the council also supports the federal government protecting workers through the wage subsidy.
“We want to make sure that the program is administered and provided ultimately to workers in Canada,” Go said. “And in this case, it could be the Epoch Times, it could be anybody. It could be an American-owned company, as long as they have operations in Canada and ensure workers are kept on the job.”
Sonny Wong of the grassroots movement #HealthNotHate, which works to combat systemic racism, recognized it’s difficult for the government to “police” every CEWS applicant.
However, “generally, with all the social incursions we’re seeing in the world, funding should go to the side of truth, social justice and goodness,” Wong said.
UPDATE - Jan. 24: This story was updated to note that 29 anti-choice crisis pregnancy centres received CEWS.