Reports that the federal agency in charge of international development has given money to an anti-gay evangelical group have been met with outrage.
What’s worse, some activists say, is that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been providing money to Crossroads Christian Communications for its work in Uganda, a country where homosexuality is illegal and lawmakers are currently debating a bill that could further criminalize it.
“This is absolutely appalling that this is happening,” says Metropolitan Community Church pastor Brent Hawkes. “Crossroads has been fighting against gay and lesbian rights in Canada for many, many years. There is a clear record of that. In Uganda, of all countries, to be funding them, is just an unbelievably bad decision.”
The Ontario-based evangelical group has been given $544,813 to help dig wells, build latrines and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014, the CBC reports.
Following initial reports, Julian Fantino, the minister responsible for CIDA, tweeted on Feb 10 that no further payments will be made to Crossroads until officials review the “merits” of the organization.
Daniel Richardsen, Fantino’s press secretary, says projects are delivered without religious content.
Although it has now been removed, Crossroads’ website had listed a group of “sexual sins” deemed to be “perversion”: “Turning from the true and/or proper purpose of sexual intercourse; misusing or abusing it, such as in pedophilia, homosexuality and lesbianism, sadism, masochism, transvestism, and bestiality,” the Canadian Press reports.
“God cares too much for you (and all of His children) to leave such tampering and spiritual abuse unpunished,” the website stated. After CP contacted Crossroads, the list of “sexual sins” was removed.
NDP MP Olivia Chow, who is demanding the government apologize for supporting Crossroads, says there is no distinction between projects delivered by religious groups and the groups themselves.
“There are many other non-religious organizations that could do this same work, such as [groups] under the United Nations or Amnesty International,” she says. “The funding doesn’t have to go to a religious organization that has a history of discrimination.”
Chow points to a study by the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crisis and Aid that shows funding for religious non-government organizations increased 42 percent between 2005 and 2010. Secular groups saw an increase of five percent.
Uganda is on the verge of passing one of the harshest pieces of anti-gay legislation in the world. Dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill, the sweeping law would propose longer jail terms for homosexual acts, including a life sentence in most circumstances and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last year battled Uganda’s parliamentary speaker over the bill, at a political conference in Quebec in October.
Chow wants the government to keep up the pressure on Uganda.
“Canada must send a very clear message that we are watching and we don’t want any more tragedy to happen in Uganda to gay people, like the brutal murder of David Kato,” she says, recalling the well-known Ugandan gay activist who was murdered in 2011.
In a statement to the CBC, CIDA spokeswoman Amy Mills said, “Canada’s views are clear — we have been strongly opposed to the criminalization of homosexuality or violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
However, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett wants a full audit on all organizations that get CIDA money. She is skeptical that the funding will be put on hold.
“[Fantino] did not confirm that the money was put on hold during question period [Feb 11],” she says. “So there seems to be some confusion there still. But really, I want to see an audit of all the CIDA organizations, especially those that are faith-based.”
North American evangelical Christian groups such as Crossroads have been exacerbating much of the virulent homophobia in many African countries, says Michael Payton, the national director for the Centre for Inquiry, Canada’s secular advocacy group.
Payton calls it “outrageous” that a Christian fundamentalist organization is receiving any government funding when its main purpose is evangelism. “If a charity receives government funding, the government should ensure that the programming is directed to positive societal change, not to promoting a discriminatory religious ideology.”
See MP Hélène Laverdière demand answers of Fantino on why the CIDA grant was given to an anti-gay organization, which represents an ideology “that is increasingly out of step with most Canadians.”