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KAIROS was abruptly denied funding by CIDA in November 2009. Bev Oda, the Conservative Minister for International Cooperation, was accused of tampering with the wording on a funding document and then lying about it to Parliament. Speaking at the Global Forum for Comabting Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended the defunding by accusing KAIROS of anti-Semitism and of taking a leadership role in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against so-called Israeli apartheid. KAIROS says both accusations are false.
KAIROS Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) had worked together on development projects since 1973. KAIROS received an annual budget for its projects of around $7 million.
In March 2009, KAIROS submitted a four year program proposal for funding to CIDA which was consistent with its previous levels of funding. The proposal was developed with support from CIDA staff, with whom KAIROS had a strong relationship.
On November 30th, the federal government, through its International Cooperation Ministry, informed KAIROS that the government had rejected the proposal and that KAIROS would no longer receive funding. The government did not provide an explanation for its decision.
Harper government bungles defunding
Documents obtained through an Access to Information request show that KAIROS’s 2009-2013 funding proposal had been approved at every level of CIDA. These documents also contained the signatures of top CIDA officials, recommending new funding for KAIROS, including the signature of CIDA President Margaret Biggs, an experienced and respected public servant. However, a handwritten “not” was inserted in the final key sentence. As a result, it reads: “RECOMMENDATION — That you sign below to indicate you NOT approve a contribution of $7,098,758.”
In December 2010, both Margaret Biggs and the Minister for International Cooperation, Bev Oda, were questioned in the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Development regarding the funding cuts to KAIROS. Margaret Biggs testified that the inserted word “not” had been absent when she had signed the document. Bev Oda also testified that she did not know who doctored the document.
In February 2011, Oda changed her story, and said that she had, indeed, disagreed with the recommendation that funding be provided, but that she would “never” mislead the House. In other words, it was Oda who had caused the word “not” to be inserted into the document under her direction. Then-Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken, supported by Opposition MP’s, ruled that Bev Oda was in contempt of Parliament and that there was sufficient information to suggest she may have misled the House.
The Prime Minister nonetheless remained supportive of Bev Oda. She later said the Prime Minister had told her “it was a mistake that anyone could have done,” and had praised her: “I wish I had all my ministers be as diligent as you in the job you’re doing.”
Kenney slanders KAIROS
At a talk at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in December 2009, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, revealed why KAIROS was defunded: “We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations... who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism... We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott.”
Kenney later backtracked on this statement, saying he “did not accuse KAIROS of being anti-Semitic,” yet Kenney maintained his accusation of KAIROS taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s director of communications, said the federal Conservatives have taken steps to “disentangle” the government from groups that express opinions they consider to be anti-Israel.
KAIROS insisted that Minister Kenney’s charges were false. “Two points need to be made,” read a KAIROS statement. “Criticism of Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism; and CIDA was developed to fund international aid and not to serve political agendas.”
KAIROS has been critical of Palestinian groups as well as the Israeli government in the past. It advocates “a peace that is just for both Palestinians and Israelis and for people of all religions.” The organization specifically decided against “advocating sanctions against Israel or a boycott of products from Israel” in a 2007 vote among KAIROS board members.
There has been widespread speculation that Jason Kenney may have mistaken KAIROS Canada for the Kairos Palestine Document, a statement released by Palestinian churches calling for a boycott against Israel.
There has also been speculation that KAIROS’s criticism of Harper’s free trade agreement with Guatemala, as well as its criticism of tar sands development, may have likewise contributed to its loss of funding.
Cheryl Curtis, the chair of KAIROS’s Board of Directors, remarked that every member of KAIROS felt that the agency lost funding for political reasons.
KAIROS “not” going away
KAIROS sent a second CIDA funding proposal in March 2010. On 22 September 2011, CIDA once again rejected the application, stating that it would not be “good value for money.”
KAIROS maintains that their proposals have exceeded expectations in aligning to Canada’s core international development criteria. KAIROS made it clear that despite the CIDA funding cuts, they “are not going away.”
The denial of funding to KAIROS has contributed to a strong feeling amongst aid groups that the federal government is silencing and punishing them for their criticism of government policies and their advocacy of alternatives.
KAIROS has since found other sources of funding for its aid and development projects. Its efforts to alleviate poverty, suffering, and injustice continue.
Minister Oda’s behaviour and Prime Minister Harper’s persistent support of a Cabinet Minister found in contempt of Parliament unleashed a firestorm of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.
The controversy contributed to Parliament’s declaration of a lack of confidence in the government, by a vote of 156 to 145. This ruling was unique in Canadian history and is reported to be the first time that a government in the British Commonwealth has been found in contempt of a that country’s Parliament.
An election was called in May 2011, in which the governing Conservatives gained a majority of seats, though not a majority of votes. Bev Oda was re-elected to her seat and Prime Minister Harper re-appointed her Minister of International Cooperation.
- March 2009: KAIROS submits a 4-year program proposal to CIDA on human rights and ecological sustainability, requesting $7 million in funding.
- September 28, 2009: Margaret Biggs, President of CIDA, signs the document recommending the funding.
- November 30 2009: KAIROS receives a call from CIDA informing them that the proposal had been rejected.
- December 16, 2009: Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tells an Israeli audience that KAIROS was denied funding because of its alleged anti-Semitism and leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against so-called Israeli apartheid. These allegations proved false.
- December 9, 2010: CIDA executives and Oda appear at a Commons committee, stating they did not put the “not” in the tampered document.
- February 10, 2010: House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken says the document was deliberately “doctored,” calling the document tampering “very troubling.”
- February 14, 2010: Bev Oda admits before Parliament that it was her decision to deny KAIROS funding implying that she had misled Parliament. The government is found in contempt of Parliament. A federal election is later called.
- May 2011: The governing Conservative Party wins a majority of seats in Parliament, but not a majority of votes. Prime Minister Harper reappoints Bev Oda as Minister of International Cooperation.
Role or Position
KAIROS is an organization uniting eleven churches and religious organizations for ecological justice and human rights. Member churches include: Anglican Church of Canada, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Canadian Religious Conference, and the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. KAIROS is partnered with organizations in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East in order to defend dignity and human rights for all, promote sustainable energy projects, build relationships with Indigenous people, and link women around the world in common action against violence.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: The government’s refusal of KAIROS funding for having articulated policy positions that clash with its agenda or interests infringes on free speech for all Canadians and Canadian organizations. These tactics have also been applied to other NGOs, causing a chill effect on the wider NGO community.
- Transparency: Minister Oda’s doctoring of a document in order to deny KAIROS funding, and her initial denial of having done so, raises serious questions about the government’s desire for transparency in decision-making. House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken stated that this issue would make “any reasonable person...doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes.”
- Democracy: Bev Oda’s behaviour raises questions about the accountability of Ministers to the House of Commons. For our Parliamentary system to function, and hold the government to account, Ministers must act in good faith.
- Democracy: Prime Minister Harper’s rewarding of another Ministerial appointment to Bev Oda shows a priority of loyalty over integrity.
Published: 28 March 2011
Photo: KAIROS webpage