South African Nobel Peace Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has joined thousands of other Canadians who have sent letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper decrying the cuts to government funding for the Canadian ecumenical justice group, KAIROS.
“The world needs more of KAIROS Canada. It would be an unparalleled setback for the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised if the voice and work of KAIROS in the global South is muted, “the former primate of the Church in the Province of Southern Africa wrote in his letter dated Dec. 9.
Illustrating the value of KAIROS to the struggle for human rights, Archbishop Tutu said his church benefitted from the “prayers, ecumenical action and solidarity” provided by its member churches, including the Anglican Church of Canada, during the dark days of apartheid in his country. “The initiatives of Canadian churches through KAIROS have inspired continued faithful ecumenical action not only in Africa but around the world to uphold human rights,” he added.
Last Nov. 30, KAIROS Executive Director Mary Corkery received a phone call from a CIDA official saying the organization’s grant application of $7.1 million was being rejected because it “no longer fits CIDA priorities.”
In a meeting last Dec. 8 with Corkery and Cheryl Curtis, president of the KAIROS board of directors, Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda confirmed her decision to deny the grant application. “The devastating news delivered in an unprecedented way by phone, at the eleventh hour, without reasons, was a political decision or a political issue,” said Curtis, who is also executive director of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the international relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada.Curtis said that Oda made it clear that from now on, all grant applications to CIDA would need to be approved by her office. “It used to be that only a certain level of funding needed ministerial signature,” said Curtis in an interview. “What we’re hearing [now] from the minister is that any proposal requires ministerial decision.”
Last fall, Oda identified CIDA’s priorities as food security, economic growth and improving the lives of children and youth. Curtis said there needs to be an assurance that human rights will be integrated as part of it, adding that Oda has yet to respond to KAIROS’ request that its proposal be reviewed. “The government does support human rights work at a bilateral level. But if we don’t engage civil society and organizations like KAIROS that can do that, the sustainability and impact of human rights intervention is truly limited.”
Meanwhile, the pressure for the Conservative government to reverse the decision continues to mount.
Questions about what prompted the cut have continued on Parliament Hill’s Question Period. Oda has confirmed receipt of over a thousand letters from individuals, churches, and local as well as overseas NGOs asking her to reconsider her decision.
The Canadian and international media have also kept the issue on their radar. The Toronto Star, in an editorial, said the government owes KAIROS “a better explanation that the feeble one on offer.” It noted that aside from lobbying for peace and human rights in war-ravaged countries, KAIROS has also been active on the domestic front, criticizing the Conservative government’s policies on climate change, including Alberta’s oil sands, aboriginal rights, and mining practices.
“Organizations such as KAIROS deserve a credible organization, a fair shake, and time to reshape or wind down programs,” said the Star. “Otherwise, Oda’s ‘tough choices’ will look like ‘payback’ from a government that brooks no criticism of its agenda.”
Anglicans across Canada have been among those who have sent letters to Harper and Oda. “The cut of funding for KAIROS denies hopes for millions of people throughout the world, inhibits the blessing for which so many long, and damages our reputation among millions,” wrote Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. “For those whose human rights are violated KAIROS is a source of hope. For those whose rights have been restored through peaceful negotiations, KAIROS is a blessing. For Canadians, KAIROS is a source of pride in seeing the churches working together in cooperative endeavors supported by the government…”
Canon Peter Davison, diocese of Kootenay, urged the government to provide “some cogent reasons for terminating federal government cooperation with an organization which itself exemplifies a spirit of collaboration, mutual responsibility, and interdependence.”
During the season of Christmas and Epiphany, Anglicans are being asked to gather with other ecumenical groups in their community and seek a meeting with their local MP to make the case for KAIROS, which has had “not just a 35-year history (with CIDA), but a good and solid record,” said Curtis.
Parishes are also being asked to launch a petition-signing campaign after Sunday church services.