The federal government has decided to cut $7 million in funding to KAIROS, a Canadian ecumenical justice organization that advocates for the rights of marginalized communities in Canada and overseas.
KAIROS has requested that CIDA reverse the decision and re-establish their 35-year relationship.
It said the decision will have “a devastating impact” on its 20 partner organizations overseas, which rely on grants to fund projects that address issues such as human rights, poverty, climate change, refugees and migration.
The cut also signifies a “big blow” to its work of development education in Canada, said KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery.
“We are disheartened that this longstanding relationship and decades of support by the Canadian government has been ended,” said Corkery. “KAIROS and the millions of Canadians we represent through our member churches and organizations do not understand why these cuts have been made.”
Corkery said that on Nov. 30 she had received a call from a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) official who was not known to KAIROS, saying “the funding is over and (KAIROS) doesn’t fit with CIDA priorities and I can’t give you any more information.”
That same day Corkery sent an email to Bev Oda, Minister for International Cooperation, requesting an explanation. “I know of no precedent for the Canadian International Development Agency ending a decades-long funding relationship with a major Canadian organization without notice in writing, with no reason and no transition period,” said Corkery in her letter.
Since 1973, KAIROS had received funding from CIDA to support groups in countries that have been experiencing “some of the world’s most egregious human rights violations.” KAIROS member churches ( including the Anglican Church of Canada), church-related groups and donors provide matching financial support.
In an interview, Corkery said KAIROS was “pretty shocked” by the decision since it had filed its application for funding for the four-year period covering 2009 to 2013, as early as March 15, 2009. “What we understood was that it was all finalized by mid-July and it was just waiting for the minister’s signature,” she said. “We were told it was fine.”
Corkery said the manner in which the decision was delivered “makes us question – where did this come from? What does this mean about CIDA priorities?” She pointed out that the government’s new overseas development accountability act lists human rights as a CIDA priority. Kairos has been involved in human rights work for more than three decades, which would make it a good fit, she said.
What was also puzzling was that the KAIROS contract that just expired “received a positive audit and excellent CIDA evaluation this year,” said KAIROS’ statement. KAIROS’ current contract with CIDA expired in September, but it had received an extension until Nov. 30.
CIDA is Canada’s lead agency for development assistance. On it’s website, CIDA says its mission is to “lead Canada’s international effort to help people living in poverty,” and that its mandate is to “manage most of Canada’s development assistance programs and projects on behalf of Canadians.”
In a statement, KAIROS noted that the decision to cut the funding came a week after 57 people were massacred “in politically-motivated killings” in the Philippines, and just days before Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s visit to China. Among those killed in the Philippines were two lawyers from a human rights organization supported by KAIROS.
Corkery said until it receives a final word about its appeal to have the decision reversed, KAIROS will continue its work. If the decision is not reversed, “we will have to regroup and figure out where we will go from here,” she said. “We certainly don’t have a plan, we were not expecting this.”
She said that KAIROS will also need to meet with member churches.
KAIROS has partnerships with church and civil society groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and West Bank-Gaza. The other KAIROS members, aside from the Anglican Church of Canada, are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the United Church of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Mennonite Central Committee of Canada, the, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.
KAIROS’ roots go back as early as 1967, when 12 inter-church coalitions got together to respond ecumenically to social justice issues, including apartheid in South Africa, and wars of liberation in Central America. Since then, it has addressed a wide range of issues including aboriginal rights, corporate responsibility, poverty in Canada, international finance and world debt.