The House of Commons is examining whether Minister Bev Oda is in contempt of Parliament over her explanation on why Kairos lost its funding. Photo: Art Babych
Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda has apologized for what she called “the confusion” generated by her statements regarding the denial of funding for the ecumenical justice organization, Kairos.
Addressing a House of Commons committee on March 18, Oda said she did not attempt to mislead Parliament about why Kairos’ 2009 application for $7 million in funding was cut.
She also reiterated that she alone had made the decision and had not received any instructions on what action to take from Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Kenney has stated that Kairos was not granted funding because it is “anti-Semitic,” an allegation that the organization has denied.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is examining whether Oda should be rebuked because of contradictory statements she had made earlier about the decision to deny Kairos funding. The proceedings were aired live via the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).
Oda initially said that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) decided not to fund Kairos because it “no longer fits CIDA priorities.”
But documents obtained by journalists through Access to Information requests showed that the Kairos 2009−2013 proposal had actually received strong support from CIDA officials, but a handwritten “not” was added to the sentence related to the recommendation for approval.
Oda had said she did not know who added the word “not.” Today she told the committee that she had instructed her former chief of staff, Stephanie Machel, to insert the word “not” into the recommendation after she reviewed the proposal.
She said that while the Kairos proposal had some merit, there were areas of concern, including the apportionment of over $800,000 in its proposed budget for advocacy, training, media strategies and campaign activities in Canada. “I believe this is not the best way to spend public funds intended to help those living in poverty in developed countries,” said Oda.
Kairos executive director Mary Corkery, who appeared separately before the House of Commons committee, explained that this item was part of the organization’s Public Engagement work, something which she said “CIDA has always been proud of.” Corkery said CIDA has acknowledged the importance of public education, “which allows stakeholders to see how their funds are being used.”
Corkery told the committee that Kairos remains in the dark about why its funding was cut despite the “stellar evaluation” and audit conducted by an independent consultant hired by CIDA to look into the organization’s work.
“It was a very thorough evaluation, which included visits to our partner groups,” she said. She said that CIDA had also consulted experts and the government’s foreign desks to assess Kairos’ work and they had cited it for “efficiency and effectiveness…producing results.” Its work was also seen as being aligned with government priorities, including its commitment to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, among others.
In response to queries from some MPs as to whether Kairos and its partner organizations were anti-Semitic, Corkery said none of them are. None of them oppose or question the right of Israel to exist, but they support an “independent and viable Palestinian state,” which is the same as the Canadian government’s position, she said. She added that some work in the area of human rights and have criticized Israeli settlements as impediments to the peace process in the Middle East, a position that the Canadian government also upholds.
Corkery noted that the government’s foreign desk in the Middle East and North Africa have noted that Kairos’ work in the Middle East was “a step in the right direction.”
Corkery also responded to remarks made by some Conservative MPs that Kairos was displaying “a sense of entitlement” by expecting to get funding just because it had done so for 35 years.
Kairos “has no sense of entitlement. What [it] is looking for is a timely and substantial response to our application…and accountability,” Corkery said.
The Anglican Church of Canada is a member of the Toronto-based Kairos, which advocates for social justice, human rights and peace worldwide.