KAIROS fights CIDA cuts

By Dennis Gruending

Bev Oda, the minister responsible for CIDA in the Harper governmentIn October, I attended a fund raising dinner and auction at an Ottawa church to support development of a legal clinic to assist women in eastern Congo. In some of their stories, captured on a brief video, the women describe how they had been gang raped and brutalized by young men who fight in armies and militias. These women were the lucky ones. They talked about how others had been murdered during their ordeals or left to die afterward. The goal on that October evening was to raise $25,000, enough money we were told to support the clinic for one year. People that night dug deeply into their pockets for $22,000 and we were asked to make our cheques to KAIROS, the Canadian ecumenical social justice group. Now, a scant six weeks later, we learn that Bev Oda, the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has cut all funding to KAIROS. The news arrived in a terse telephone call from a faceless official who said that the organization’s projects do not fit with CIDA’s criteria. Tell that to women in the Congo.

KAIROS acts on behalf of 13 of Canada’s major churches or church-based organizations, and it includes under its umbrella the Anglican, Catholic, Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Churches, as well as the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers and others. KAIROS, or its predecessor groups, have received money from CIDA for 35 years to support partners working in regions experiencing some of the world’s most serious human rights violations. The work of KAIROS is highly regarded in Canada and overseas.

CIDA’s “priorities”

KAIROS worked with its global partners to develop a program for years 2009-2013, focussing upon human rights and ecological justice.  The budget was for $9.2 million over four years, with CIDA contributing just over $7 million of that amount. The proposal was submitted to CIDA in March 2009, where it moved through various levels of approval before arriving on Bev Oda’s desk in July 2009. There seemed to be little cause for concern. KAIROS had received a positive audit report for its 2006-2009 work and a good evaluation. When, in September 2009, the agreement had still not been signed, KAIROS was granted a two-month extension on a previous contribution agreement. Sources say it was then that people at KAIROS began to worry. They were hearing that there was “trouble at the top”, which meant the minister’s’ office, or more likely with this government, the prime minister’s office.

On November 30, KAIROS was told that it had been cut off. The organization says in a new release: “We asked for an explanation and were informed that our program did not fit the government of Canada’s priorities. This was the last day of an extension to our current proposal.  No written explanation has been provided.” In one telephone call, the Canadian government appears to have terminated a long-standing relationship between CIDA and KAIROS or its predecessor organizations. KAIROS says the decision, if not reversed, “would cut funds to 21 ecumenical and citizen’s organizations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and cut educational work that helps Canadians across the country to develop skills and knowledge in the exercise of their global citizenship.”

Minister Oda did not communicate with KAIROS about its fate — she rarely communicates publicly with anyone about her portfolio except in the most controlled of circumstances. But the “trouble at the top” may well have had more to do with the work of KAIROS within Canada than with its overseas projects. KAIROS has questioned, on environmental and hence ethical grounds, the rapid development of the tar sands in Western Canada. KAIROS hosted a forum in Calgary in October 2008 and organized a delegation of Canadian church leaders to visit the tar sands in May 2009. The Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance, prior to their takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party, were beneficiaries of generous support from the oil and gas industry. The Harper Conservatives exist on similarly friendly terms with the carbon industry and will not hear of any proposal that would scale back rapid development – despite the environmental problems such development is causing. The implied criticism from KAIROS may have excited the ire of Conservatives at the top, even though most of the KAIROS budget is provided by the organization’s own donors and not by CIDA.

Canada as petro state

The eyes of the world are upon Canada as 192 countries meet in Copenhagen to discuss measures that would start to slow the runaway train of carbon pollution that causes global heating. Canada, which used to be respected among nations, is becoming a pariah due to its stubborn insistence to do little to mitigate the creation of greenhouse gases – and the Canadian tar sands are among the largest emitters. George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian in Britain, recently wrote: “So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man.”

The treatment of KAIROS is not only a punishment; it is a warning. Citizens for Public Justice, another fine ecumenical organization, has also questioned tar sands development, albeit in a polite and almost tentative way. Might CPJ expect repercussions? The Catholic aid agency, Development and Peace, has had a multi-year campaign to bring attention to the corporate behaviour of Canadian mining companies abroad. D&P receives CIDA funding. Should the organization be looking over its shoulder?

Fighting the cuts

KAIROS and its supporters are not going down quietly.  The organization is asking its people to contact their MPs, requesting that the decision be reversed. A variety of NGOs and churches, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which does not belong to KAIROS, have criticized the government’s decision.

The issue appears to have some political legs as well. All opposition parties, including the Greens, who do not have a seat the House of Commons, have called for the move to be reversed. Liberal MPs Bob Rae and John McKay, as well as other opposition members, have raised the issue in Question Period in the House of Commons. As I wrote this, church and NGO Leaders  announced that they would convene a news conference on Parliament Hill to address what they call” the unprecedented decision” to cut all funding to the human rights program of KAIROS.

KAIROS is asking its supporters, in addition to contacting their MPs, to send email messages to: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, pm@pmo-cpm.gc.ca; Bev Oda, minister of international cooperation, oda.b@parl.gc.ca; and Margaret Biggs, president of CIDA, Margaret.Biggs@acdi-cida.gc.ca. KAIROS asks that those who write also copy their letters to KAIROS at info@kairoscanada.org.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

9 thoughts on “KAIROS fights CIDA cuts”

  1. This is bang-on, Dennis. Many thanks for this piece on the cutting-off of CIDA support to KAIROS after thirty-five years.

    I think you are quite right to suggest political calculations and a decision at very high levels of Government. It would appear that the KAIROS 2009-13 programme proposal passed the development priorities of CIDA and met its requirements and that it was turned back by the Minister’s office (if not a higher level).

    This is a reprehensible decision that must be reversed. A lot of other development NGOs will, as you suggest, be looking over their shoulders. They too need to be heard from in support of KAIROS.

  2. I think the CIDA funding cutoff is quite appropriate. Where is it written that the government must fund those opposed to its policies.

    Given that it was CIDA(ie international) funding that was cut, I think you need to looks at some ofKAIROS’ highly problematic international partners and positions.

    Dennis replies: Thanks for your comment. Two observations. If cities such as Toronto, for example,  criticize a federal government for not investing in public transit, would Ottawa be right to reduce or cut off funding to that city because it was “opposed to the government’s policies”? Secondly, if KAIROS had questionable international partners, as is suggested above, then why did it receive a positive report from CIDA itself for its years of work immediately prior to its 2009 requests? I would invite readers to comment.

  3. This as just typical of the Conservatives,after all they are motivated by ideology,positive results do not matter. That said I am also in agreement with the above…”Where is it written that the government must fund those opposed to its policies”….

    Now don’t get me wrong its not that I do not support NGO’s etc doing good works but I do have problems with them accepting government monies. I believe to do so opens up these well meaning people/groups & their works to government manipulation and to a lessening of their ability to hold the government(s) to account.On top of all that, years of good work can be undone without a moments notice. The lesson should be made even more clearer,accept government monies at your peril.

    Dennis replies: Thanks for your comment. I have looked at the 2008 annual report posted on the KAIROS website. The organization had a budget of just over $4 million. CIDA provided $1.6 million, or 39 per cent, of that amount. The remaining $2.4 million, or 60 per cent, came mainly from member churches, religious groups and individuals.

  4. There is something else that I think we are overlooking here. I agree that the criticism of the tar sands was no doubt a factor, but I think there was another reason.

    On a Global TV report found on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1ZfgPW2-oA&feature=player_embedded)

    both Jason Kenney and Stockwell Day claim that Kairos was antisemitic, because they criticized Israel.

    And guess who had the last word? None other than Charles McVety of Christians United for Israel. He calls Kairos ‘left-wing ideologues’. I can’t help but think he may have had a lot to do with this.

  5. KAIROS received rave reviews from CIDA (see Dec.9 Briefing Note on this page: http://kairoscanada.org/index.php?id=654) and spent many months in close conversation with CIDA re. its proposal.
    The funding cut was by the Minister on the very last day of an extension, with no reason given to date.

    Re. “Where is it written that the government must fund those opposed to its policies.” Well, in the Charter. It’s the Gov’s responsibility to fund the electoral process, the Court system, the CBC etc, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. It’s called democracy….

  6. This decision is especially outrageous when you think of the real value of what Canadians are funding. In the name of improving security, we are spending billions on the war in Afghanistan with very dubious results.
    Meanwhile, we could be doing much more work like the work Kairos does, which would certainly make this world a fairer place and contribute to efforts to have a livable world to pass on to the world’s children.

  7. Re Kairos. I have just received a response from Bev Oda. Trying to formulate a response which will engender another response from her. I would like to know what other groups have had funding cut. Has anyone else done this. Sample letter please! jennifer

    Dennis replies: Thanks Jennifer. The group Alternatives has lost its funding and I am told that the Canadian Council for International Cooperation has received only a portion of its money for this year.  If anyone else has info on other organizations who have lost funding, please post it here in the Comments section. You can get loads of information about the KAIROS cutbacks (and the response) on the KAIROS website: http://www.kairoscanada.org/en/who-we-are/cida-funding-cuts/

  8. 35 years of governement dependency to carry out “development work” sounds too long; if the organizations are really commited on what they want to do, why do they use tax payers money?

    Dennis replies: I think KAIROS would answer that they continue to support aid projects, many of them new ones, because the need is always there. Unfortunately, poverty and the abuse of human rights continue to occur. The Canadian government has provided Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for many years (ie: taxpayers’ money), and at least some of this amount has been chanelled through Non Government Organizations such as KAIROS. Smaller NGOs can often do things that governments can’t, or at the least can do them better.    

  9. Hopefully some of the money in question will be spent on destitute veterans, seniors, homeless, disabled, and unemployed people here in Canada.

    Both CIDA and KAIROS need to take a serious look at how desperate some Canadians are. Then, if there is any money left over …

    Canadian generosity? Canadian citizens should not be deprived of basic necessities just to keep up appearances that our streets are paved with gold.

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