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Faith-based human rights group sees funding slashed

The federal government has abruptly terminated funding to Canada's major faith-based overseas human-rights organization, Kairos, effectively cutting its total budget in half for the next four years unless it finds replacement money.

A brief statement from International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Kairos's work doesn't meet current priorities of the Canadian International Development Agency, thus ending a 35-year relationship. Kairos – an ancient Greek word meaning "the right moment" – was expecting $7-million.

The organization said the government's decision will have a devastating impact on its 21 overseas partners and the thousands of marginalized people they support in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

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Kairos has criticized overseas Canadian mining practices and drawn attention to ecological hazards in the Alberta oil sands. It has campaigned against bottled water in Canada and elsewhere and defended a Palestinian activist imprisoned by the Israelis for peaceful protests against a Canadian company building Israeli settlements on West Bank land.

In March, Kairos submitted a 2009-2013 program proposal on human rights and ecological sustainability costing $9.2-million. Executive director Mary Corkery said in an interview that CIDA indicated in July that there was no problem with the proposal, that funding would be approved and needed only the minister's signature.

At the end of September, when Kairos's existing contract with CIDA expired and no new one had been signed, Ms. Corkery asked what was happening. She said she was told the minister was busy, and was offered funding for a two-month extension ending Nov. 30.

On the final day of the extension period, Ms. Corkery said that CIDA vice-president Victoria Sutherland called to tell her that all funding would be terminated because Kairos didn't fall within CIDA's priorities.

Ms. Oda's statement said those priorities are food security, children and youth, and sustainable economic growth focused in 20 countries.

Kairos says in its account that it developed its proposal with the support of CIDA staff and within two priority sectors of CIDA: promoting good governance and advancing ecological sustainability.

"Our proposal was deemed by CIDA staff to be within CIDA criteria and priorities throughout the approval process," a statement from the organization says.

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Not all the countries or regions where Kairos works match the places where CIDA wants to emphasize bilateral aid. "But it's never been a perfect fit," Ms. Corkery said.

Kairos represents, among other organizations, the United, Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, the Mennonites and the Quakers.

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said Kairos has a long history of promoting human rights and sustainable environmental policies in developing countries. It's also worked hard to educate Canadians.

The funding cut is meant to send a message to non-government organizations that depend on the federal government for funding, she said.

"I believe that Kairos is being punished for taking a position on the eve of Copenhagen and on the tarsands," Barlow said.

"I think this is a declaration that they are not welcoming any criticism. They offended the agenda of the Harper government."

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Churches that are members of Kairos were also weighing in.

Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran church said the loss of CIDA funding will hurt the ability of Kairos to help the needy in other countries.

She urged church members to call their MPs to express their support for Kairos and to ask for the federal government to reverse its decision.

"I further ask that they write Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bev Oda, minister of international co-operation, and Margaret Biggs, president of CIDA, expressing their disappointment and the critical need for funding to be restored," Johnson said from Winnipeg.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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