Commentary | Harper’s social justice hit list

How the federal government has chopped away at NGO funding

There is no lack of complaints about the Harper government’s policies, and Canadian NGOs are one of many of those who take issue with them.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is responsible for government funding  allocated to non-governmental organizations, and the past two years have featured unexplained defunding for a significant proportion of these groups.

Many NGOs have been waiting for months to receive funds without communication from CIDA, while others have faced drastic cuts. When taking stock of the list of organizations within this group, one common aspect stands out: organizations’ support for Palestine and overt recognition of Israel’s consistent crimes against human rights.

A number of the affected NGOs have been targeted and criticized by NGO Monitor (NGOM), a highly partisan organization that attempts to expose the “anti-Israel agendas” of other NGOs, and that undermines global human rights by shielding Israel from accountability.

Consider two Canadian NGOs that are on this hitlist: Alternatives and KAIROS. Alternatives is a Montreal based left-leaning NGO, while KAIROS is a church based NGO promoting social justice. Over the last year, both groups have seen their respective CIDA funding denied or reduced.

While Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda has claimed that the organizations do not meet CIDA’s new priorities. (Note that these are priorities that have not been fully delineated). Immigration Minister Jason Kenney explained the defunding as a new government policy to combat anti-Semitism.

Apparently, following the Harper government’s pro-Israel stance, pulling funding until acquiescence is bred seems a desirable strategy.

This is where I find a breach of basic democratic principles. While the targeted NGOs are definitely against Israel’s policies and work in part to expose its human rights violations, this is just one aspect of the work they do. These groups are not anti-Semitic; they are targeting and creating awareness of crimes against humanity by any group, undistinguished by race or region.

Being unable to continue operations based on a refusal to single out and ignore Israel would be unethical, and would go against their very mandates by creating a hierarchical lens of exclusion.

To continue operations, many NGOs are are now realizing that the private sector may be a better funding source than the government and are following existing groups such as World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) that tapped into this sphere years ago.

Yet, here’s what strikes me as odd, unsettling, and thought provoking: corporations now seem more sympathetic to human rights-based causes than the state. But aren’t these the very causes that the government should be focused on in a capitalist democracy in order to promote the welfare and dignity of its population? Government policies need some definite reevaluation, and NGO defunding based on political stance is only one symptom of this need.

Tamkinat Mirza is a U3 Humanistics Studies Student. She can be reached at