TORONTO - A Canadian church-based group that does human rights and environmental sustainability work says the federal government has cancelled its funding for overseas projects without warning or reason.
Supporters of Kairos say the ecumenical social justice group is being punished for being critical of the oilsands and the Harper government's climate change policy.
Kairos, which represents 11 different churches and organizations, said a decision by the Canadian International Development Agency to cut its funding will force it to stop operating in troubled areas such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central America and the West Bank in the Middle East.
"We are disheartened that this long-standing relationship and decades of support by the Canadian government has ended," Mary Corkery, the executive director of Kairos, said Wednesday.
"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 a CIDA official called Kairos on Monday to say the group's application for $7 million to cover its overseas costs until 2013 would not be granted. The official told her Kairos no longer fit within CIDA's priorities.
Kairos and earlier church groups have been receiving federal money for such overseas work since 1973.
"It is just shocking that after such a long relationship an organization of the size and scope of Kairos wouldn't have more than that phone call," Corkery said.
Later this week, a Kairos delegation is to travel to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen to help lobby for an agreement that would include substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
Last May, a Kairos delegation toured Alberta's oilsands region to see how massive projects are affecting aboriginal people and to determine if the operations are environmentally sustainable.
The delegation included leaders from the Anglican, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian and United churches, as well as representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At the time, the leaders said they planned to share their impressions with their congregations and reach a consensus that would be presented to the federal government as early as the fall.
The group met separately with officials from the four main federal parties in Ottawa last week and called for greater action on climate change and for a halt to new oilsands projects.
"We basically told our concerns about climate change and we thought it would be important for Canada to be represented (in Copenhagen)," Corkery said.
"In terms of the oilsands, we asked for a halt for new approvals - not to stop anything that is happening, but that there would be a halt to new approvals."
Last year, Kairos published a position paper that questioned the amount of taxes Ottawa allows the oilsands industry to defer on the capital cost of projects.
Corkery would not speculate on whether the group's activities and policy positions have soured relations with the Harper government. She said Kairos wants to know what it did wrong.
"Why did you cut us? That's the question. We need them to put it on the table."
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."
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.
Officials at CIDA and the minister of international co-operation's office did not return calls asking for comment.