Friday February 19, 2010

Winnipeg MP Slams Proposed Downtown Christian Youth Center

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, February 19, 2010 ( – Winnipeg Centre New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Pat Martin has sharply criticized proposed plans by the non-profit Christian group, Youth For Christ, to build a 50,000-square-foot ‘Youth Centre of Excellence’ in the city’s downtown area.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports that Martin slammed a proposed city contribution of $2.6 million toward the $11.7 million youth center project as “taxpayer-funded proselytization.”

“I have no objection to faith-based organizations providing services. Sally Ann (the Salvation Army) and others have been doing a great job for years. But these people are evangelical fundamentalists,” Martin said. “Offering much-needed sports opportunities is just their way of luring in young prospects.”

The Youth For Christ project proposes to build the center, which would have a multi-sport gym, dance studio, fitness centre, skate-and-BMX park, drop-in centre, theatre, classroom, counselling facilities and a job-training centre, in what has been described as “one of downtown’s dreariest corners, at Main Street and Higgins Avenue.”

The federal government will contribute $3.2 million, if Winnipeg city council votes in favor of its own contribution toward the Youth Centre of Excellence project, according to the Free Press.

Youth For Christ executive director John Courtney explained that his organization currently operates 15 programs across Winnipeg and works with approximately 4,300 youths a year, but the proposed new facility would help them reach out to more than 10,000 young people by 2015.

“It’s not just to make it easier for us, it’s to expand and grow. It would bring all our programs together under one roof. That would open up new services and opportunities,” he said.

Councilor Justin Swandel, city council’s downtown development chairman, told the Winnipeg Free Press that the project will clean up “an eyesore” at Higgins and Main. Ross McGowan, CEO of the development agency CentreVenture, which owns the vacant lot, called the project “a perfect fit for the northern edge of downtown because it provides a desperately needed recreation outlet for inner-city youth.”

Youth For Christ has already raised $3.1 million privately toward the project and hopes funds from the federal government will be made available.

However, MP Martin said he opposes federal funding for the project since he believes Youth For Christ tries to convert “vulnerable, impressionable kids” to what he describes as fundamentalist Christian views.

“Would the federal government be so willing to give them $3 million if they were called Youth for Allah?” he remarked.

Senior Manitoba Conservative MP Vic Toews, who is currently Public Safety Minister in Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet, told the Free Press that MP Martin has his priorities mixed up and seems to prefer recruitment by inner-city gangs to programming by a religious group.

“It appears to me Pat Martin doesn’t have a problem with allowing gangs to recruit in his riding, but when it comes to Youth For Christ offering programs, he suddenly has a problem with it,” Toews said.

Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz told reporters yesterday that Martin is free to express his opinion, but he believed the MP may regret his comments about Youth For Christ.

Mayor Katz said he welcomes the opportunity to help fund the religious organizations which work in Winnipeg offering social services and youth outreach. He added that he does not believe Youth For Christ is out to convert youths into Christians.

“I’m Jewish and I think this is a great project,” said Katz, and concluded that “after a few nights sleep” Martin might reconsider his statements.

To contact NDP MP Pat Martin:

Constituency Office

892 Sargent Ave,

Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 0C7

Phone: (204) 984-1675

Fax: (204) 984-1676

Email: [email protected]

To contact Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz:

Winnipeg City Hall

510 Main Street

Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1B9

Phone: 204.986.5665

Fax: 204.949.0566

Email: via website here


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