The Cowichan Valley School District is now the third district to sever ties with Camp Qwanoes, the youth based, adventure-driven Christian camp based out of Crofton.
This follows the Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and Sooke School Districts made that difficult decision over the summer after not agreeing with the camp’s views on 2SLGBTQ+, and what they say is a lack of inclusivity.
“Our Board of Education, and the entire school district, very publicly, repeatedly, and consistently stand beside members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and oppose discrimination and marginalization at every opportunity,” said the Cowichan Valley School District’s director of communications Mike Russell. “This includes embedding these beliefs in the board’s Policy 25: Identity, Belonging and Connection, participating in events like Duncan’s Pride Parade, and publicly calling out and countering hateful rhetoric in our community.”
Camp Qwanoes has been a staple for thousands of youth each year, and according to their website one does not need to be an avid church goer to attend their camps and they are welcoming of individuals from various backgrounds. Despite this, this past summer Camp Qwanoes counsellors were asked to sign an agreement stating that abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex are sinful. Since this has come to light local school districts are finding that their view and the all-inclusive space they are trying to create for all their students no longer aligns with that of the camp.
“After learning that Qwanoes staff had to sign the agreement in question, we took the time to work with our newly returning principals and vice principals and District Leadership Team as well as validating the details of the circulating stories with Camp Qwanoes,” said Russell. “This staff agreement goes against our values as a school district and is contrary to the Board of Education Policy 25: Identity, Belonging, and Connection, which calls for a community free of discrimination and marginalization.”
Camp Qwanoes executive director Scott Bayley, who has also been a staff member of the Christian camp for the past 34 years, was taken aback when he first heard that the Nanaimo/Ladysmith district was questioning the camp’s safety and looking to end their long-standing relationship. Bayley supplied the following statement via email at that time.
“Safety is of the highest priority here — we are a safe place, and an inclusive place,” said Bayley. “The suggestion that an experience here is not safe is a misrepresentation,” he said in the e-mail. “We believe that people with different beliefs can still get along and enjoy a great time together. Requiring staff to indicate their support of and agreement with our Christian beliefs as a condition for employment is allowed for and protected in Canada. Religious freedom is an important part of Canadian society.”
Bayley stated that the relationship between the long-running Christian camp and school districts has always been a positive, and respectful one over the past four decades, and that the camp was unaware of any concerns related to LGBTQ equality or religious beliefs until June. According to Bayley, all camp staff are required to share the beliefs specified in the written agreement, which has been in place for more than 25 years without any changes, and dictates that abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex are sins.
“I can confirm that no Cowichan Valley schools have any outstanding contracts or agreements with Camp Qwanoes, and due to the staff agreement in question from the camp, we will conduct no further business with them,” said Russell. “They have been made aware of our decision.”
—With files from Black Press