Trudeau explains why he is a feminist at the UN's 60th Commission on the Status of Women, Mar. 2016. Screen capture from "Justin Trudeau tells the world why 'I'm a feminist'." / Youtube (UN Women)

Opposition grows as Liberals fight backlash on jobs funding

  • January 16, 2018

OTTAWA – Despite escalating opposition from a growing array of charities and faith groups, the Liberal government is not backing down on demands that Canada Summer Jobs applicants sign a pro-abortion attestation.

Confusing statements from the Prime Minister and the Employment Minister seem to take a softer stand, but the requirement to endorse the government’s abortion policy remains on the online funding application. It is impossible to complete the application form without ticking a box that states the applicant accepts Liberal ideology on abortion and gender politics.

Justin Trudeau told a town hall meeting in Hamilton Jan. 10 religious groups should still apply for the program, calling them “an important and wonderful part of our society.”

But he also restated his view that groups with “the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the right for women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government and, quite frankly, where we are as a

The attestation compels applicants to agree with legal abortion and gender identity policies. If the attestation is not checked off, the application is considered incomplete and will not be considered. Applications for summer jobs grants close Feb. 2.

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu told journalists she thought the process was fair and claimed many faith groups were comfortable checking off the attestation because “their core mandate is actually, for example, administering the word of God, or administering spiritual guidance for people. … These are the kinds of things that, if you look at the core mandates of faith groups, that they talk about.”

Hajdu said the government was working closely with faith groups to “make sure that they understand that as long as their core mandate is not in violation of Canadian human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s not violating a woman’s ultimate right to control her own body, that they should have absolutely no problem receiving grant money, provided they, you know, fill out the application properly.”

The Christian lobby organization Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada believes the government wants to prevent groups engaged in anti-abortion activism from receiving funding, but “its attestation requirement is having a wider effect.”

“The problem is the attestation asks employers to respect reproductive rights,” said ARPA on its website.

“The distinction Trudeau wants to draw between belief or expression and acting on those beliefs does not appear in the attestation. Many pro-life individuals, whether a part of a pro-life organization or an unrelated business, look at that statement and say it is against their conscience to sign something that says they respect reproductive rights.”

As the application is currently worded, no Catholic organization could sign it, said the Catholic Civil Rights League in a statement. 

“Based on the government's newly proclaimed policy, it is not enough that employers respect and observe the laws of Canada, they must affirm loyalty to a set of values which they may find deeply wrong,” said the statement. “Any Catholic individual or organization, which professes fidelity to the teachings of the Church, cannot make this affirmation, and is thereby excluded from a program which should be open to all law-abiding organizations.

“We call upon the government to revoke this unconstitutional and deeply offensive provision immediately,” said the League. “Canadians of all faiths must recognize what is at stake.”

The Toronto Right to Life Association, a group that has received summer jobs funding in the past, has sued the government over the policy.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) slammed the new policy as an “infringement” on religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

“This new policy conflicts directly with the right to freedom of religion and conscience which too are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as in associated case law,” the CCCB said. “It seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practise their principles and values in public.”

However, a spokesperson for Hajdu maintains “there is a difference between an applicant’s beliefs and an applicant’s core mandate for the job funding.”

“The fact that an organization is affiliated with a religion (which may hold a range of views, beliefs or values) does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program,” Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary to Minister Hajdu, wrote in an email.

“As in previous years, religious and faith-based organizations are encouraged, welcome and eligible to apply,” Pascuzzo said. “Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program. Faith-based groups are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant.”

The CCCB has joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) and other organizations in attacking the policy that was announced just before Christmas.

The EFC has heard from more than 160 groups and charities that will be affected. The CCCC has said it is has received many complaints and is advising groups to use a “paper process” to apply, so their application will not be automatically voided. The groups are advised to write their own attestation of support for the Charter without affirming agreement with abortion.

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