Archbishop Prendergast says the Canada Summer Jobs Program attestation denies religious freedom and punishes employers who “cannot, in good conscience, agree,” by denying access to $125 million in funds to support 70,000 summer jobs for students. Register file photo

Dioceses tell Catholics not to sign Canada Summer Jobs attestation

  • January 22, 2018

OTTAWA – Catholic dioceses are recommending employers not sign the required pro-abortion attestation in applying for a Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) grant.

“The government is exceeding its authority in trying to compel groups and individuals to endorse a position that they ethically oppose, and one which has no bearing whatsoever on the job for which they are seeking funding,” said Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller in a statement. “The Trudeau government needs to rethink this overly politicized approach to the Summer Jobs Program and revise its application so that it judges the matter on its merits and not something on which there is widespread disagreement in the public.”

However, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu, in a Jan. 22 letter to The Catholic Register, said she was wanted to “correct misinformation circulating about the eligibility of faith-based organizations and religious groups to apply for funding.”

“Let me set the record straight — churches, religious and faith-based organizations are eligible, welcome, and encouraged to apply,” she wrote. “Faith-based groups add tremendous value to our communities, much of which is focused on compassion and helping those most in need in our society.”

She goes on: “Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program.”

Nevertheless, the minister makes it clear the attestation will remain — “an attestation that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”

On the government website, the “other rights” include reproductive rights, and a right to safe and legal abortion.

“This attestation excludes any Catholic parish or charity from funding for hiring a summer student,” wrote Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast in a Jan. 21 column in the Ottawa Sun. “We cannot affirm that we support a (non-existent) right to abortion, which is what the euphemism ‘reproductive rights’ means.”

“Further upsetting many is the prime minister’s confused personal comments regarding the logically impossible co-existence of his identity as a Roman Catholic and his support of abortion,” the archbishop wrote.

The attestation denies religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of “thought, belief and opinion,” and punishes employers who “cannot, in good conscience, agree,” by denying access to $125 million in funds to support 70,000 summer jobs for students, Archbishop Prendergast wrote, pointing out the recently launched Canada Service Corps “has the same eligibility criteria with the same coercive effect.”

“Apparently, Canadians have the freedom to hold only the beliefs and opinions approved by the current government,” he wrote.

Even a pro-abortion group instrumental in bringing about the government’s policy change has asked the government to re-word the attestation.

“May we please recommend that you clarify the wording on your CSJ website to correct the confusions around the requirements, and also to help mitigate the effects of any lawsuits?” said a Jan. 12 e-mail to the Minister and to Prime Minister Trudeau from Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, according to The Canadian Press.

"There should be some way of doing it without raising the ire of all these other religious groups,” she told CP.

The Ottawa archdiocese will tell those applying for summer grants not to check off the attestation, but to fill out a hard copy of the application due Feb. 2 and add an attestation the archdiocese will provide, said Deacon Gilles Ouellette.

The Toronto Archdiocese is taking a similar approach.

“We have essentially indicated to our parishes that the attestation cannot be checked off,” said Neil McCarthy, communications director for the Archdiocese of Toronto. “We are in the process of gathering data to determine just how many parishes/groups are impacted within the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“Some groups may follow the paper copy example but the government has clearly stated they will not consider these to be completed applications. It is, however, a way to track those who cannot sign the attestation.”

Vancouver, meanwhile, is telling prospective Summer Jobs applicants to consult the archdiocese’s vicar general.

While Hajdu’s letter reiterated the government commitment to “ensuring that summer jobs for young Canadians funded by the Government of Canada respect everyone’s rights,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has said the new policy requiring the attestation “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.”

“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,” the CCCB said.

The Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) called the attestation “antithetical to Charter values, including freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

“All such forced speech requirements degrade Charter values by supplanting the individual's right to form and express one's own opinion about societal matters (without which no society can be democratic) with the government's position,” wrote Joseph Hickey, the OCLA’s executive director, in an e-mail. “Forced speech policies thereby diminish the fundamental rights of all Canadians. Such policies are a characteristic of totalitarianism, not of democracy, and must be constantly and vigorously opposed.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.