Employment Minister Patty Hajdu encourages religious groups to apply, as long as the organization’s “primary activities” do not include pro-life advocacy. Photo courtesy of the Liberal Party of Canada

Minister Hajdu stands by ‘mandate’ of summer jobs funding as opposition grows

  • January 24, 2018
OTTAWA – As opposition mounts against a required pro-abortion attestation in the Canada Summer Jobs application, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu is still hoping faith groups will apply.

In a lengthy statement Jan. 23, Hajdu tried to explain the purpose of the attestation, but she continued to equate Charter rights with abortion rights and continues to refuse to remove the attestation from the application.

In an attempt to quell the growing number of voices critical of the funding policy, Hajdu also made personal phone calls Jan. 22-23 to a number of organizations, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), gave media interviews, delivered a statement explaining why faith groups are eligible and added a supplementary guide on the CSJ website, defining the terms in the attestation such as “core mandate.”

The site also provided examples of what kinds of organizations and activities would be acceptable. 

Hajdu contacted the CCCB on Jan. 22 “for the first time with a short telephone call,” according to a CCCB spokesman, but the bishops remain “seriously concerned.”

“The attestation and examples still amount to the government’s coercion on matters of conscience and religious belief,” said a statement from the CCCB’s communications director Rene Laprise. “They foreclose the possibility of wide ranging views and even healthy disagreement. The attestation remains unacceptable.” 

Hajdu released a statement on Jan. 23 explaining the government’s rationale for the attestation.

“Government funding should never go to pay for work that seeks to remove Canadians’ rights — like a woman's right to choose, or LGBTQ2 rights,” Hajdu wrote. “In 2017, our government heard concerns from Canadians about the Canada Summer Jobs program. It came to our attention that funding was being used to undermine the rights of Canadians. For example, funding was used to support organizations that distribute graphic images of aborted fetuses, and organizations that do not welcome LGBTQ2 young people at their youth programs.”

However, the attestation is far more broad than a policy change intended to block funding to organizations solely dedicated to pro-life or pro-traditional marriage activism. Its vague language requires applicants to support “the values underlying” the Charter, without defining those values, and specifically includes respect for abortion rights.

Hajdu encouraged religious groups to apply, as long as the organization’s “primary activities” do not include pro-life advocacy or discrimination against minority groups. If that requirement is met, she said organizations will not be judged on their beliefs or values.

In the supplementary information added to the online funding application, the words “core mandate” in the attestation were defined as “the primary activities undertaken by the organization that reflect the organization’s ongoing services provided to the community. It is not the beliefs of the organization, and it is not the values of the organization.”

She cited as examples faith-based groups with anti-abortion or pro-traditional marriage beliefs that want to hire camp counsellors, serve meals to the homeless or deliver services to seniors.

“There doesn’t appear to be any change,” said Neil McCarthy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto, one of many Catholic dioceses telling applicants not to sign the attestation. “There is still a requirement to check an attestation box that endorses values that are not part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that would run counter to the conscience and beliefs of countless religious organizations and many other Canadians.”

“We continue to object to any attestation being required that includes affirmations of undefined rights and values in order to be eligible for a government benefit,” said Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) president Bruce Clemenger. The EFC is the umbrella for evangelical denominations, institutions and individuals across Canada.

“A values test is not consistent with living in a free and democratic society and is, we believe, contrary to the very Charter that the government is asking organizations to affirm.”

Blaise Alleyne, president of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, said his organization is exercising its Charter-protected right of freedom of expression.

“It is not illegal to advocate for social reform or to hold and share beliefs that are contrary to the governments,” he said.

Her organization successfully sued the government when it was denied funding last year for a jobs grant.

“The government cannot punish us for simply holding and sharing different beliefs. The Charter protects our right to do so,” Alleyne said. “We don't believe the minister has the jurisdiction to compel speech that would violate our conscience rights, or else punish us by withholding a benefit that the government is making publicly available.”

The group, which does not engage in any partisan political activity is seeking an injunction in Federal Court against the attestation pending a judicial review. A decision is expected soon. The deadline for applying for summer jobs is Feb. 2

“’Reproductive rights’ still remain in the attestation with no definition of what those rights are,” said Barry Bussey, legal affairs director for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. “The unresolved issue, about abortion regulation, arising from the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada decision remains a legitimate matter of public debate despite the government’s belief that the debate is over. It is not.”

The examples the government gave for eligibility did not recognize the rights of religious organizations “to maintain their identity in hiring those in compliance with their beliefs and practices,” Bussey said. “We remain concerned that the government is continuing to place certain conceptions of human rights in hierarchy. It is a long standing legal principle in Canada that Charter rights are equal.”

“We are concerned that using attestations of beliefs and values in order to receive government funding will become the norm,” he said.

André Schutten, Director of Law and Policy for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA Canada), pointed out every prolife individual and organization he knows of respects Canadian law. “Not one of them is capable of ‘restricting a woman's right to abortion,’” he said. “But they do respect the law and human rights enough to push for more protection for pre-born human rights through democratic means.”

“Will this government only grant funding for the human rights of some, and not others? As a lawyer, that strikes me as an incorrect approach to balancing competing rights,” he said. “It seems to me that Minister Hajdu is getting poor legal advice when it comes to constitutional interpretation.”

“What's really changed?” asked Ray Pennings, the executive vice president of Cardus. “The language of the attestation is still the same. So charities, organizations, and businesses — and the Canadians who run them — are still required to agree with the State on a vague set of Charter values and on a particular moral outlook in order to access a taxpayer-funded program.”

“Canadians should be able to fully participate in the public square regardless of whether they’re neutral or even disagree with the State on values and morals,” he said.

Even non-religious groups are voicing opposition.

“The government's forced speech requirement is antithetical to Charter values, including freedom of expression and freedom of association,” said Joseph Hickey, executive director of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association in an e-mail. “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.”

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the government is “exceeding its authority in trying to compel groups and individuals to endorse a position that they ethically oppose.”

“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,” he said in a statement.

Even a pro-abortion group 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.

The Ottawa archdiocese is telling those applying for summer grants not to check off the attestation, but to fill out a hard copy of the application and add an attestation the archdiocese will provide, said Deacon Gilles Ouellette in an e-mail.

The Toronto Archdiocese is taking a similar approach.
“We have essentially indicated to our parishes that the attestation cannot be checked off,” said McCarthy. “We are in the process of gathering data to determine just how many parishes/groups are impacted within the Archdiocese of Toronto.”

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