Albertos Polizogopoulos frequently litigates charter-related cases before the Supreme Court of Canada Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Summer jobs attestation faces yet more legal challenges

By 
  • July 3, 2018

OTTAWA — A legal challenge of the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) pro-abortion attestation by an Ontario concrete company is only the beginning, says Ottawa-based litigation lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos. More challenges are coming soon, he said.

The latest challenge, by Sarnia Concrete, sidesteps religious freedom arguments or anti-abortion advocacy and zeroes in on the “compelled speech” nature of the attestation as a violation of the charter, Polizogopoulos said.

More than 1,500 CSJ applicants, among them many Catholic charities and Catholic parishes, were denied federal summer jobs grants this year because they refused to tick off the attestation box. Many other charities, municipalities and other organizations did not bother to apply because of the requirement to attest to provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including support for legal abortion.

The Sarnia Concrete case, announced at a June 26 press conference, will focus on “the businesses’ freedoms of conscience, thought and belief protected under the Charter,” Polizogopoulos said.

“This is an initiative or policy decision of the government that compels organizations to say something they otherwise would not say.”

Polizogopoulos said Sarnia Concrete does not want to take a position on abortion “because they’re not in the business of controversial political issues. They’re in the business of concrete.”

“The Minister imposed an obligation on all CSJ applicants to make an attestation which aligned the CSJ applicant with a particular position on abortion, a controversial moral, ethical and social issue and perhaps the most politically-divisive issue in Canada,” says the company’s judicial review application. “As a for-profit corporation, Sarnia Concrete does not have a position or opinion on abortion or other political, moral, ethical and social issues completely unrelated to its business.”

Joining Polizogopoulos at the news conference was Tamara Jansen of the newly-formed Free to Do Business Canada, an organization that includes Sarnia Concrete and other businesses objecting to the attestation requirement.

“(The attestation) forces them to publicly agree with government ideology in order to access a public program that should be equally available to all small businesses,” said Jansen. “This is unfair and unjust.” 

The businesswoman said the attestation is “clear hypocrisy” because if any of the companies she represents had a similar values attestation imposed on their employees “the Human Rights Commissions would be all over us.”

Jansen stressed the business owners are not arguing against the content of the attestation, but that the government is compelling them to say anything at all. She expressed concern that if the attestation is unchallenged, this kind of ideological test could spread to other areas of government jurisdiction.

The Sarnia Concrete action is the fourth legal challenge to the attestation that began with the Toronto Right to Life Association asking for a judicial review in January.

At the end of May, an evangelical Christian charity called Power to Change launched the first challenge by a religious organization, arguing its beliefs on reproductive rights are protected by the Charter.

The federal government wants to consolidate the challenges by Power to Change and the Toronto Right to Life Association, but the Christian charity has argued it is involved in evangelization and not focused on political advocacy regarding abortion.

“We’re not in politics. We’re not advocating any change in any law,” said Gerald Chipeur, a lawyer representing Power to Change. “Ours is a purely spiritual objective.”

Chipeur said his client is objecting to the minister issuing a letter that said in effect, “I didn’t give you funding because you refused to say words I put into your mouth.”

“There couldn’t be a more open and shut case of a breach of the charter guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” he said.

In April, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms launched a challenge of the attestation on behalf of a family owned irrigation business, describing the attestation as a violation of the Charter and the principle of state neutrality.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto is encouraging people to write to their Member of Parliament, either with personal letters or via a new website www.savesummerjobs.ca.

“The Trudeau government has introduced a litmus test,” the site says. “To qualify for funding, organizations must agree with the Liberal government on issues such as abortion and gender expression.” 

“Many faith-based charities that offer programs like summer camps for disadvantaged kids, outreach to youth, aid to refugees, and assistance to the homeless are being denied funding,” the site says.

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