The changes in the attestation are a welcome relief to Alberta’s Camp Oselia run by the Ukrainian Catholic Eparcy of Edmonton. “This is exciting. I’m excited about the fact that it’s opened up,” said Millie Schietzsch, the eparchy’s director of youth ministry. The camp relies on the Canada Summer Jobs program to subsidize wages for four to five summer employees who work as camp staff. This year they were only able to hire one. Photo courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Eparcy of Edmonton

Changes to controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation get mixed reviews

By 
  • December 12, 2018

OTTAWA – Following months of protest and the launch of several court challenges, the federal government has dropped the so-called “values test” from the application for Canada Summer Jobs funding, but many faith groups remain uneasy about new wording.

The government announced on Dec. 7 that it was removing an attestation that required applicants to endorse Charter and other rights, including abortion, and replacing it with a shorter attestation that states: “Any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.”

But the application also lists projects and activities that are ineligible for funding, including those that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.”

The revisions open a door for faith groups and other organizations that opposed the values test to apply for grants to help fund student summer jobs. But it explicitly closes the door on pro-life organizations.

Neil MacCarthy, communications director of the Archdiocese of Toronto, acknowledged that the changes address “many of the concerns expressed by thousands of Canadians this past year. ” 

“It is most unfortunate we were in this position to begin with, as many groups were denied funding this past year and had to rely on local fundraising campaigns, changes to programming or eliminating student jobs altogether,” he said.

The revisions will allow the archdiocese to resume applying for grants, but with some reservations.

“We remain concerned regarding the definition of ‘restrict or undermine’ especially as it relates to job activity,” MacCarthy said. “This will be open to a wide range of interpretation. What is the criteria being used by the government? In 2019, we suspect it won’t be a conversation about the attestation but, rather, who will actually be approved or denied funding.”

The Toronto archdiocese and other faith groups were involved in consultations with the federal government, including Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, that led to the changes. MacCarthy pointed out close to 5,000 letters from the Toronto Archdiocese alone went out to MPs concerning the program.

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said even with the changes, the application process continues the “suppression of viewpoints not shared by the government.”

“It is effectively establishing a bubble zone to prevent funding to organizations who do not share the federal government’s unfettered pro-abortion position,” said Horgan, a constitutional lawyer.

In a statement, the CCRL pointed out “peaceful protest and assembly is a right legally protected in Canada, whereas unfettered abortion is not, no matter how many times this government attempts to affirm otherwise.”

The government is still facing nine lawsuits contesting last summer’s attestation.

“The government has not defined specifically which programs will be deemed ineligible under the new criteria,” said John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents an Alberta small business suing the government. “On its face, the language contained in the attestation could be interpreted to restrict funding from a vast array of charities and non-profit groups which advocate views that the Trudeau government disagrees with.”

Carpay has a February court date and still hopes to get a ruling on the 2018 attestation.  Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who is representing four small businesses in separate lawsuits, called the revisions a clear “admission by the government that last year’s compulsory attestation was offside and undemocratic.”

The final applicant guide is expected at the launch of the 2019 CSJ program on Dec. 17. 

Carol Crosson, who represents Toronto Right to Life, the first organization to sue the federal government over the attestation, called the new application guidelines “a victory for the Rule of Law and for all Canadians.”

“It is a victory for all those who stood against the government’s unconstitutional incursion into the beliefs and opinions of Canadians,” she said. 

Under the new rules, Toronto Right to Life still would not qualify because it of its anti-abortion advocacy.

Marie-Claire Bissonnette, youth co-ordinator for Campaign Life Coalition, an organization that would also be denied funding, said the CSJ changes are a “step in the right direction, but not too far.”

“It’s remaining a method in which the government imposes its ideological agenda on Canadians,” she said.

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