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Charities ponder legal action over grants

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  • May 19, 2019

Priests for Life Canada is among several charities, including four pregnancy care centres, considering legal action after being refused 2019 Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) grants.

“We will be consulting with groups and organizations that are already taking the Trudeau government to court because of last year’s attestation fiasco and learn from their experience,” said Fr. John Lemire, chairman of the board of Priests for Life Canada (PFLC), a pro-life organization. “As well, we will be consulting with various legal counsel to assess our particular situation and explore all options available to us.

“Fundamentally, we believe that not only is this decision to deny us funding wrong, but moreover we believe the way that (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau has played ideological politics with this program is equally wrong,” Lemire said. 

Several Christian charities, five small businesses and Toronto Right to Life  have already challenged last year’s pro-abortion attestation on Charter grounds in separate court actions. Despite removing the controversial values test in the 2019 CSJ application, the federal government continues to defend it in federal court.   

Toronto Right to Life, the first group to file a legal challenge, will be heard first, but legal counsel Carol Crosson said they do not yet have a date for a hearing.

Previous to 2018, Priests for Life Canada had hired one or more students over the summer with CSJ grants. 

PFLC applied in 2018, but like many church groups and charities, refused to sign the pro-abortion attestation, making it ineligible for funding.

This past winter, after the government changed the attestation, PFLC submitted three applications for the 2019 CSJ program.

PFLC said Service Canada subsequently requested “information or clarification on the services your organization provides to women seeking access to sexual and reproductive health services.”

According to the 2019 CSJ Applicant Guide ineligible projects or job activities include those that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to reproductive health services.” 

“In our response we assured Service Canada of our compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Lemire said. “We also assured Service Canada that Priests For Life Canada does not provide direct services to women in need of health care services. We work with those looking for educational information about life issues. This is an office position not a front-line position.”

The CSJ-funded job would be “reaching out to supporters, organizations and parishes across the country providing educational and religious information about building a culture of life,” PFLC told Service Canada.  “The successful candidate will be doing research on topics related to euthanasia and assisted suicide to better understand what is happening in Canada and elsewhere on this important life issue.”

Despite assurances the successful candidate would not be working to “undermine or restrict a woman’s access to reproductive health services,” Service Canada informed the PFLC on May 2 its application was “ineligible” on those very grounds, said Lemire.

“What was surprising to us was the clear and blunt reason for rejecting our application,” Lemire said. “We expected that the government might try to hide its true reason and colours, but the reject e-mail was quite clear.”

Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, said four pregnancy care centres were also refused funding for the same reason.

“I am of the view the government bureaucrats who reviewed these files were not aware of the nature of these organizations,” said Bussey.  

“To suggest that pregnancy centres are ‘actively’ working to ‘undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services’ does not fit with my experience and understanding of how these pregnancy centres operate.

“Helping young mothers with obtaining a stroller, baby food and diapers hardly seems the great evil of society that the government is making them out to be,” he said. “It is a shame that such projects that help our society as a whole are not seen as worthy of CSJ funding.” 

Bussey said another group that runs multiple summer camps in Canada was denied because the “application does not demonstrate that measures have been implemented to provide a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.”

Another applicant was denied, he said, because of “projects or activities that restrict access to programs, services or employment or otherwise discriminate.”

Bussey has pointed out that religious organizations have the right to discriminate in favour of co-religionists for certain jobs. 

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