Members of the pro-life Centre for Bioethical Reform hand out flyers in midtown Toronto. Photo by Michael Swan

Pro-lifers condemn ‘terrible’ court ruling on Summer Jobs program

By 
  • November 5, 2021

Despite a federal court ruling it was “reasonable” for the federal government to require Canada Summer Jobs program applicants to support abortion rights, pro-life groups say the decision still discriminates against those who defend unborn lives.

Campaign Life Coalition called the ruling “a terrible decision.”

In an e-mail to The Catholic Register Campaign Life national president Jeff Gunnarson labelled it “an affront to the principle of equality under the law, enshrined under Section 15 of the Charter.”

It amounts to “naked discrimination” against pro-life Canadians, he said.

“The judge has said that it’s OK for the government to discriminate against pro-life citizens who hold that life is sacred from conception and that preborn children deserve legal protection,” Gunnarson said.

Justice Catherine Kane ruled Oct. 22 it was “reasonable” for the federal government to demand applicants to a summer jobs program declare they supported abortion rights in order to obtain funding in the case that pitted Toronto Right to Life against the Minister of Employment, Workforce and Labour.

While the attestation requirement — introduced in December 2017 but changed in 2019 after protests from religious and pro-life groups — infringed on the Charter-protected religious liberty rights of then Toronto Right to Life president Blaise Alleyne, the infringement strikes a reasonable balance between Alleyne’s religious liberty rights and the legitimate purpose of government policy, according to Kane.

The controversy began when the Canada Summer Jobs program imposed an attestation requiring applicants to agree that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.” For any application to be accepted for review, the applicant had to tick a box agreeing to this statement and endorsing the right to abortion.

Rather than tick the box, Toronto Right to Life sent in a statement that read: “On the basis of conscience, we are unable to express the words that the Minister has required in the Applicant’s Guide.” It went on to say Toronto Right to Life “support(s) all Canadian law, including Charter and human rights law” and that the minister does not have the jurisdiction to compel it to make a statement conflicting with its conscience rights nor compel speech as a condition of receiving  financing.

Its application was denied. In an e-mailed statement, Alleyne, who is now vice-president of Toronto Right to Life, objected to the ruling and rejected the 2019 compromise wording of the attestation.

(By 2019 Ottawa had modified the wording of the attestation such that applicants must declare they do not actively work to undermine constitutional, human and reproductive rights. Reproductive rights are understood to mean the right to access legal, publicly-funded abortions.)

“The government still discriminates against pro-life groups in the 2019 program and onwards,” Alleyne said. “The government claims that pro-life groups ‘undermine or restrict’ access to abortion, even though all we do is exercise our Charter right to freedom of expression to share information with anyone who is open to the pro-life message.”

Alleyne told the court he could not agree to the attestation because he is Catholic, but also that Toronto Right to Life is a non-sectarian advocacy organization.

After the modification, most religious groups that had objected to the attestation regained access to Canada Summer Jobs funding for camps, community projects and other programs unrelated to abortion. All but one of 63 groups identified by the government as actively campaigning to restrict abortion access were denied funding under the new rules.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which campaigned hard against the attestation in 2018, said it hasn’t had a chance to review the ruling.

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The Govt. seems to be taking the role of an 'Extortioner' in making it mandatory for summer job applicants to give an undertaking that they support 'abortion of life' in order to get such jobs. Summer jobs and abortion of life are very different...

The Govt. seems to be taking the role of an 'Extortioner' in making it mandatory for summer job applicants to give an undertaking that they support 'abortion of life' in order to get such jobs. Summer jobs and abortion of life are very different issues and it seems incorrect on the part of the Govt. to link the two. The Hon'ble Federal Court too seems to erred in its ruling as there seems to be a patent miscarriage of Law in ignoring the rights of the job applicants. The rights of the job applicants must be defended and the case hopefully is vigorously challenged before the Supreme Court and all legal remedies exhausted if need be even before the ICJ at the Hague. In fact it is such an evocative and grave issue that a National Peoples' Referendum would seem in order.

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Thomas Mathews
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