As Parliament resumes this week, Conservatives have vowed to stand up for pregnancy centres threatened with the loss of charitable status. CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno

Pregnancy centres under legislative threat

By 
  • September 14, 2022

A bullet point on page four of the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2021 election platform “Forward. For Everyone.” conveyed the party’s intention to strip pro-life non-profits of their charity status.

According to the document, these organizations “provide dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

The fall session of Parliament begins Sept. 20 — exactly one year since the most recent federal election — and this campaign promise has yet to be fulfilled. Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said he and his colleagues will try to muster enough public support to make sure it never is.

Genuis said a ruling party must not be involved in deciding which organizations should receive charitable status and will petition to bring attention to the matter.

“These petitions call on the government to maintain political neutrality in charity status determination,” said Genuis.

“Forward. For Everyone.” did not shed light on how the federal government intends to achieve its goal. Two avenues at the Liberals’ disposal include introducing a bill or tucking the measure within a larger omnibus package.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did offer a clue about the potential pathway in his mandate letters to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Marci Ien, the minister for women, gender equality and youth. He instructed both ministers to work towards “introducing amendments in the Income Tax Act” to make pro-life organizations ineligible for charitable status.

Crisis pregnancy centres were singled out as an example of an entity providing “dishonest counselling,” but Genuis said the intended purview is far-reaching.

“Schools, Catholic hospitals, summer camps. These are some of the institutions that are at risk,” he said. “It is a much broader attack on the charitable status of organizations with a pro-life orientation.”

The Liberals have already tried a similar tactic. In 2018 Canada Summer Jobs grants applicants were required to declare tsupport for abortion to receive funding. This led to hundreds of summer camps and other organizations losing funding for not signing the attestation.

The blowback was furious against the Liberals and the following year it was re-tooled to require applicants to declare they wouldn’t infringe upon any Canadian’s legal rights. 

In contrast to the dynamic on Parliament Hill, Jutta Wittmeier, executive director of the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre (CPCC), said she does her best to avoid investing time and energy in the political discourse surrounding her profession. She instead wishes to focus on doing meaningful work.

“We’re not political. We’re not involved in the debate. We do so much more. My concern is that there are many young families in difficult circumstances who need support, and that is who our organization is helping,” she said.

For Wittmeier, the threat to its charitable status does not compute as there “already isn’t enough agencies supporting young families as it is.”

The CPCC, a registered non-profit since 1985, has an average clientele of 3,000 per year, including 700 first-time clients, said Wittmeier. An accredited member of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, the social support organization offers information and education on all pregnancy-related options, counselling, prenatal, parenting and life skill classes and adoption assistance.

Wittmeier is convinced that “even if (government) took (away our) charitable status” its donors would continue supporting the centre

Though the CPCC is not primed to actively contribute to the political debate poised to come, Genuis said advocating on behalf of pro-life institutions will be a key priority for the Conservative Party this fall. He said he feels good about his party’s standing heading into the new parliamentary session.

“I’m excited about the potential that our party has to make more of an impact reaching more people. The leadership race has been incredible for engaging with and mobilizing Canadians.”

Genuis spoke with The Catholic Register on Sept. 9, one day before Pierre Poilievre was chosen to lead the Conservatives.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.