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Governing Liberals block pro-life organizations from accessing Canada Summer Jobs Program funding

There’s been a major development in a federal policy on student employment funding. Shortly before they went home for Christmas, Members of Parliament were briefed on changes to the rules for the Canada Summer Jobs program for 2018. The biggest change is that any organization looking for government subsidies to hire students this summer will need to sign on to an attestation which says:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

This policy change comes after three pro-life groups won a major out-of-court settlement in late November with regard to last year’s Summer Jobs Program. One of those groups was the Canadian Centre for BioEthical Reform, which was initially approved for funding last year, and then had that funding revoked. The group’s communications director Jonathon VanMaren says that was a clear case of the government changing the rules in the middle of the game. He says a lawyer for the Justice Department contacted his organization, and confirmed that the reason the government was settling the suit was that they had already been approved to get funding, and after the Canadian Abortion Rights Coalition launched a campaign on the issue, the government “interfered” in the process and denied the grant funding based on criteria that were not in place when they initially applied.

One of the other groups on the winning side in that settlement was the Toronto Right to Life Association. The group’s Blaise Alleyn says they’ve launched a legal challenge against the new rules. He says it’s “not illegal to hold a different belief than the government on a social issue, and we don’t think the government has the jurisdiction to compel speech that would violate our conscience rights, (or) to treat us unequally and discriminate against us and punish us by withholding benefits of an unrelated program.” The legal challenge asks for a judicial review of the new attestation policy, asking that it be declared unconstitutional under the Charter guarantees of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and equality rights. Alleyn says with this attestation policy, the government is manufacturing a so-called “right” to abortion, while ignoring other rights that are clearly in the Charter.

“Reproductive rights are not necessarily Charter rights,” he says. “The Morgentaler decision struck down Canada’s abortion law on procedural grounds, but it encouraged Parliament to legislate” on the issue of abortion. He says while the Court recognized an explicit right to abortion, there are explicit rights spelled out in the Charter on freedom of conscience, religion, and expression. “There are a whole host of Charter rights that the government doesn’t seem to be paying appropriate attention to in this attestation,” he says, adding that the new policy “boldly goes against the Charter.”

ARPA legal intern Tabitha Ewert has also analyzed the new policy, and she says the requirement to “respect” the Charter and the values underlying it is “nebulous, nonsensical, vague.”

“How is a business supposed to ‘respect’ these rights?”, she asks. “Especially if a business has nothing to do with abortion.”

Ewert says, “in Canada we expect people to obey the law, but we don’t need people to ‘respect’ it. Imagine,” she adds, that the “next time you were to get your driver’s licence, you had to sign something not only that you would ‘obey’ the speed limits, but that you would ‘respect’ the speed limits. It’s an absurd requirement that goes well beyond what the government can do here.”

The deadline for applications for funding under this program is February 2nd. ARPA has launched an EasyMail campaign to lobby MP’s to rescind the new regulation before then. You can access that campaign and send your own customizable letter here.

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