Canada Jan. 2, 2018

Bishops, pro-lifers concerned summer jobs being politicized

By B.C. Catholic Staff

Jonathon Van Maren warns new rules will make it difficult for many faith-based organizations to hire students for part-time work. (CCN Photo)

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA—Catholic and other employers who refuse to endorse a woman’s right to abortion will be denied funding from a government program intended to create summer employment for youth, according to new federal guidelines.

Released in December, the new rules from Canada Summer Jobs make it mandatory for applicants to sign a form which affirms that the “core mandate of the organization” respects the Canadian Charter and human rights, which, according to the application, now includes “reproductive rights.” 

“They’re not asking you to uphold the Charter, but to uphold their interpretation of the Charter,” Conservative MP Brad Trost said of the Liberal government.

Trost warned that this decision opens the door for the denial of funding and other services to organizations that disagree with government policy, and gives the private sector licence to follow suit. That is the next “logical step,” he said.

“If the government can do this, why can’t the private sector do this?” asked Trost. “Why can’t the Royal Bank ask you to sign onto abortion rights before hiring you?”

Canada Summer Jobs was created as a non-partisan program that awarded eligible employers government wage subsidies to hire high school and university students. The funding decisions were primarily left to individual MPs who assessed applications from their ridings. 

The new guidelines state that affiliation with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility for funding, but other parts of the guidelines make it clear that a religious organization that opposes abortion need not apply.

“Religious groups should really look at this,” said Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform (CCBR), a pro-life group that was denied funding last summer. 

“Even a Christian soup kitchen wouldn’t be able to hire a student part time if they couldn’t sign a form saying they believed in the latest iteration of gender ideology.”

In addition to Christian groups, the new guidelines will make many Sikhs, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews no longer eligible, Van Maren said. “It encompasses millions of Canadians.”

Before the new rules were put in place, three organizations who were denied summer job funding last year – the CCBR and right to life groups in Toronto and Guelph, Ont. – filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Employment. Last month, the ministry settled the suit by awarding the funds the groups had requested. 

Now that the criteria about the “core mandate” are in place, Van Maren says his group is considering its legal options.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is also looking at its next steps and “trying to see what can be done with other like-minded groups,” said Deacon René Laprise, communications director for the CCCB.

Campaign Life Coalition has mounted a petition opposing the new rules that require applicants to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate will respect “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.” 

“Now, the Summer Jobs automatically excludes millions of Canadians whose core values differ from the Liberal government of the day,” said Johanne Brownrigg, Campaign Life Coalition’s government relations officer in Ottawa.

“I suspect many Canadians will feel unaffected by this and will marginalize those who are. They will think that they are safe,” Brownrigg said. “However, if this version of a Liberal government is permitted to discriminate under this program, the precedent will be set. And no one is safe because it is totalitarianism.”

Campaign Life Coalition, Toronto Right-to-Life, CCBR, LifeSiteNews, the Wilberforce Project, and Guelph Right-to-Life are among groups that have received past grants under the program. But many were denied funding last summer after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada mounted a campaign against pro-life groups. 

The Catholic Civil Rights League was also denied funding last summer.

“Now we know why,” said League president Phil Horgan in an email.

Horgan said “even at the risk of rejection,” Catholics must not sign the attestation without first adding an addendum. It is reasonable, he said, to agree to support Charter values, but with the proviso that “they are applied equally to unborn children, or are subject to the supremacy of God, as set out in the preamble of the Charter.” 

“Of course, that proposition could be rejected by the government, which in turn could lead to a court challenge, for the denial of religious or conscientious accommodation.”