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Canada Feb. 1, 2018

Court battle looms over government ideology test 

By Deborah Gyapong

Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, and other Christian leaders say they're reading to go to the Supreme Court of Canada over the "ideological test" found in the Canada Summer Jobs attestation. (Deborah Gyapong photo)

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA—Christian leaders vowed to fight the Canada Summer Jobs attestation both in the court of public opinion and in the courts of justice up to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“Our government is doing something that has never been done in the history of this country” in requiring an “ideology test” to qualify for a government benefit, said Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, at a Jan. 31 news conference on Parliament Hill.

McVety called the attestation “draconian” and “Communistic,” because it demands applicants attest their support for “abortion and multiple genders.” He compared it to McCarthyism and questions the U.S. Senator asked Americans in the 1950s regarding any association with communism.

“[The attestation] is simply a Christians-need-not-apply sign,” McVety said. “Will they be forced to pass such an ideological test? This must be stopped now.”

He warned if the pro-abortion and pro multiple genders attestation required in the Canada Summer Jobs application remains unchallenged, this kind of ideological test will spread to other government programs and perhaps even to charitable status.

“We have to fight every one of those programs, and we need to continue to fight this in the court of public opinion and, if need be, we'll have to fight it through the court system and all the way to the Supreme Court if we need to," he said.

McVety was joined by five other Christian leaders.“The government is exceeding its authority in trying to compel groups and individuals to endorse a position that they ethically oppose, and one which has no bearing whatsoever on the job for which they are seeking funding. The Trudeau government needs to rethink this overly politicized approach to the Summer Jobs Program and revise its application so that it judges the matter on its merits and not something on which there is widespread disagreement in the public.”

Meanwhile, the controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation remained a hot political issue as the House of Commons resumed sitting Jan. 29 after a winter break.

In Question Period Employment Minister Patty Hajdu refused to change the pro-abortion attestation or extend the Feb. 2 deadline in response to a question from Conservative MP Karen Vecchio.

Vecchio, who describes herself as pro-choice, asked if the minister would remove the “values test” from the application, and told the House she herself would not check off the values test.

“Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has stated that she would not tick the box to attest to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a woman's right to reproductive rights; however, we know that government funding should never go to actively undermine Canadians' rights,” Hajdu told the House.

Though the minister clarified the meanings of words in the attestation, such as core mandate, any group that ticks off the box is affirming a so-called “right” to abortion.

In an interview Vecchio said she believed the government had overreached in creating the attestation’s value’s test, but instead of backing down, they are attacking opponents.

“We’re still receiving calls and emails daily on this topic,” Vecchio said. In her Elgin—Middlesex—London, Ont. riding she has heard from 40 organizations that cannot sign the attestation. “The government is overstepping,” she said.

Vecchio said the government made a “sweeping change” in the Canada Summer Jobs policy by creating the attestation, and are now “telling 40 per cent of the Canadian population that they’re wrong.”

“Everyone has a right to their beliefs,” Vecchio said, noting she is a member of the United Church.

“I hope we continue to push on this, because the Canada Summer Jobs program is a great program that impacts our youth,” she said, noting the impact of the attestation on children who won’t get summer camps, and soup kitchens that won’t have people to serve meals remains to be seen.

Hajdu’s position was bolstered by a Jan. 28 statement from 80 pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and abortion rights groups; the Canadian Union of Public Employees; Oxfam Canada; legal rights groups, and women’s shelters supporting the attestation.

“Indeed, no government funding should be made available to any organization or for any activities that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or are meant to undermine women’s rights, equality rights or any other human rights,” said the letter.

It also said groups that oppose abortion “should not receive federal grants to create or disseminate misleading information, or support activities, centres, networks or facilities that work to restrict, control, or manipulate information people receive about abortion.”

Despite an attempt by Minister Hajdu Jan. 23 to clarify the meaning of the attestation – defining core mandate as the activities of the organization and job not its core beliefs – Canada’s Catholic bishops and an array of faith leaders, including Jewish and Muslim, remain opposed.

On Jan. 25, Cardinal Thomas Collins, representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), joined Bruce Clemenger, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Imam Refaat Mohamed of the Canadian Council of Imams, and Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, in releasing a statement signed by more than 80 faith leaders.

“The promise of a free and democratic society is that there be no religious or ideological tests or conditions to receiving government benefits or protection,” the interfaith statement said. “The changes to the Canada Summer Jobs guidelines and application not only violate the fundamental freedoms of faith-based organizations, they also significantly impact the broader communities served by their programs, often the most vulnerable in Canadian society.”

In addition to the interfaith statement, the CCCB’s Jan. 11 statement describing the attestation as an “obvious and regrettable infringement of freedom of conscience and religion,” individual bishops across Canada are speaking out.

In Vancouver, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has said, “The government is exceeding its authority in trying to compel groups and individuals to endorse a position that they ethically oppose, and one which has no bearing whatsoever on the job for which they are seeking funding.” 

He called on the Trudeau government to “rethink this overly politicized approach to the Summer Jobs Program and revise its application so that it judges the matter on its merits and not something on which there is widespread disagreement in the public.”

A Toronto pro-life group has failed to get an injunction against the pro-abortion attestation required in the Canada Summer Jobs application.

On Jan. 30, only days before the Feb. 2 deadline for applications for the program, Federal Court Justice Martine St-Louis ruled the Toronto Right to Life Association did not meet two parts of the required three-part legal test to stay the attestation. 

The attestation requires all groups to attest their core mandate respects “reproductive rights” which the website explains includes support for legal abortion.

“The applicant seeking the stay must thus establish that there is a serious issue to be tried, that it will suffer irreparable harm if the relief is not granted, and that the balance of convenience lies in his favour,” the judge wrote. “The Courts have confirmed that the injunction is an exceptional remedy.” 

They failed to provide evidence to prove irreparable harm or that the injunction favoured the public interest, she said.

On the first part of the test, that the matter before the court was a “serious issue,”Judge St. Louis ruled: “However, given the conclusion on the two other parts of the three-part conjunctive test, the Court need not resolve this situation and will assume, without deciding, that a serious issue exists.” 

“We are disappointed with the ruling, but the constitutional questions have not yet come before the court,” said Blaise Alleyne, President of Toronto Right to Life (TRTL) in a Jan. 30 release. “We look forward to an expedited hearing of the merits so we can argue that compelling Canadians to agree with the government’s social beliefs is a violation of sections 2(a), (b), and 15 of the Charter.”

TRTL had applied for the injunction Jan. 4 when filing for the judicial review on religious freedom and freedom of conscience grounds, as well as the equality provision.

“In a free and democratic society, the government should not be able to punish groups for simply holding and expressing a particular belief,” said Alleyne.

“A person’s core beliefs – their conscience – is at the heart of their personal identity; a person should not have to choose between his or her core beliefs and obtaining a government program or service,” the TRTL judicial review application said.

The application also stressed “it is not illegal to advocate for social and legal change, in fact, it is crucial to a functioning democracy.”

“Toronto Right to Life looks forward to the hearing on the merits, on which the Ministry confirmed to the Court its willingness to expedite well before July 22, 2018, which is the final start date for summer jobs this year,” said the news release.