By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)—Despite growing opposition from an array of faith groups, the Liberal government still demands Canada Summer Jobs applicants sign a pro-abortion attestation.
Though confusing statements from both Prime Minister Trudeau and Employment Minister Patty Hajdu seem to at least partially walk back the endorsement of legal abortion demanded in the attestation, the requirement remains on the online application for funding.
Trudeau told a town hall in Hamilton Jan. 10 religious groups should still apply for the program, calling faith organizations “an important and wonderful part of our society.”
He singled out groups, however, with “the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the right for women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.”
ARPA Canada believes the government originally intended to bar groups engaged in anti-abortion activism from receiving funding, but “its attestation requirement is having a wider effect.”
“The problem is the attestation asks employers to respect reproductive rights,” said ARPA on its website. “The distinction Trudeau wants to draw between belief or expression and acting on those beliefs does not appear in the attestation. Many pro-life individuals, whether a part of a pro-life organization or an unrelated business, look at that statement and say it is against their conscience to sign something that says they respect reproductive rights. And this is the fuel behind much of pro-life response.”
Employment Minister Patty Hajdu told journalists while attending a cabinet retreat in London, Ontario Jan. 11-12 she thought the process was fair and many faith groups were comfortable checking off the attestation because “their core mandate is actually, for example, administering the word of God, or administering spiritual guidance for people … These are the kinds of things that, if you look at the core mandates of faith groups, that they talk about.”
Hajdu said the government was working closely with faith groups to “make sure that they understand that as long as their core mandate is not in violation of Canadian human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s not violating a woman’s ultimate right to control her own body, that they should have absolutely no problem receiving grant money, provided they, you know, fill out the application properly.”
“There is a difference between an applicant’s beliefs and an applicant’s core mandate for the job funding,” said Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary to Minister Hajdu, said in an email. “The fact that an organization is affiliated with a religion (which may hold a range of views, beliefs, or values) does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.”
“As in previous years, religious and faith-based organizations are encouraged, welcome and eligible to apply,” Pascuzzo said. “Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs, or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program. Faith-based groups are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant to CSJ 2018.”
However, the attestation does ask groups to register their approval for legal abortion and gender identity policies.
Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, 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 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.”
He advised Catholic groups in the Archdiocese of Vancouver to consult with Vicar-General Gary Franken before applying for any Summer Jobs funding.
The Catholic Civil Rights League also criticized the policy. “It is not enough that employers respect and observe the laws of Canada; (under the policy) they must affirm loyalty to a set of values which they may find deeply wrong,” said the Catholic Civil Rights League in a statement.
“Any Catholic individual or organization, which professes fidelity to the teachings of the Church, cannot make this affirmation, and is thereby excluded from a program which should be open to all law-abiding organizations. A firm and principled rejection of abortion is inseparable from an adherence to the Catholic faith.”
“We call upon the government to revoke this unconstitutional and deeply offensive provision immediately,” said the League. “Canadians of all faiths must recognize what is at stake.”
The Toronto Right to Life Association, a group that has received summer jobs funding in the past, has sued the government over the policy.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops slammed the new policy as an “infringement” on religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
“This new policy conflicts directly with the right to freedom of religion and conscience which too are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as in associated case law,” the CCCB said. It seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach, and practise their principles and values in public.
The CCCB joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, and other organizations in attacking the policy which was announced just before Christmas. Applications for summer jobs grants close on Feb. 2. If the attestation is not checked off, the application is considered incomplete and will not be considered.
The EFC has heard from more than 160 groups and charities that will be affected. The Council of Christian Charities said it is has received many complaints and is advising groups to use a “paper process” to apply, so their application will not be automatically voided. The groups are advised to write their own attestation of support for the Charter without affirming agreement with abortion.
Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom is also sounding an alarm over the controversial new restrictions.
In an interview with Grandin Media, Deacon Andrew Bennett, a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, warned the changes infringe on the fundamental rights of all Canadians, not only people of faith.
“It’s something that Canadians of all religious backgrounds, of all belief systems, need to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough.’ The government cannot dictate what Canadians should or should not believe to access certain government programs.”
“We need to be worried about this as Canadians, because regardless of where you stand on the abortion debate, regardless of where you stand on marriage or on gender identity, as Canadians we should be defending freedom of expression,” said Deacon Bennett.
Deacon Bennett was appointed by the former Conservative government as Canada’s first ambassador for religious freedom, an office that involved advising developing countries. He served for three years until 2016, when the office was abolished by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
With a file from Andrew Ehrkamp, Grandin Media.