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Canada reverses abortion rights proviso to summer jobs program

Canoes await campers. Canada has made changes to the federal government’s summer jobs program. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — Faith-based organizations in Canada are welcoming changes to the federal government’s summer jobs program that remove language interpreted by many to require support for abortion.

“It’s encouraging to see that the government has heard and responded to our concerns,” said Julia Beazley, director of policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

The change is “an admission that last year was clearly a violation of freedom of speech and religion,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice president of Cardus, a nonpartisan faith-based think tank.

The change is a retreat for the ruling Liberal Party, which set off a firestorm in late 2017 by adding a new stipulation to the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs Grant application form.

In order to get funding from the program, which provides financial assistance to nonprofits and businesses that want to hire summer students, groups had to check a box attesting that their “core mandates” respected, among other things, “sexual and reproductive rights and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

Many faith groups protested, saying the attestation violated their right of freedom of belief, and their freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The government tried to clarify its reason for the change, saying it welcomed participation by all religious groups. But about 1,500 faith groups and businesses that submitted applications without agreeing to the attestation were rejected. An unknown number of groups didn’t apply at all.

The issue also prompted at least nine court challenges from church groups and private businesses.

Although the government initially defended the change, the office of Employment Minister Patty Hajdu initiated behind-the-scenes meetings with several key evangelical and Catholic groups this fall in an effort to address their concerns.

The result is a new application form for 2019 that drops the reference to core mandates and instead focuses on activities that are ineligible for funding.

Youths participate in water activities at a summer camp. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

“We want to be very clear that this isn’t about beliefs, but rather about ensuring the projects and activities don’t undermine or restrict the legal rights of Canadians,” Veronique Simard, press secretary to Hajdu, said in an email.

The new language specifies that government funds cannot be used for activities that, among other things, “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services,” that discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression” or that “advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice.”

For the EFC’s Beazley, this is a positive change. “Now the focus is on activities, not on the beliefs and values of organizations,” she said.

Pennings agreed, noting all the new form asks “is for us to be law-abiding citizens.”

The outpouring of criticism from faith groups, businesses and individuals across Canada, as well as the court challenges, are considered key to moving the government on the issue. Another factor, however, is next year’s federal election.

“They (the Liberals) have enough on their plate to worry about without adding a number of lawsuits and angry churchgoers,” said Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, also known as the 4Cs, which had also opposed the original language.

While faith groups are happy about the changes, there are still some concerns about the vagueness of the wording. “What does it mean to advocate intolerance, discrimination or prejudice?” asked Bussey. “We don’t know.”

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, doesn’t think the change goes far enough.

“It appears that the federal government has moved from an attestation requirement of beliefs, or forced speech by having to check a box, to denying certain ‘proposed activities’ in respect of those legitimate beliefs,” he told Canadian Catholic News.

“It is a continued suppression of viewpoints not shared by the government, for which funding will continue to be denied … to prevent funding to organizations who do not share the federal government’s unfettered pro-abortion position.”

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John Longhurst

43 Comments

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  • “What does it mean to advocate intolerance, discrimination or prejudice?” asked Bussey. “We don’t know.”

    This is not something which religious groups should be able to just throw out as a rhetorical question, expecting no answer.
    Other people outside those groups do know and should be answering loudly through their public officials. It means incorporated religious groups painting the private lives of any others as sinful, disordered or fundamentally inferior, and/or advocating for laws to limit the rights and opportunities of any such others, and/or advocating for weak legal protections which passively permit any corporation of any kind to limit the rights and opportunities of such others. Government has a fundamental responsibility to never, ever be transferring public-source money to those groups for any purpose. OF COURSE it is expected that any incorporated group applying for public money would be scrutinized and screened (maybe screened out) for the content of it’s public speechifying. That is the only way you know what it “advocates”—–before you give it money

  • Are you a Christian? Muslim? Jewish? Hindu? Buddhist? Atheist? Then do NOT take your religious freedoms for granted.

    Canada’s anti-religious mess could easily happen in America today. Sure, President Trump is keeping the dogs at bay for now (and the dogs are very angry about it!), but in either 2020 or 2024 Trump will be gone. When that happens, the dogs will go all frothy for REVENGE. Christians will be a target, but in fact ANY religions or individuals that dare to disobey the PC-Police, will get theirs.

    The PC-Police are real. They are not happy. They know that evangelicals voted for Trump, and Trump openly supports religious freedom. The PC-Police got plans for YOU. People like Biden, Ocasio-Cortez, O’Rourke, CNN, WaPo, they all wrote down REVENGE on Santa’s Christmas List for 2020. Somebody wants to repeal constitutional religious freedom. Don’t just let it happen.

  • This is not something which a government should be able to just throw out as a question without an extremely clear concrete legal answer already in the law.

  • Sorry buddy, but using government funding to discriminate and attack the rights of others is not a worthy goal. To attack the rights of others is not free exercise of one’s religious faith.

  • How is using money earmarked to employ young people for that exact purpose using that money to discriminate?

  • And that is exactly what the Canadian government was doing – “using government funding to discriminate and attack the rights of others”. So I take it you support the new ruling in favor of the faith based organizations.

    It’s right up there in that article.

    Read it.

  • Hardly. The people here are annoyed they can’t use religious belief as a pretext to attack others using government money. Their beliefs are that they have a privilege to attack people and the rights of others in service of their faith. That is not exercise of one’s faith or an expression of religious freedom.

    Taxpayer funds collected by everyone has no business being used by discriminatory outside agencies. One has no business paying for their own discrimination.

  • Its using money to go to organizations which discriminate, which happen to be used for young people.

    At no point can you make a sane argument that taxpayers should fund their own discrimination.

  • Floyd you need to stop drinking that coolaid. The only group trying to restrict religious freedom in this country are Evangelical Christians.

  • The new ruling isn’t in favor of faith based organizations. The grant money still can’t be used to support programs that discriminate or interfere with abortion rights!

  • But we make the same argument in favor of giving funds for health screening to abortion providers and grants to religious organizations that feed the poor. We are willing to assert that the funds do not support their other goals when it supports the general good. Why is this different?

  • The only valid question for those applying for government funds is “will the recipient obey Federal and local laws?” not their position on one particular social, economic or political issue.

  • You are trying to misrepresent the point and are engaging in deflection. At no point does taxpayer money ever need to go to an organization which actively attacks the civil liberties of others. None of your counter examples do such a thing.

    “We” evidently being whiny people who want government money but none of the responsibilities that go with such an act. Take Caesar’s coin, you need to follow Caesar’s rules.

  • The government gives grants to these same religious employers for other programs aimed at the “general good.” Unless all religious institutions and their affiliates. They already operate on the basis that such a separation between services and political stances can be made. That is not deflection, that is just current policy.

    You can ask for all programs for the general good that happen to sponsor religious or politically affiliated employers to be stopped. But to say that it is wrong to bring this one case back into line with general policy is special pleading.

  • There is no general good in discrimination nor attacking the rights of women in making their family planning choices.

    Religious institutions really have no business taking taxpayer money.

    It smacks too much as establishment of religion. It also undermines religious freedom by having subsidized favored religions on one hand and everyone else.

    Politically affiliated employers are not in the same category as religious ones, nice try at false equivalence there.

  • You either didn’t read or else did not understand the article.

    “Now the focus is on activities, not the beliefs and values of organizations.”

    The original wording targeted all whose beliefs did not favor abortion “rights”.
    That would necessarily exclude all traditional Christian faith-based organizations. The new wording provides leeway for groups whose beliefs do not favor abortion.

    Personally, I agree with Horgan that the new wording is unsatisfactory, in that it favors the “continued suppression of viewpoints not shared by the government”. It is a band aid giving a little breathing space to religious organizations, but government suppression still lurks near the surface.

    But there are people here who favor the government suppression of unapproved viewpoints – as long as it is viewpoints they don’t agree with.

  • Floydlee, you are absolutely correct. I”m not sure I’ve got both of the areas correct, but Roman Catholic schools are no longer able to teach that homosexuality is a sin because of government interference. A Christian law school will not be able to keep homosexuals from having sex – whereas Christians will because of interference from the Ontario Law Society – they would not take students from the school into their group if that didn’t change (Makes one wonder if they are not saying that homosexuals cannot control their urges)
    I had a pastor who received death threats for teaching that homosexuality is a sin,
    It is happening all over Canada, only to get worse. Expect it in the US, as dung runs downhill.

  • Why don’t we just make women (couples) pay for their own abortions? That way, all of this bickering goes away.
    Put it in the same class as elective surgery. You want breast implants- not covered by insurance.
    You want liposuction – not covered by insurance.
    You want hair plugs – not covered by insurance.
    You want an abortion – not covered by insurance.

  • You obviously didn’t understand the full impact of the ruling. Go read it and my comment again.

  • There is general good in employing youth over the summer. That is the point of the program.

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe the entire system should be overhauled so that food pantries, homeless shelters, hospitals, and any other religious affiliate does not receive government money. I don’t think you will find many takers for such a chaotic scheme, but maybe it would be more faithful to the separation of Church and state.

    But as things are now, these employers are as entitled to this program as they are to every other program that benefits them right now.

  • Unless the group employing the youth are known for discriminatory policies. Frankly I see no reason for any religious organization to be on the public dime. There is far too much tendency towards sectarian favoritism or exclusion when such things are done.

  • Most programs have riders that say they cannot actively discriminate using the money. Requiring them to actively support abortion access goes beyond not discriminating. It is enforced speech.

  • Hardly. “Actively supporting abortion access” goes by a more common and honest euphemism of leaving women alone on the subject and minding their business.

  • It’s “Kool-aie” TM.

    After the full frontal of the attack on religious freedom by the Obama Administration using Obamacare as the delivery system, no one buys that the “only group trying to restrict religious freedom in this country are Evangelical Christians”.

  • That’s a valid opinion. But opinions do not void a right to free speech. It is wrong to force religious people to advocate for abortion access, just as it would be wrong for a conservative government to come in and mandate progressive non-profits oppose abortion access.

  • That is a heaping dose of nonsense.

    “It is wrong to force religious people to advocate for abortion access”

    Actually it is quite easy and quite moral. Its called just not attacking abortion rights of others. Minding one’s business on the subject and leaving people alone. You are under no obligation to even mention an opposition to abortion.

    You have a need to use dishonest euphemisms and try to reframe the situation. All it really comes down to is not piping up on a subject that one really has no legitimate business bringing up in the first place.

  • In this case, they weren’t even necessarily piping up on the subject at all. The issue isn’t that they were pushing their own opinion, but that they were being required to push the contrary opinion. Being silent wasn’t even an actual option under the previous language.

    What is dishonest is playing off enforced speech as minding one’s own business.

  • Somehow that appears unlikely given the propensity of many conservative Christians to coerce and cajole people into following their beliefs and inability to respect the lives of others.

  • Much as I believe any and all religious groups opposed to abortion are supporters of domestic terrorism and oppressors worthy of sanctions, this is a bridge too far, but, it’s Canada. They don’t value freedom like we do. Since they were the loyalists who supported George III even after we invaded them twice in 1776 and 1812, leave ’em be. Down here in the lower 48 we have no plans to put the likes of our right wing trolls here in reeducation camps because they’re dying a natural death anyway.

  • Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility states, “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”

  • I’m sure you think this should be the law. In the US, however, we already have 1st Amendment jurisprudence on this subject which is not going away any time soon.

  • I’d be for whatever religion and speech environments cause the most people to be the most knowledgeable on tangible subjects, the most wise, and the most kind to themselves and others. We once thought unlimited “freedom” would be the path and such might have been true if only applied to individuals, but not to incorporated entities. As it stands, most people should now know that incorporated influencers have FAR more freedom than people do. If you don’t believe me, try walking out into the world and doing your best imitation of either Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow to your next-door neighbors, your co-shoppers at a store, your boss and coworkers at a workplace, your kids’ school, your local police department, your Friday night high school football game, or your 4th of July picnic at a park. Corporations have big soapboxes. You don’t. Seriously, there is a YUUGGE problem when groups (virtually all literally incorporated) can mouth off at will, but real people are constrained by their actual circumstances and positions in life.

  • Not sure Catholic schools elsewhere other than Ontario have an issue – the dilemma there is the schools typically are fully publicly funded so there is an obligation there in terms of as well. The law school was found to be discriminatory only by defining marriage between a man and woman as the only acceptable arena for sexual intimacy by students – a conundrum when same sex marriage is legal – an issue for law societies who accredit students to act as lawyers.

    Too bad that you pastor received a death threat – very wrong but can’t draw a conclusion from that.

    Last year appears to be a knee jerk reaction to complaints about some programs that had been federally funded and engaged in discriminatory activity.

  • What appears to have happened is correcting something that was complained about that triggered those ticky boxes. Not done well and so corrected application process. Here were the prior complaints that prompted the ticky boxes. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/religious-leaders-call-on-trudeau-to-reverse-funding-policy-for-summer-jobs-program/article37737390/ Way too much work to administer a program that provides taxpayer money to a whack of organizations to give teens summer jobs. for 8 weeks But the idea is that all teens should be able to apply for jobs that interest them or that are in their community and are jobs that are not counter to /or seek to undermine existing laws. Not that you can’t do it but not on taxpayer dollars.

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