Though the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) pro-abortion attestation still comes up for debate in Parliament, the controversy has moved to the courts.
On April 30, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announced it has filed a lawsuit against the federal Minister of Employment Patty Hadju on behalf of A-1 Irrigation & Technical Services, a small Alberta family-owned business.
Rhea Lynne Anderson and William Anderson, a married couple residing near Brooks, Alta. are the sole owners of A-1, which specializes in “ecologically responsible irrigation services” for local farmers applied for a Canada Summer Jobs grant to hire a student, but refused to check the “I attest” box on the application.
“The court application seeks a declaration that the new attestation requirement violates section Charter 2(a) and 2(b) freedoms of conscience and expression,” the Justice Centre said.
“The new attestation requirement also breaches the duty of state neutrality, because it compels the Andersons to profess their agreement with, and ostensibly adopt, specific beliefs and values in order to qualify for a government benefit to which they would otherwise be entitled.”
The lawsuit also seeks declarations the required attestation violates section 32 of the Charter “by compelling private entities to assume the legal obligations of the Charter that only the government is required to honour,” and that it is “ultra vires the authority of federal government. The Andersons also want a court order to “strike the new attestation requirement” and approve their CSJ application.
“My husband and I, and our business, comply fully with human rights legislation, and with all federal, provincial and municipal laws,” said Rhea Lynne Anderson in an affidavit.
“The New Attestation Requirement is not simply a commitment to comply with legislation, but instead asks us to agree with the government’s ‘values’ and to be bound by the Charter as though we are government actors.”
“Agreeing or disagreeing with abortion, or with a man’s ‘right’ to be called a woman if he thinks that he is a woman, has nothing to do with the purpose of Canada Summer Jobs,” said constitutional lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.
“This is pure ideological coercion: telling Canadians that they must agree with certain beliefs in order to access a government program which they have paid for with their own tax dollars.”
Meanwhile a lawsuit against Minister Hadju filed earlier this year by the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area (TRTL) is scheduled for a June 19 court date.
“We’re arguing the attestation is compelled speech and it’s a blatant violation of the charter rights of free speech,” said Carol Crosson, one of the lawyers representing TRTL. They are also arguing that under Section 15 of the Charter, the “government has to treat individuals in Canada equally. It can’t discriminate on the basis of their opinion and on the basis of their belief.”
“The purpose of the [CSJ] program does not encompass the right to screen a citizen’s beliefs,” Crosson said.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights has been approved as an intervener on the government’s side. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has applied for intervener status on the side of the plaintiff, Crosson said.
The lawyers have been receiving affidavits from the various parties, and has been able to cross-examine witnesses.
The federal government’s response to the lawsuit said the Minister received complaints about CSJ funding going to groups that “were distributing very graphic pictures of aborted fetuses or would not hire LGBTQ2 youth” and were working to take away “rights” of Canadians.
“The decision to implement an Attestation for the CSJ program is consistent with the Government of Canada’s broader policy and priorities related to human rights and women’s reproductive rights,” said the government affidavit.
“The Government has publicly articulated its position on promoting
Crosson said the government affidavit revealed the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) “went to the government repeatedly, consistently and adamantly to ask the government to restrict funding to groups that have a different opinion on abortion than the ARCC.”
The attestation remains a hot topic in the House of Commons, especially after news broke the CSJ was funding a job with an environmental group dedicated to organizing anti-pipeline protests.
On April 25, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre of the Carleton, Ont. riding. brought up Waupoos Farm, a Catholic charity in his riding “that provides free vacations to poor families that could not otherwise afford one.”
“The Prime Minister cut its summer jobs funding this year because it refused to attest to supporting his ideology, and yet today he claims that an organization that seeks a summer student for the express purpose to ‘stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline’ gets the money under the Prime Minister’s defence of free speech,” Poilievre said. “Why does free speech only apply to those trying to kill Canadian jobs and not to those trying to help the less fortunate?”
“Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party of Canada is the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we will always stand up to defend Canadians’ charter rights,” Trudeau responded.
“Organizations that cannot ensure that they will abide by the principles in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that indeed will work to take away the charter rights of Canadians, will not get funding from this government.
“Mr. Speaker, we just witnessed the Prime Minister accuse the Waupoos Farm of attacking the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Poilievre, “This is an organization that provides low-income families with a rare recreational opportunity, the chance to have a vacation that they could not otherwise afford. It does not impose any values of any kind on those families. Waupoos Farm invites them and gives them an opportunity to recreate together and grow.”
“As a general matter, and as a charitable organization dedicated exclusively to serving families in need, we prefer not to comment on exchanges made during Question Period in the House of Commons,” said P. Owen Brown, treasurer of the Waupoos board of directors.
“Waupoos only learned within the past week that we will not be receiving Canada Summer Jobs funding this summer,” Brown said. “Our Board is assessing various options for ensuring adequate personnel resources to be able to welcome visiting families in need later this summer.”
Brown said they are considering fundraising, but added the loss of the CSJ funding will “hinder our ability to operate.”
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines protection of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression,” Brown said.
“Waupoos remains deeply concerned and troubled that the attestation requirement in the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs program will have the practical effect of trespassing upon and violating these freedoms.”