Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith has joined many of his counterparts across Canada in recommending employers refuse to sign a controversial and required pro-abortion attestation in applying for a federal Canada Summer Jobs grant.
“This attestation is unacceptable. In effect, it simply excludes any Catholic parish, organization or charity from funding for hiring a summer student,” Archbishop Smith said in a letter released Jan. 23.
The Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa dioceses have made similar recommendations.
“No law confers the right to abortion; in fact, Canada is one of the few Western countries that has no law governing abortion at all,” Archbishop Smith said. “While this so-called ‘right’ or belief may be promoted by the current government, there should be no compulsion on all Canadians to embrace it in order to receive government funding of any kind. It is my hope that the government will hear the sincere protests raised across the country and delete this requirement.”
In the meantime, Archbishop Smith said all Catholic parishes, organizations and charities should not sign the attestation and to let their member of Parliament know why. “Life is a sacred gift from God, to be respected and treasured at all times. This is a simple truth on which we cannot and will not compromise.”
His statement came on the same day Employment Minister Patty Hajdu tried to explain what the attestation means, without, however, changing the wording. She said she hopes faith groups will still apply.
“Government funding should never go to pay for work that seeks to remove Canadians’ rights ̶ like a woman’s right to choose, or LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two-Spirited) rights,” Hajdu said in a statement.
“In 2017, our government heard concerns from Canadians about the Canada Summer Jobs program. It came to our attention that funding was being used to undermine the rights of Canadians. For example, funding was used to support organizations that distribute graphic images of aborted fetuses, and organizations that do not welcome LGBTQ2 young people at their youth programs.”
However, the attestation is far more broad than a government policy change to aimed at refusing funding to organizations and jobs solely dedicated to prolife or pro-traditional marriage activism.
Hajdu offered a supplementary glossary to define the terms.
“The ‘organization’ refers to the entity that is directly applying to use CSJ funding,” she writes. “The core mandate is the primary activities undertaken by the organization that reflect the organization’s ongoing services provided to the community. It is not the beliefs of the organization, and it is not the values of the organization.”
The minister then outlines examples of activities that are eligible under the program, such as faith-based groups with anti-abortion or pro-traditional marriage beliefs that wants to hire camp counsellors; serve meals to the homeless or deliver services to seniors would all be eligible to apply.
“There doesn’t appear to be any change,” said Neil McCarthy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
“There is still a requirement to check an attestation box that endorses values that are not part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that would run counter to the conscience and beliefs of countless religious organizations and many other Canadians.”
Archbishop Smith noted that Catholics support the Charter, including the freedom of conscience and religion and the freedom of expression. “Clearly, the government is infringing these same rights by imposing and insisting upon the new requirement.”
The Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, which does not engage in any partisan political activity, is seeking an injunction in Federal Court against the attestation pending a judicial review.
“We’re asking that the Federal Court stay the hand of the government in implementing that attestation, pending the judicial review,” said Blaise Alleyne, president of the TRTL. “It is not illegal to advocate for social reform or to hold and share beliefs that are contrary to the government’s. All that we do in our work is exercise our Charter-protected freedom of expression.
“The government cannot punish us for simply holding and sharing different beliefs — the Charter protects our right to do so,” Alleyne added. “We don’t believe the minister has the jurisdiction to compel speech that would violate our conscience rights, or else punish us by withholding a benefit that the government is making publicly available.”
The TRTL sued the government when it was denied funding last year for a Summer Jobs grant, and received the monies they asked for when the Employment ministry settled.
Asking for a stay on the attestation is the “first step in litigation,” said Calgary-based constitutional lawyer Carol Crosson, who represented the prolife group. “We asked for it broadly, that it not be in operation until a hearing on the merits.”
Crosson said the Federal Court justice reserved judgment after a Jan. 19th hearing, but told her she would issue a decision soon, since the deadline for applying for summer jobs is Feb. 2.
– With files from Grandin Media