OTTAWA –Faith-based groups and pro-life groups are mobilizing to fight the Liberal government’s new Canada Summer Jobs policy both in the political arena and before the courts.
The Toronto Right to Life Association has sued the federal government over the new policy announced just before Christmas requiring all applicants to the government program to sign a statement attesting support for “safe and legal” abortion and gender identity theory.
“Our conscience compels us to not sign that attestation,” said Blaise Alleyne, president of Toronto Right to Life. “It is a violation of our freedom of conscience and freedom of expression for the government to compel speech or else punish us by withholding an unrelated benefit.”
The pro-life educational group filed a request for a judicial review Jan. 4, asking that the “attestation be declared unconstitutional,” based on Charter rights to freedom of conscience and religious freedom; freedom of expression and equality rights, Alleyne said.
“It’s not illegal to disagree with the government on a social issue.”
Christopher Simard, a spokesman for Human Resources Development Canada, said faith groups are encouraged to apply for the Canada Summer Jobs Program.
However, they do have to outline their mandate and they must ensure they respect Charter rights as well as the federal government’s commitment to “women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”
The Toronto Right to Life Association had successfully sued the government last year, along with the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform and Guelph Right to Life after these groups were denied funding under the program.
“We were successful in that the government was forced to settle and gave us the money we had been denied,” Alleyne said.
However, because the government settled, there is no court ruling on the matter.
The application deadline for the program is Feb. 2.
“We’re trying to deal with this urgently, but we have no idea how quickly this will proceed through the court,” Alleyne said.
While Toronto Right to Life is working with other groups, Alleyne said Canadians in general should be concerned about this issue, no matter where they stand on abortion.
“We’re very pleased that this educational pro-life group is suing the government and taking that action,” said Jack Fonseca, a spokesperson for Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro-life movement.
“It’s important when all else fails we go to court.”
Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) have both responded to the policy changes and are urging people to write to the Minister of Employment and their local MP. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities is also mobilizing its members at www.cccc.org.
“A literal reading of this policy would prevent churches, summer camps, soup kitchens, and many other Christian and religious charities from having access to the Canada Summer Jobs program,” said the CCC at its website www.councilofchurches.ca/
David Guretzki, the EFC’s vice president and resident theologian, said they hope to rally an interfaith coalition to respond to the change in policy.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is “working closely on this with the EFC, as well as considering other possible approaches,” said Rene Laprise, the CCCB’s director of communications.
The EFC has received responses from at least 120 organizations and businesses that will be affected by the change in policy, Guretzki said.
They provide a wide range of services, from youth programming, to work with Indigenous populations and the homeless. “Without that help, they are not going to be able to offer these services and the communities will suffer.”
“This is an employment grant,” he said. “We’re trying to understand how this doesn’t open the door to all kinds of places where the government could say unless you pass an ideological test we don’t have to give you services.”
The timing is “a big concern of ours,” Guretzki said. “It came the week before Christmas and so all of this has taken place in last two weeks over the Christmas break. The MPs are in their ridings; Parliament not sitting.”
In some communities, Christian organizations are the only ones running programs such as summer youth programs. Without the grant, these programs may not be run and the “whole community suffers, he said.
The EFC has produced resources for people to learn about the changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program as well as sample letters to MPs at www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/Topics/Rel … icy-Change.
The EFC is urging people to meet with their MP while they are in their riding before Parliament returns Jan. 29.