Blaise Alleyne protests abortion at the Ryerson University Campus with the group Toronto Against Abortion, Jan. 2017. Screen capture from "Abortion activists clash at Ryerson"/Ryersonian TV

Pro-lifers go to court over federal summer jobs policy

  • January 11, 2018
OTTAWA – Faith-based groups and pro-life organizations are mobilizing to fight a new federal government policy to only give summer job grants to employers who endorse abortion.

The Toronto Right to Life Association has sued the federal government over the edict announced just before Christmas. The policy requires all applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program to sign a statement attesting support for “safe and legal” abortion and gender identity theory.

Canada Summer Jobs provides wage subsidies to eligible employers to encourage them to hire high school and university-aged students.

“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 on Jan. 4 for a judicial review.

They are seeking to have the “attestation be declared unconstitutional” because it contravenes Charter rights to freedom of conscience and religious freedom, as well as freedom of expression and equality rights, Alleyne said.

“It’s not illegal to disagree with the government on a social issue,” he said.

The Toronto Right to Life Association successfully sued the government last year. It joined with the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform and Guelph Right to Life after the three groups were denied summer jobs grants due to pro-life positions.

The government settled the suit by paying them the funds to which they were entitled under the program.  Then it re-wrote the funding criteria for 2018 to explicitly require applicants to affirm that the “core mandate of the organization” and the jobs it creates respect a woman’s reproductive rights, as well as several other rights, including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Canadians in general should be concerned about this issue, no matter where they stand on abortion, Alleyne said.

Jack Fonseca, a spokesperson for Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro-life movement, supports the lawsuit.
“It’s important when all else fails we go to court,” he said.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) are urging people to write to the Minister of Employment and their local MP. 

“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 CCCC at its website.

David Guretzki, the EFC’s vice president, said the EFC hopes to rally an interfaith coalition to oppose the change in policy.

The EFC has received responses from at least 120 organizations and businesses that will be adversely affected by the new policy, Guretzki said. They provide a wide range of services — from youth programming to work with Indigenous populations and the homeless — that may be compromised, he said.

“This is an employment grant. 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 application deadline for the program is Feb. 2.

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