By DAVID JOHNSON
THERE SEEMS TO BE a massive amount of rhetoric with the new attestation requirements of the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) Program.
There is a lot of misunderstanding and incorrect rhetoric about what the CSJ actually is, and how even local media is playing it, and the argument is being used to threaten to reopen the abortion debate in Canada. Got your attention?
Let’s start with some facts. The CSJ program funds employers to hire students and summer employees. Organizations that want to use the available federal funding made available by the CSJ program, now need to sign an attestation as part of that application.
They will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights and the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Unfortunately, the “include reproductive rights” part inflamed the religious and pro-life advocates and apologists, and they have managed to turn church groups against making the attestation. In response, the government added supplementary Information to the program website.
There they differentiate the ‘activities’ of a group and the ‘beliefs’ of a group that wants to apply for funding from the program. It discusses that a hiring group’s beliefs are not a factor in eligibility. Pro-life and church groups have received the CSJ funding before and that will not change.
What has changed are the groups that actively and functionally inhibits or blocks the rights of an individual regarding Charter protections. The attestation requires the hiring organization to respect individual human rights and ensures that the job or the employer do not seek to actively undermine existing rights.
Trudeau in a town hall meeting said that this requirement “does not prevent people who believe that life begins from conception or even people who express that belief from applying. Rather it is the people who ACT on those beliefs, and ACTIVELY restrict the rights of women, they will be ineligible to apply.”
Crisis pregnancy centers today tell women of their pro-life beliefs and offer support, but they don’t actually restrict women from accessing abortion.
Pro-life apologists express their beliefs in an effort to change Canadian’s minds, they would not be refused. Pro-life advocates express their beliefs to politicians or judges in an attempt to influence the law. They also do not, by action, actually restrict the rights of women, so they would not be refused.
When would they be refused? Let’s say a woman is fired BECAUSE she had an abortion … or an organization refuses to allow an employee to get an abortion. Actions like this are contrary to the Charter as they remove individuals’ rights. That employer would not be entitled to receive funding under this program. It is not their beliefs; it was the actions that were counter to the Charter.
Employers are not being asked to attest that their ‘beliefs’ are congruent with the Charter; they are, though, attesting that their actual ‘actions’ are aligned with the Charter. This really isn’t a stretch as a vast majority of these community groups will not actively stop a woman from obtaining an abortion. Recommend … sure. Counsel … you bet, but not actually interfere. This is all geared toward the tiny fraction who would actually do just that.
When groups attest to respect reproductive rights, there is no inherent conflict with their belief, and no conscience breaking misalignment, as they are not being told that they cannot have belief, which is actually protected by the Charter.
We would all hope that these groups would be proud to say that they do not force Charter breaking acts on others, and … day in, day out … they don’t.
It’s OK to say that you don’t actually do wrong.
What we all need to be aware of is how misinformation is leading people into believing that the government is forcing pro-choice down the throats of local churches and workplaces, in some pro-life doomsday policy. If that is what you have been told, it is incorrect.
Now we get to the reason the government has done this. What this is about is enshrining the ideology of the Charter, in the mechanisms of government and how it funnels federal money into programs that benefit us all. Let’s keep in mind that the federal government has no choice but to uphold the Charter as it is. It is not outside the realm of reasonable, to see this step of direct referral to the Charter. We will see more of this in the future.
The Trudeau government has found a way to bring the Charter into a potentially corrosive area; recognise everyone’s Charter right to have a belief, as well as ensure the individual right to choice, and all the while, stay out of court.
The real question here, is to ask ourselves if we want public dollars used to provide paid, employed staff for groups that will not actively abide by the Charter, and Canadian case law, and actually do harm to a Canadian by removing their rights and freedoms? Do we want our tax dollars to support groups who would do this?
The pro-life groups are now trying to figure out if there is a way through this to reopen the abortion debate, and force the issue into court once again. The court will undoubtedly see nothing wrong with federal funding being in alignment with the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But today … there is noise that is bereft of the facts, misunderstandings abound and headlines shout the rhetoric.
And that does no one any good.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian. For more details on the Summer Jobs program, click here to go to the government’s website page.