A brief history of the Canada Summer Jobs “kerfuffle”

16/01/2019 / Action Items 

A glance at the history of the Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle makes it apparent that it was and is all about the pro-life movement.

It all started when the government realized that groups like the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) were using the program to fund summer internships. CCBR’s summer interns were trained in pro-life apologetics to shed light on the reality of abortion, and to persuade Canadians to recognize human rights for pre-born children. In 2017, the government decided to refuse their application. However, they did not have a justifiable reason for doing so and ended up paying CCBR in a legal settlement.

The government then decided to create a reason for rejecting applications like CCBR’s. Enter the infamous 2018 application requiring all applicants to attest that they respect “reproductive rights”. Whether they intended it or not, this new attestation not only prevented pro-life groups from applying, but also impacted soup kitchens, camps, schools and many other applicants who found the attestation to be against their consciences.

The backlash against the attestation was strong from all sides, with most major media outlets criticizing the way the attestation flouted the Charter guarantees of freedom of belief and expression. Many Canadians objected on the grounds of denying applicants based on their personal convictions. Whether they were pro-life or not, they didn’t want the government creating an ideological screening test for programs.

The government tried to convince us that it was not an ideological test, and to assure religious Canadians that it was indeed not against their conscience to attest that they respect abortion. However, they found that Canadians did not readily allow the government to dictate what does and does not go against their conscience. Many did not apply for the program, and over 1,500 applications were submitted without the appropriate box checked, and were denied funding.

The 2019 application

Whether for political expediency, fear of a lawsuit, or because they honestly only meant to block pro-life organizations, the government in December reassessed and revised the summer jobs application.  Rather than an attestation requiring respect for “reproductive rights”, the government now lists activities that are ineligible for funds. On the ineligible list are activities that “weaken or limit a woman’s ability to access sexual and reproductive health services,” which they definitively clarify as including abortion.

If you’re considering applying for funding, I refer you to the Canadian Council of Christian Charities’ analysis. As a more general analysis, I want to point out two improvements to the 2019 application.

#1: There is no mention of “reproductive rights”. Whether it was because of the outcry from religious stakeholders across Canada, the media’s scrutiny, or MP Ted Falk’s interjection in the House of Commons that “It’s not a right”, the language of “reproductive rights” is gone. While they have yet to recognize abortion as a human rights violation, it is encouraging to see the revised language that removes the reference to the made-up misnomer “reproductive rights”.

It is disheartening to see them perpetuate the myth of abortion as a health service, but at least they have the legal classification correct this time.

#2: No one is being asked to attest that they respect abortion. This is a fantastic development. Whether applicants are pro-life or pro-choice, religious or secular, it is better that they do not have to attest that they respect abortion. For those who checked the box, whatever their views previously, that attestation has an impact on them and their view of abortion. It helps cement the idea of abortion as a legal right and something positive. It is good news that applicants are no longer being compelled to say they respect abortion.

This is still about the pro-life movement

The combined benefits of the changes make it likely that many who were blocked by the previous attestation may access the program this year. But don’t forget how this all started, and what this is all about. This is about the pro-life movement. This is about blocking groups like CCBR, and pregnancy care centres, from accessing these funds, because this government does not like their pro-life views.

I’m happy to point out the positive changes in the new attestation, but it in no way assuages my concerns. The government is still trying to block those seeking to educate Canadians about human rights, fetal development, and the need for Canadians to care about this injustice. The government is still trying to block those seeking to come alongside women facing unplanned pregnancy, counsel them, and assist them in choosing life for their pre-born child.

This is still not ok. Write to your MP today and ask them to stop excluding pro-life organizations from the Canada summer jobs program.


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