Community Life Communique #7

National Chairperson of Community Life Betty Colaneri, January 26, 2018


Canada Summer Jobs Program – Conflict of Religious Freedom

As a Catholic business owner, I was appalled to read that a government program we previously applied for would no longer be an option. According to the Government of Canada website, Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) is an initiative of the Summer Work Experience program that provides wage subsidies to employers to create employment for secondary and post-secondary students. Applications are accepted from small businesses, not-for-profit employers, public sector and faith-based organizations that provide quality summer jobs for students. Unfortunately, the program has been changed. Applicants will now “be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. 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.

The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies.

The objective of the change is to prevent Government of Canada funding from flowing to organizations whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law. This helps prevent youth (as young as 15 years of age) from being exposed to employment within organizations that may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed that he believes passionately in a woman’s right to choose and strongly opposes all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Mr. Trudeau told the National Post, “We are not limiting freedom of expression or freedom of belief in any way, shape or form. We are simply saying that organizations who have the explicit purpose of limiting and eliminating Charter rights like women’s rights do not qualify for government funding.”

Government officials insist that churches and other faith-based groups can still apply for the program if they don’t create jobs specifically dedicated to such things as preventing women from obtaining an abortion. The National Post reported Canada’s Employment Minister, Patty Hajdu, stated, “churches and other religious groups are eligible for a federal grant to hire summer students as long as their core mandate agrees with access to abortion.” She also stated that she is comfortable with the attestation which requires applicants to check a box saying that they have a core mandate that respects “reproductive rights”. The online application can’t be submitted unless the box is checked. The bottom line is, if you don’t tick the box accepting this condition, your application is rejected.

The Toronto Right to Life Association has already filed a federal court case arguing their Charter rights are being violated by this attestation. Blaise Alleyne, president of Toronto Right to Life stated, “Our conscience compels us to not sign that attestation. 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 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement stating the attestation “seriously undermines the right to religious freedom since the Government of Canada is directly limiting the right of religious traditions to hold, teach and practise their principles and values in public. Furthermore, the recently announced policy represents an attempt to restrict the voices of faith communities in Canadian democracy and to limit their participation in the public square.”

What if this is the beginning of other programs that will be affected? Time is of the essence! Contact your local MP and Minister of Employment to voice your concerns. Inform League members, other organizations, businesses and Canadians in general that will be impacted by the change to the program.

Our company for one definitely will not apply for the Canada Summer Jobs program.

Betty Colaneri
National Chairperson of Community Life