Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says the decision to require that applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program sign an attestation stating they respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as LGBT and reproductive rights in Canada, came after her department received complaints from Canadians last year about organizations that refused to hire gay youth or that used youth to hand out graphic placards.
She also clarified exactly what kinds of groups the government wants to restrict funding to and stressed the attestation is intended to single out activities that do not respect Canadians’ rights – not beliefs that might oppose them.
Speaking in Toronto on Tuesday to announce funding aimed at supporting the Youth Employment Service, Hajdu said the move comes as the government tries to focus resources onto jobs that provide Canadian youth with the opportunities that prepare them for real-world work and repeated comments she has made in recent weeks that the attestation is not about targeting faith groups.
“Last year we heard a whole bunch of complaints from citizens across Canada and organizations about some of the organizations receiving funds that said some of the organizations receiving funds were actually working actively to undermine Canadians’ rights,” she said.
“For example, organizations that are anti-abortion distributing very graphic pictures of aborted fetuses or organizations that won’t hire LGBTQ members or young people. We know that these are a fundamental violation of the rights that Canadians expect, so we’re asking organizations this year to attest that the activities they conduct as an organization and the job description will respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
As Global News reported last month, the government implemented an attestation as part of the application for the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs program that will require employers seeking government funding to subsidize the cost of hiring students for summer jobs to affirm that both they and the job they want to hire students for will “respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”
The attestation states that those other rights 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.”
READ MORE: Canada Summer Jobs Supplementary Information
Hajdu also offered more clarity on exactly what kinds of activities the attestation is seeking to crack down on, and offered new definitions for how the government defines two of the core concepts in the attestation.
In a supplementary information notice posted to the Canada Summer Jobs program website on Tuesday, the government said it considered the core mandate of a group for the purposes of the attestation “the primary activities undertaken by the organization.”
“It is not the beliefs of the organization, and it is not the values of the organization,” the notice states.
As well, the definition of respect used by the government in the context of the requirement for groups to state they respect core rights states that it means “individual human rights are respected when an organization’s primary activities, and the job responsibilities, do not seek to remove or actively undermine these existing rights.”
The notice used the example of groups whose activities “are focused on removing, or actively undermining existing women’s reproductive rights” and stressed “this organization would not be eligible to apply” for funding through the program.
However, it also pointed to another example, that of “a faith-based organization with anti-abortion beliefs [that] applies for funding to hire students to serve meals to the homeless.”
According to the clarification notice, if the students hired would be responsible for meal planning, buying groceries, and serving meals, “this organization would be eligible to apply.”
Hajdu singled out the example of the Canadian Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform and its use of young staff to distribute graphic pamphlets of aborted fetuses specifically in her comments about the changes.
The group has been at the centre of repeated cases of distributing graphic pamphlets featuring images of bloody and dismembered fetuses into home mailboxes across Canada in recent years in an effort to oppose abortion.
“When we heard complaints from Canadians and organizations last year that some organizations, such as the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform for example, were using those government funds in a way to create graphic pamphlets that featured aborted fetuses as a way to shame women about reproductive rights, we took those complaints seriously,” she said.
An anti-abortion group in Toronto has filed a lawsuit against the government in Federal Court alleging that requiring them to sign the attestation in order to qualify for government funding is a violation of their rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
WATCH ABOVE: Employers should have no problem with new attestations on reproductive rights: Hajdu
That case will hinge on a number of key questions.
First will be the question of what kinds of actions governments can require from individuals.
For example, requiring the signing of certain contracts or agreements to abide by specific employment and human rights is allowed, but how far does that ability extend when it comes to attestations over other rights and values?
The next part of that question will be whether requiring an attestation of values infringes on the right to freedom of expression or religion — and if so, whether that infringement is reasonable.
Compounding that question is the legal precedent that while individuals have the right to free expression and belief, they do not have the right to public funds to advocate those views.
Hajdu was asked about how the government is preparing for the legal challenge.
She said the government is prepared to defend its decision and seemed to suggest the attestation had been prepared by lawyers for the government.
“What we’ve decided is we believe in the law of Canada and what the law of Canada says is that Canadians have a right to live their lives free from discrimination, and we’ll be prepared to support our decision,” she said.
“Of course the Government of Canada has lawyers that prepare attestations for us.”