Eighty pro-choice and human rights groups including Oxfam Canada have signed an open letter applauding the government’s move to require all groups seeking funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program to sign an attestation stating they support Canadian constitutional rights as well as the right to reproductive choice.
The letter, coordinated by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights and National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), praises the government for a move advocates have said targets anti-abortion and anti-gay groups to restrict their access to federal funds being used to support activities that seek to restrict access to abortion or discriminate against LGBTQ Canadians.
Announced last month following a report by Global News, the attestation all groups seeking federal funding through the program are required to sign states that both the organizational mandate and duties of the job that will be funded through the grants 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 attestation states.
The change to the program — which is a vehicle for the government to subsidize summer employment of students between the ages of 15 and 30 who intend to return to school in the fall — specifically targets anti-gay and anti-abortion groups which use the program for activities such as displaying and distributing graphic posters of bloody fetuses.
Employment Minister Patty Hajdu has singled out the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, which has received tens of thousands of dollars through the program over the last several years, as an example of the kind of groups whose efforts to restrict the right of Canadian women to access abortion mean they should not be allowed to obtain federal funds.
While abortion is not listed as a right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that the law on the books at the time that restricted abortion was unconstitutional.
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However, conservative religious groups have accused the government of violating their right to freedom of belief and freedom of conscience by requiring them to sign the attestation, which they say forces them to betray their beliefs.
An anti-abortion group launched a lawsuit at the Federal Court in December 2017, alleging the attestation requirement is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, asking the court to reverse the change.
But in an open letter sent on Sunday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Quebecois Leader Martine Ouellet, and 80 pro-choice and human rights groups say they support the attestation.
“We are confident that the safeguards introduced to the CSJ program are not discriminatory, and do not represent any infringement on freedom of religion, conscience, or any other rights that people in Canada enjoy,” the letter states.
“The attestation does not force any organization or institutions to, for example, engage in work to promote access to abortion or perform same-sex marriage if they do not wish to do so. Nor does it require any individual employee in any organization to change their religious beliefs. These new safeguards are designed to ensure that federal grant monies are not used to fund discriminatory activities that undermine human rights, including as they relate to bodily autonomy, sexuality, gender identity and expression.”
Among those groups whose signatures are attached to the letter are Oxfam Canada, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, Catholics for Choice, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Planned Parenthood Ottawa, the Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Egale Canada, YMCA Canada and the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law Policy & Ethics also signed the letter, as did rape crisis centres and university women’s centres from across the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the decision in recent weeks, including at a town hall earlier this month where he blasted anti-abortion groups as being out of sync with Canadian society.
He said the government will not fund any groups that actively seek to restrict women from accessing abortion.