A group of all-male Christian leaders descended on Parliament Hill Wednesday to assert their right to not sign a new attestation requiring them to state respect for the right of women to choose whether to have an abortion.
Last month, the government announced all employers seeking federal grants to hire students through the Canada Summer Jobs program will have to state that the organization’s core mandate and the job they want to hire students for will respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights including reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ Canadians to be free from discrimination. The announcement followed a report by Global News.
The change quickly prompted conservative religious groups to claim their right to freedom of belief and freedom of expression were being violated by the move. Employment Minister Patty Hajdu has said the change is designed to prevent groups like the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform from using public money to hire youth to display graphic placards of aborted fetuses.
In their press conference, the Christian leaders made a significant factual error in their characterization of the program when they argued that the attestation requires individual employees who would be hired through the program to state that they respect reproductive rights and rights of all Canadians to be free from discrimination.
“All of a sudden politics comes into this where their favourite counsellor may get rejected for the job,” said Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College. McVety’s evangelical television program was taken off the air in 2010 after complaints it had included discriminatory comments on the basis of sexual orientation, religion and mental disability.
“Why? Because the counsellor refuses to sign an ideology test to support abortion and multiple genders. We believe this is a violation of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we ask the prime minister to reconsider this path. We feel it’s draconian in nature and even communistic from a perspective of application.”
However, the attestation requirement is for employers who submit applications for grants through the program. The employer — not the potential employee — is required to state that the core mandate of the hiring organization and the job they want to hire students for respects rights laid out under the Charter, as well as other rights.
McVety vowed that religious leaders will fight the change in court if they must, and one group has already filed an application to do so.
The Toronto Right to Life Association, an anti-abortion group whose president also works with the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court shortly after the change was announced.
While the constitutional merits of the case have yet to be reviewed, the court threw out a request by the group for an emergency injunction barring the attestation requirement from applying to groups for the program this year.
In her ruling, the justice ruled the allegations by the group that they would suffer irreparable harm were without merit.
The case will now proceed through the court for assessment.
This past weekend, a group of more than 80 pro-choice and human rights groups signed an open letter to Canadian federal leaders applauding the attestation and stressing that there is no right for any group to obtain federal funding.
That was a precedent set in 2014 by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the court case going forward will hinge on whether requiring groups that voluntarily apply for discretionary funding to sign the attestation infringes on their right to hold religious beliefs and to express those beliefs.