The Federal Court has taken the unusual move of granting expedited proceedings to a legal challenge brought by anti-abortion activists who argue that the so-called “attestation” the government now demands of applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program violates the constitution.
According to documents filed with Federal Court, the government requested the court allow the matter to proceed as a “specially managed proceeding,” and the Toronto Right to Life Association agreed.
The Federal Court defines specially managed proceedings as those “taken out of the usual flow” so they can move ahead at the direction of a case management judge.
A case management judge for this case was appointed on March 5.
In the application for the expedited proceedings, an official from the Department of Justice said all parties wanted the case resolved speedily.
“Given the nature of the program and the fact it concludes this summer, the parties would both like the early scheduling of a hearing of the judicial review application itself to avoid delay,” said Kerry Boyd, counsel for the Department of Justice.
“A case management judge will help secure the most just, expeditious and least expensive determination of this application.”
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says no religious group will be barred from summer jobs grant
Paul Champ, a human rights lawyer in Ottawa who regularly deals with cases that appear before the Federal Court, said the move is unusual and likely indicates concerns about the time-sensitive nature of the case.
“It is not standard,” he told Global News.
“The purpose of this thing being case managed is to have it heard expeditiously. They will come up with a tight schedule for service and cross examination of affidavits, filing written arguments, and hearing of the case. My guess is that they should be able to get a hearing date by May, or perhaps even sooner, depending on what they are prepared to do.”
So far, the Toronto Right to Life Association has filed all of its evidence to the court.
An affidavit from the government is due by the middle of March.
After that, Champ says it’s likely cross-examinations — if they take place — could be done by the end of the month.
The court would then likely have final arguments heard sometime in May.
Champ represented the Canadian Arab Federation when the group argued before Federal Court in 2014 that a decision by then-immigration minister Jason Kenney not to renew a contract with the organization because of views its leaders had expressed over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amounted to discrimination.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled the group had no right to federal funding, so the decision was not discriminatory.
A federal source has indicated to Global News that the government views that precedent as support for the Canada Summer Jobs attestation, and Champs said he does not expect to see them settle in the lawsuit given both cases dealt with similar issues.
“I don’t see a settlement happening in this case,” he said.
“We were really arguing the same constitutional issue here – i.e., about whether government can deny grants or contracts due to the beliefs or expressive activities of the organization.”
WATCH BELOW: Employment Minister Patty Hajdu defends requiring groups to affirm respect for rights to get funds
In December, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu announced the government was changing the rules for organizations looking to apply for federal grants to hire students for summer jobs.
Under the new rules, organizations must check off a box in their online application that contains an attestation stating that both their core mandate and the job they want to use federal funds to fill, both respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights and associated case law.
“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,” reads the attestation on the application form.
The change came after a series of reports showing anti-abortion groups such as the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform had used the program to obtain roughly $3.5 million in public funds in recent years.