By Jonathon Van Maren
While Justin Trudeau may hope the “kerfuffle” over his government’s decision to insert an “attestation” requirement demanding that applicant groups indicate their support for abortion into the Canada Summer Jobs application process will soon die down, the backlash may only continue to grow. Considering how many people showed up today at a Pentecostal office building in Toronto, the implications of Trudeau’s new policy are just beginning to be realized and felt.
There were about sixty people gathered there by my count, at an event hosted by Conservative Member of Parliament Alex Nuttall and featuring a panel of Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim speakers. There was an incredible diversity of faith groups represented: Muslims, Baptists, Reformed Protestants, Sikhs, Hindus, Coptic Christians, the Jewish community, Evangelicals, and the Serbian Orthodox Church all turned out for the discussion, which largely centered around the impact of the attestation on the work these religious groups carry out.
Attendee after attendee rose to describe the work that will be prevented by the attestation requirement: Summer camps, charitable outreach, youth sports programs, counselling, civic engagement initiatives, language training, job skills training, arts programs, crisis pregnancy assistance, and soup kitchens were just a few listed off. One father noted that many parents rely on these programs as a valuable and cost-effective alternative to daycare, and another attendee noted that small businesses that are contracted by faith-based organizations to provide job training skills for students hired through the Canada Summer Jobs Program would also be hit.
Many people were simply outraged by the fact that the federal government had the gall to demand that groups sign any kind of attestation at all, while others pointed out that the government demand constituted compelled speech—especially for groups that wished to remain neutral on the abortion issue and were upset that the government was forcing them to choose a side in order to apply for a government program that had once been open to all Canadian. The National Post and CTV came in briefly with cameras, and then left. I see that a few attendees spoke with the Post after the discussion ended, and their quotes summarize the sentiments of those present:
Ibrahim Hindy, an imam at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre in Mississauga, said his mosque is struggling over what to do. “I came to take it all in and hear the concerns that people were having,” he said. “We were going to apply this year, and we’re still discussing whether or not we will…Some people are asking, does this conflict with our beliefs? If the person has an orthodox understanding of scriptures, is this asking the person to contradict those?”
Father Niaz Toma, a Chaldean Catholic priest, said his community of Iraqi Christians won’t be able to apply for the grant, and referred to the attestation as a “persecution” of his people. “We will never compromise our faith for the sake of grants to be received from the Canadian government,” he said. “Seemingly, the attempt is to be inclusive. But the end result is exclusivity, blocking certain groups.”
…Hindy said many of the attendees at Tuesday’s meeting worried that attestations would start to become the norm in Canada, and “values tests” would be applied to more federal programs. “For example, we’ve seen in Quebec with the niqab issue where the government there said, ‘We don’t like the niqab, so if you wear the niqab you don’t get access to any public service,’” he said. “We’ve seen these kind of values tests before, and they’re not in the spirit, I believe, of what Canada’s all about.”
The meeting was both productive and encouraging. A wide range of religious communities were connecting, realizing how much they had in common, and agreeing that religious freedom had to be protected on behalf of all Canadians of faith. It was encouraging to see the sheer diversity of religious groups that were refusing to sign off on the attestation, and could not agree with the government’s position on abortion. It appears that the interfaith response to this move could resemble the collective pushback against the Liberal attempt to repeal a law that banned disrupting a worship service.
Justin Trudeau may be about to find out just how many religious groups in this country are morally opposed to abortion—and that these groups deeply resent being told that they must parrot the government line, or be excluded from government programs intended for all Canadians. If the anger of the attendees at today’s meeting is any indication, this “kerfuffle” will not be dying down anytime soon.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.