By Jonathon Van Maren
Despite the fact that many Liberal Members of Parliament desperately want their government to back off the abortion attestation they inserted into the Canada Summer Jobs Program, it seems that Employment Minister Patti Hadju is refusing to back down. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a statement yesterday indicating that all attempts at negotiation have gone nowhere—despite Hadju offering a tacit admission of guilt by suggesting that she might be willing to consider changes to the attestation next year. From a joint letter released by the CCCB:
In January of this year, we asked to sit down with the government to find a path forward. In the interim, we invited those sharing our deep concern to write, call or meet with their elected Member of Parliament, respectfully expressing these concerns.
We know that more than 1,400 applications have been denied, compared to 126 in 2017. It is no coincidence that the number of rejections has spiked due to the controversial attestation.
Hundreds of concerned groups did check the box, but amended the attestation to instead confirm that they will abide by the laws of Canada in their hiring practices and all other activities. Applications that failed to check the box, or did so with qualification or clarification were sent back as incomplete. Most were then resubmitted, asking for an accommodation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In spite of our ongoing efforts at dialogue with the government, which culminated in a meeting with Minister Hajdu on Wednesday March 21, and our persistent requests that the problematic attestation be amended or removed, it has been made clear to us by the Minister that there will be no accommodation provided, and no changes made to the attestation for this year. Applicants that did not “check the box” will be ineligible for a Canada Summer Jobs grant in 2018.
The Minister has also indicated that changes will be made to the application for 2019 to provide greater clarity and precision. However, many of our organizations remain concerned that the question of ‘reproductive rights criteria’ and other undefined values will remain present in the application form in 2019.
While we welcome a review of the application process for 2019 and have asked the Minister to be included in the process of changing the policy, we are extremely disappointed that the government has chosen not to make adjustments to the program for this year. This leaves hundreds of programs across the country vulnerable. These groups must now consider modifying or cancelling programs, while others will be forced to launch emergency fundraising campaigns. It is disheartening to think that this whole situation could have been avoided.
As faith leaders, we will continue to raise our collective voices and encourage others to advocate for changes to the program and, most importantly, to respect the diverse views and beliefs of all Canadians.
The number of faith leaders who signed this statement should strike fear into Liberal hearts:
Mr. Bruce Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler
Rabbinical Council of America
Mr. Derek B.M. Ross, Executive Director & General Counsel
Christian Legal Fellowship
Rev. John Pellowe , Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Council of Christian Charities
Mrs. Margaret Ann Jacobs, National President
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada
Dr. M. Iqbal Nadvi, Chair
Canadian Council of Imams
His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto
Representing: The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Trudeau’s employment minister rejected attempts by these leaders to reach a compromise despite the fact that those leaders proposed an alternative attestation that essentially swore to uphold Canadian law and to support the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But again, the message from the Liberals to faith communities was a simple one: Sign off on our list of ideological beliefs or get lost. Only one Liberal MP voted with the Tories to amend the attestation, and the NDP’s David Christopherson was disciplined by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh for doing the same. Interestingly, Singh was forced to back down and reinstate Christopherson as the vice-chair of the parliamentary procedure and House affairs committee after backlash from his own caucus.
If the Trudeau Liberals had been willing to sit down with faith leaders and reach some sort of compromise, the Canada Summer Jobs “kerfuffle” could have perhaps been laid to rest for some of those outraged by Liberal overreach. With this final rejection of overtures from faith communities of every stripe, the Liberals have ensured that this issue will dog them right into 2019.
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