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Pro-life groups sue Canadian government over funding

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario (CNS)

Faith-based groups and pro-life organisations are mobilizing to fight a new federal government policy that allows summer job grants only for employers who endorse abortion.

The Toronto Right to Life Association has sued the federal government over the policy, announced just before Christmas. The policy requires all applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program to sign a statement attesting support for “safe and legal” abortion and gender identity theory.

Canada Summer Jobs provides wage subsidies to eligible charity and small-business employers to encourage them to hire high school and university-age students.

“Our conscience compels us to not sign that attestation,” said Blaise Alleyne, president of Toronto Right to Life. “It is a violation of our freedom of conscience and freedom of expression for the government to compel speech or else punish us by withholding an unrelated benefit.”

The pro-life educational group is seeking to have the “attestation be declared unconstitutional” because it contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Alleyne said.

“It’s not illegal to disagree with the government on a social issue,” he said.

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The Toronto Right to Life Association successfully sued the government last year. It joined with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and Guelph & Area Right to Life after the three groups were denied summer jobs grants due to pro-life positions.

The government settled that suit by paying them the funds to which they were entitled under the program. Then it rewrote the funding criteria for 2018 to explicitly require applicants to affirm that the “core mandate of the organization” and the jobs it creates respect a woman’s reproductive rights, as well as several other rights, including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Canadians, in general, should be concerned about this issue, no matter where they stand on abortion, Alleyne said.

Jack Fonseca, a spokesman for Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro-life movement, supports the lawsuit.

“It’s important (that) when all else fails, we go to court,” he said.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches are urging people to write the minister of employment and their local members of Parliament. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities is also mobilizing its members.

“A literal reading of this policy would prevent churches, summer camps, soup kitchens and many other Christian and religious charities from having access to the Canada Summer Jobs program,” the Canadian Council of Churches said on its website.

David Guretzki, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said his organization hopes to rally an interfaith coalition to oppose the change in policy.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is “working closely on this with the EFC, as well as considering other possible approaches,” said Rene Laprise, director of communications.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has received responses from at least 120 organizations and businesses that will be adversely affected by the new policy, Guretzki said. These groups provide a wide range of services – from youth programming to work with indigenous populations and the homeless – that may be compromised, he said.

“This is an employment grant. We’re trying to understand how this doesn’t open the door to all kinds of places where the government could say, unless you pass an ideological test, we don’t have to give you services.”

Guretzki said the timing of the policy change is concerning. The application deadline for the program is February 2.

“It came the week before Christmas, and so all of this has taken place in last two weeks over the Christmas break,” he said, noting that Parliament was not in session.

In some communities, Christian organizations are the only ones operating summer youth programs. Without the grant, these programs may not be run and the “whole community suffers,” he said.