CONTEXT

This year, the government introduced new requirements for the Canada Summer Jobs program that limit access to government benefits based on ideological criteria.

The Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, public-sector employers and small businesses who wish to hire students (aged 15-30) for summer employment.

Many of the groups who receive grants provide much-needed services to marginalized or impoverished Canadians – and many cannot afford to offer these beneficial programs without government subsidies.

In December 2017, the Government of Canada introduced new criteria for applicants. To be eligible, groups must now “attest” that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Charter, as well as other rights. 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.” The government website clarifies that “reproductive rights” means “the right to access safe and legal abortions,” and adds, “The attestation is required for the application to be considered complete and eligible for assessment.”

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, Religious Charities and organizations raised the alarm.

They could not, in good conscience, sign a statement endorsing abortion, even if their programs had nothing to do with pro-life advocacy. Many submitted their applications with a letter asking for accommodation based on their religious beliefs. Some even checked the box but added a marginal note to clarify their position. All were rejected.

The government insists…

that the requirement is about “core activities,” not “values and beliefs.” They argue that the opposition has generated a “faux” controversy for political ends. However, even after releasing supplementary information in January, and even after meeting with a coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders in March, the government has refused to change the wording from “core mandate” to “core activities.”

AS A REsULT,

Multiple charities across Canada who were denied access to government benefits because of their religious beliefs have decided that the government must be held to the Charter standards of not imposing political ideology on citizens in order to receive government benefit. We understand that in our current social and political climate, religion is not popular. In the CSJ dispute, the government has shown itself to be insensitive to the spiritual beliefs and activities of religious Canadians.

this litigation is to protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians.

Without a firm pushback of those affected, the government will continue its use of values tests for more government programs. Already the government has announced that such a test will be applied to the Canada Service Corps. The government must understand that all Canadians are to be treated equally, not just those who agree with its political ideology.