Controversy over abortion attestation requirement for summer jobs funding continues with law suits rolling out
By Lighthouse News
The federal government’s controversial “attestation requirement” for the Canada Summer Jobs program is being challenged in court again. Earlier this year, Toronto Right to Life launched a lawsuit over the attestation requirement on the basis that the demand for applicants to affirm so-called “Charter Rights” on reproductive choice – in other words, expressing support for the government’s position on abortion – was a violation of the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Now, a small irrigation company in Brooks Alberta has launched a similar suit. It’s believed to be the first legal case involving an organization in the private for-profit sector; a group that is not explicitly tied to church or faith-based organizational structures, such as summer camps, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, or pro-life groups.
The company is represented by John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary. Carpay says this entire file shows that the government simply doesn’t understand what “conscience rights” are. “Even the Prime Minister and the Labour Minister, Patti Hajdu, are going out publicly and saying at town halls: ‘We’re telling you that (the attestation) is only intended for pro-life groups, so if you’re not a pro-life group, you can just go ahead and sign it.'”
Carpay says that’s “asking people to set aside their integrity and not read what they’re signing”, adding that the court action is important to show that “this is not just about pro-life groups; it impacts private businesses as well.”
The Canadian Council of Christian Charities continues to compile a list of organizations that were denied Canada Summer Jobs funding because of their refusal to sign the attestation. Lawyer Barry Bussey says there could be a number of lawsuits announced in the new few weeks, adding that he’s aware that there are “other non-faith-based groups” which will also be filing court papers soon.
The National Post has also gleaned some new information in this controversy. Reporter Brian Platt has uncovered what appears to be a major inconsistency in the government’s justification for insisting on the attestation in the first place.
In January, when the government announced the restrictions, the Labour Minister said they had “heard a whole bunch of complaints” about pro-life groups receiving government dollars in earlier years.
But in court papers filed in the ongoing suit by Toronto Right to Life, there were only six complaints referenced, and five of those came as an identical form letter initially supplied by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, while the sixth complaint provided an online link to that form letter.
Based on that new evidence, Toronto Right to Life has now asked the court to add “bad faith” to the grounds for its lawsuit on the issue. The group’s Blaise Alleyne says they were “shocked” to see that “the only basis for the government’s decision to discriminate against Canadians who hold different beliefs was just a series of requests from a single special interest group.” He says the Abortion Rights Coalition “asked the government to discriminate against Canadians with different beliefs than (theirs), and the government went ahead and did it, with no regard for the Charter.”
During court proceedings on the case last week, the Crown refused to answer questions about the new evidence contained in the affidavit.
Alleyne says there is legal precedent for his group’s position; the Roncarelli v. Duplessis case from Quebec in 1959.In that case, the government of Premier Maurice Duplessis punished an individual because of demonstrable prejudice against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Duplessis had wrongfully used his authority and acted in bad faith in that case.
You can listen to the full interview with John as featured on our Lighthouse News broadcast here.