‘Core man­date’ must re­spect women’s right to abor­tion: min­is­ter

Calls job grants at­tes­ta­tion a ‘fair prac­tice’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - Brian Platt

• Canada’s em­ploy­ment min­is­ter says churches and other re­li­gious groups are el­i­gi­ble for a fed­eral grant to hire sum­mer stu­dents only as long as their core man­date agrees with ac­cess to abor­tion.

How­ever, it re­mains un­clear what ex­actly counts as a core man­date.

The new at­tes­ta­tion on the Canada Sum­mer Jobs grant was aimed at an­tiabor­tion groups, but Catholic, evan­gel­i­cal and other re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions are ar­gu­ing it’s un­prece­dented, un­fair and pos­si­bly il­le­gal to be forced to at­test to their views on abor­tion while ap­ply­ing. They also worry this at­tes­ta­tion will start be­ing re­quired for other govern­ment grants and pro­grams.

Speak­ing at a cab­i­net re­treat in Lon­don, Ont., Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu said she’s com­fort­able with the at­tes­ta­tion, which re­quires ap­pli­cants to check a box say­ing they have a core man­date that re­spects “re­pro­duc­tive rights.” The on­line ap­pli­ca­tion can’t be sub­mit­ted un­less the box is checked.

“In terms of church groups that are con­cerned that this may in val­i­date them from fund­ing, in fact, my perspective is that it won’t, as long as their core man­date agrees with those hard won rights and free­doms that Cana­di­ans ex­pect us to stand up for,” she said.

Her of­fice is aim­ing to draw a dis­tinc­tion based on the phrase “core man­date,” and says there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween a group founded solely to op­pose abor­tions and a re­li­gious group that hap­pens to hold pro- life be­liefs. Yet the ap­pli­ca­tion process still means all groups must sign the at­tes­ta­tion.

“We think this is a fair process,” Ha­jdu said. She said many faith groups are fine with check­ing the box be­cause “their core man­date is ac­tu­ally, for ex­am­ple, ad­min­is­ter­ing the word of God, or ad­min­is­ter­ing spir­i­tual guid­ance for peo­ple … These are the kinds of things that, if you look at the core man­dates of faith groups, that they talk about.”

Pressed on how her min­istry de­cides what a core man­date of a church is, Ha­jdu said the govern­ment is sim­ply declar­ing its own val­ues and it’s up to churches to decide if their core man­date al­lows them to sign the at­tes­ta­tion.

“We’re work­ing very closely, as I said, with faith groups to make sure that they un­der­stand that as long as their core man­date is not in vi­o­la­tion of Cana­dian hu­man rights and the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms, and it’s not vi­o­lat­ing a woman’s ul­ti­mate right to con­trol her own body, that they should have ab­so­lutely no prob­lem re­ceiv­ing grant money, pro­vided they, you know, fill out the ap­pli­ca­tion prop­erly,” she said.

But groups op­pos­ing the at­tes­ta­tion point out the Char­ter also pro­tects free­dom of ex­pres­sion, free­dom of con­science and re­li­gion, and free­dom to be treated equally un­der the law. A Toronto anti- abor­tion group has al­ready filed a Fed­eral Court case ar­gu­ing its Char­ter rights are be­ing vi­o­lated by this at­tes­ta­tion.

The sum­mer jobs grant now funds about 70,000 place­ments for stu­dents, and has been heav­ily re­lied upon by re­li­gious groups that run sum­mer camps, day­cares, drop- in cen­tres and other pro­grams.

The Evan­gel­i­cal Fel­low­ship of Canada and the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Chris­tian Char­i­ties both say they’ve been in­un­dated with com­plaints, and have each set up ded­i­cated web pages as a re­source for groups that don’t feel they can ap­ply or aren’t sure what the at­tes­ta­tion means. Some groups are send­ing in pa­per ap­pli­ca­tions with their own at­tes­ta­tion, rather than check off the box.

The Cana­dian Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops re­leased a lengthy state­ment on Thurs­day that said the at­tes­ta­tion “se­ri­ously un­der­mines the right to re­li­gious free­dom since the Govern­ment of Canada is di­rectly lim­it­ing the right of re­li­gious tra­di­tions to hold, teach and prac­tise their prin­ci­ples and val­ues in pub­lic.”

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau brought up the con­tro­versy dur­ing a town hall event in Hamil­ton on Wed­nes­day, re­fer­ring to it as the “ker­fuf­fle around the Canada Sum­mer Jobs pro­gram.”

He said faith-based groups should still ap­ply for the grant. But he went on to say that “an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has the ex­plicit pur­pose of re­strict­ing women’s rights by re­mov­ing rights to abor­tion and the right for women to con­trol their own bod­ies is not in line with where we are as a govern­ment, and quite frankly where we are as a so­ci­ety.”

NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu said Ot­tawa is work­ing “very closely” with faith groups.

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