Canada Program that stripped summer job funding for groups opposed to abortion upheld by Federal Court

18:20  27 october  2021
18:20  27 october  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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A legal challenge of the federal government’s denial of summer job funding for groups that oppose abortion has been dismissed by a Federal Court judge.

Former employment minister Patty Hajdu in 2018. © Provided by National Post Former employment minister Patty Hajdu in 2018.

The Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, a registered charity, and a student who lost his chance for a summer job working for it, sued the Minister of Employment, claiming the new rules infringed freedoms of expression and religion and targeted groups that oppose the government’s pro-choice policies.

The lawsuit accused the government of attempting “to influence or affect political speech, to compel or censor speech, to regulate beliefs, or to discriminate against them on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

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The dispute stems from the Liberal government’s introduction of a new requirement for organizations to qualify for Canada Summer Jobs program funding for them to hire students in 2018.

The rules required potential employers to attest that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”

The “other rights,” the rules noted, were “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.” It explicitly included “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

The change angered some conservative and religious groups, but the government said applying for a job grant was voluntary and not compelled speech.

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The change, then-Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said at the time, was to prevent government money going to “support activities or projects that in any way undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.”

Toronto’s Right to Life refused to make the attestation and, as a result, its application for funding was deemed incomplete.

A lawsuit followed.

The organization, its then-president Blaise Alleyne, and Matthew Battista, who was a university student who worked for the group over the previous two summers and hoped to do so again, sued, asking for a judicial review of the government’s decision.

Their suit claimed the decision was not supported by the enabling legislation, made for an improper purpose, and infringed freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Rights. They argued anti-abortion groups were being punished for not supporting the government’s politics and policies.

Ruling finds Ottawa's anti-abortion test for summer jobs funding was within bounds

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They also argued it is in the public’s interest to keep the debate over abortion alive through their “educational activities.”

Justice Catherine Kane did not entertain a wider discussion over that aspect, declaring in her ruling published Monday : “this Application is not the forum to fuel this debate.”

The framework for considering a judicial review is reasonableness of the minister’s decision, Kane said, not moral questions.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and Action Canada For Sexual Health and Rights were granted intervenor status in the case.

Action Canada argued activities of anti-abortion organizations are inconsistent with Charter values and government money should not be used to support activities that cause harm and violate constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The BCCLA argued the attestation is a form of compelled speech and said attaching conditions to specific jobs funded by the program was a better approach than wholesale ineligibility of groups over their core mandate.

Right to Life has a history with the funding program.

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The group received funding in 2016 and was at first denied funding in 2017; they were told it was due to a lack of funds. After a court challenge of that decision, the government admitted funding was denied because of the group’s anti-abortion stance, which was not properly spelled out as a requirement by the government at the time, so in the end they received funding that year.

That was part of what led to the government’s clearer and stronger rules the next year, which the group also challenged.

Court heard that before the change was made, pro-choice groups had complained to the government, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly, about government funds going to anti-abortion groups.

The government argued in court that neither the group’s president nor potential employees had their religion infringed because individuals are not asked to make the attestation, only organizations. Further, Right to Life describes itself as a “non-sectarian, human rights organization” and not a religious group.

The government said Right to Life wasn’t singled out for defunding. The program was “directed at jobs and activities, not at values and beliefs.”

In dismissing the Right to Life complaint, Kane said the decision to add the attestation requirement to the discretionary summer jobs program was a reasonable policy decision, within the minister’s authority, and was not made with a closed mind or for an improper purpose.

Kane accepted that keeping anti-abortion groups out of the program was not the imperative of the change.

The limitation on the Applicants’ Charter rights “reflects a proportionate balancing with the objectives” of the law and program objectives.

The judge accepted that there were Charter infringements against the applicants, but the harm was “minimal,” and only in the context of applying for summer job funds in 2018.

After complaints from religious groups, the government reworked the criteria in 2019 to focus on the applicants not working to infringe on the legal rights of any Canadian.

The head of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada said at the time that the new language still ensured that “anti-choice groups,” among others, remain ineligible.

Only one of 63 groups flagged to the government as problematic by pro-choice groups received funding.

— With additional reporting by The Canadian Press

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter: AD_Humphreys

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usr: 1
This is interesting!