This is somewhat old news, but a story that Internet Monk readers may find interesting. The government of Canada had a complaint they had to deal with: If they were as committed to women’s rights as they claimed, then why were they allowing grant money for summer jobs to go to funding graphic protests at abortion clinics?
Someone, somewhere, high up, decided that this just wouldn’t do, and so for the summer of 2018, an attestation clause was added to the form used by businesses, charities, and non-profits to apply for grants under the Canada Summer Jobs program (CSJ). An application could not proceed without checking the checkbox next to the attestation.
The attestation (and its subsequent clarification) read:
CSJ applicants will be required 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. 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 employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.
The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies.
The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.
The objective of the change is to prevent Government of Canada funding from flowing to organization whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law. This helps prevent youth (as young as 15 years of age) from being exposed to employment within organizations that may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law.
Here is a an extract of the response by a coalition of conservative religious groups:
Groups applying for 2018 funding were required to endorse an attestation by checking a box, indicating their affirmation of certain beliefs held by the current government, described by many as a “values test.” Such a values test contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the freedom of religion and conscience (2a), of thought, belief, opinion and expression (2b), as well as “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination”(15 ).
Mr. Bruce Clemenger, President
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler
Rabbinical Council of America
Mr. Derek B.M. Ross, Executive Director & General Counsel
Christian Legal Fellowship
Rev. John Pellowe , Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Council of Christian Charities
Mrs. Margaret Ann Jacobs, National President
The Catholic Women’s League of Canada
Dr. M. Iqbal Nadvi, Chair
Canadian Council of Imams
His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto
Representing: The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
What if found most interesting was that both left and right wing media condemned the attestation.
…the government has overreached on this issue. Instead of focusing on what summer-jobs money would pay young people to do, it has made an issue of what the organizations that apply for the funds believe. – The Toronto Star Editorial Board
It’s one thing to decide you will not directly fund organizations’ work conducting political advocacy on this issue. It’s another thing to say you won’t fund a group for, say, their soup kitchen work just because they’re not willing to attest to being pro-choice… The Liberals need to do the right thing and eliminate this prejudicial, mean-spirited provision for next year. – Toronto Sun Editorial
Thousands of student summer-job grants, along with a brand-new community-service program, have been rendered unavailable to organizations and people of faith, thanks to an obnoxious new Liberal values oath. This oath is not only offensive; on its face, it’s a clear violation of the very Charter rights that it claims to defend… The government should scrap the odious clause from the application forms where it has popped up, apologize to Canadians for violating their right to freedom of religion and come up with something that doesn’t place people in an intolerable moral conflict. – John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail
Despite all the criticism, the government refused to back down, and their “clarifications” that this was about actions, and not beliefs, did little to appease those who were opposed. They did however say the attestation would be revisited for next summer.
As a result of the attestation, many groups did not apply for funding. Of those who did apply, over 1500 groups were rejected for having “incomplete applications” (they did not check the box).
So here is my take on all of this.
I think the whole debate hinges on the word “respect” in the application. Respect can have quite different meanings. Consider two of the definitions of the verb in the Oxford dictionary.
1. Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
‘she was respected by everyone she worked with’
2.2 Agree to recognize and abide by (a legal requirement)
‘the crown and its ministers ought to respect the ordinary law’
When the above religious groups and editorials used phrases like “affirmation of certain beliefs”, it seems to me that they are interpreting the word respect in the first sense of the definition. The Liberal government, by their clarification that they are targeting actions, not belief, seem to be using the second sense of the definition.
In this second sense, if I say that I respect the speed limit, it means that I keep within it. It does not mean that I agree with it, or won’t campaign against it.
Because the Liberal didn’t out and out say that they meant respect in terms of the second sense of the word, I think that groups were rightly suspicious that what they really meant was the first sense of the word. Even if the Liberals had said “here is what we mean by respect”, I think that it would not have convinced many.
As for me, I think I would have held my nose and signed it, as I have done with many other questionable documents. If called on it, I would have simply said, “here is how I understand the meaning of the word respect in this context.”
How about you readers? Where have you stood, or would you stand, on this requirement? Is the government trying to compel belief, is this much ado about nothing, or does the answer lie somewhere inbetween? My mind is definitely open on this matter, and in fact I have changed my mind slightly in the writing of this post.