Rejection rates spiked after a Canadian government job grant program’s 2018 rules required groups to affirm abortion rights, and rejections fell only after legal challenges from pro-life groups.
The Canada Summer Job Grants program, administered under the Employment and Social Development Canada government department, has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs each year for secondary school or college students. The program has supplied the funds that allowed small businesses, non-profit organizations, and religious employers to fill positions such as camp counselors or landscapers.
Before 2018, when the new rules were implemented, the program usually rejected under 50 applications per year, often due to paperwork errors. In 2018, rejection numbers rose to 1,559, cutting off funding worth more than 30.8 million Canadian Dollars, about $24.5 million U.S.
The Right to Life Association of Toronto and Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform of Calgary had challenged the rules in court.
In 2019, after pro-life groups challenged the rules, rejections dropped to 441, the Canadian news site The Western Standard said. It cited a report from Blacklock’s Reporter, an Ottawa-based journalism website focused on government.
The rules for 2019 removed a lengthy attestation added the previous year, but still required applicants to attest that the grants “will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” However, projects and activities explicitly ineligible for funding included those that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.”
A March 2019 letter the federal government sent to some groups sought more information on “the services your organization provides to women seeking access to sexual and reproductive health services.” The letter said the Canadian government defines these health services to include “comprehensive sexuality education, family planning, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, safe and legal abortion, and post-abortion care.”
Some of the letters were sent to pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
According to government records, 26 of the close to 40,000 applicants for the 2019 program funds were deemed ineligible because of their position on sexual and reproductive health services. Some 403 groups in total were deemed ineligible because their work was seen to undermine human rights, the Canadian Press reported in 2019.
Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, told Canadian Catholic News in September 2019 that the government action “seeks to penalize religious organizations for doing what they are lawfully permitted to do.”
“The human rights legislation is there to allow greater diversity and pluralism in Canada,” he said. “However, the government approach is there is only one view of the world and if religious communities are out of line with the government view, they are unable to access funding everyone else has access to.”
Bussey said many members of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities which had received job funds before 2018 received letters about their hiring practices.
They were asked whether they “in any way restrict access to programs, services or employment, or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds, including sex, genetic characteristics, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, color, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
For Bussey, this showed the government’s “preoccupation with ‘Charter values’ over and against enumerated rights in the Charter such as religious freedom, freedom of association and freedom of conscience.”
The controversial federal funding requirements for the program added in December 2017 stipulated that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada,” including “reproductive rights,” or the right to abortion access.
Organizations had to check a box attesting to their alignment with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, case law, and other government commitments, such as “the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”
Many groups denied funding in 2018 had to rely on fundraising campaigns and programming changes, or they eliminated student jobs entirely.
The rules drew objections and legal challenges on the grounds of religious freedom and free speech and prospective grantees’ right to advocate against abortion.
In one federal case challenging the 2018 rules, plaintiffs presented evidence that the department monitored applicants’ social media posts for comments they believed were inappropriate, the Western Standard reports.