Summer Jobs Program and Charter Declarations Aren’t Anti-Anything

Summer Jobs Program and Charter Declarations Aren’t Anti-Anything

As published in the Victoria Standard: February 14, 2018

Federal employment grants were a regular part of summer life in Baddeck during the seventies and early eighties. Public funding helped staff Kidston Island and provided summer workers for a host of businesses and organizations; maybe including some with “Christian” core mandates opposing abortion.

While this redistribution of public money did sometimes involve minor political arrangements; religious declarations were notably absent from the application process. Of course, Cape Breton has always had anti-abortion activists who base their objections on various Christian creed. To my knowledge, the Island’s Muslim and Judaic institutions have not entered the fray. Those highway billboards between Waycobah and Port Hawksbury are a stark reminder of at least one sect’s dire philosophy on the wages of “sins” like abortion.

That being said, it’s easy to imagine local reaction had the national government strictly applied the Charter Rights and Freedoms to grant recipients of the early eighties. Unlike our current Governor General, public officials of that era were generally silent on religion; hoping perhaps to avoid electoral complications. They were well-aware that even perceived threats to faith-based behaviour could trigger resistance and even hostility.

The federal government is now requiring that Summer Jobs Program applicants sign a document stating that their “core mandate” doesn’t include anti-abortion activities or opposition to reproductive and other human rights enshrined in the Charter. Another federal employment program, the Canada Service Corps; takes the same position but does not require signed declarations. Therefore, those groups objecting to the Summer Jobs Program rules have a less painful option.
This, however; doesn’t suit Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College; an evangelical leader and conservative political activist who lost his television show in 2011 after the CRTC acted on complaints about his homophobic rhetoric. McVety claims to defend the Charter rights of Christians who refuse to sign the Summer Jobs document.

Apparently, Canada’s Christian anti-abortionists view Trudeau’s Summer Jobs Program as a serious threat to their religious convictions. This posture would be more acceptable if these co-called pro-lifers were not so eager to convert others to their cause. The pro-life slogan itself is cleverly vague and difficult to oppose with reason, since it appeals mainly to negative emotions like shame and guilt. It seems risky to approach the complexity of reproductive rights in such manner due to health concerns. It is worth remembering that while three Canadian abortion doctors have been wounded by anti-abortion activists; a number of American physicians have actually been murdered by fanatics willing to kill for the cause.

It is reasonable that women seeking abortion services ought to be left in peace to access qualified medical assistance. Aside from the fact that such personal autonomy is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; what right does anyone; especially a male stranger, have to interfere in another’s pregnancy based on their own religious beliefs? It’s akin to zealots slipping graphic leaflets into mailboxes to protest vasectomies; undoubtedly a sin in some circles.

The loudest protests against Trudeau’s application of the Charter to the Liberal’s Summer Jobs Program come from those who supported Stephen Harper’s funding cuts to women’s groups, GLTB advocacy and environmental protection. Anti-abortion groups and Conservative politicians like MP Candice Bergen consider Trudeau’s proposed $650 million international investment in sexual health and reproductive rights to be “divisive”. They echo Harper; who first used that word in 2010 while promoting his own maternal health initiative that banned Canadian funding for abortion in other countries.

Domestic Conservative opposition to Trudeau’s proposal is buoyed by recent developments in the United States. The Trump government now requires U.S. non-governmental organizations seeking public funds to verify that they will not promote or perform abortions in other nations. As well, Trump signed a bill that will permit U.S. states to defund abortion providers and women’s health organizations that recommend or perform abortions.

Fortunately for women’s health and reproductive rights in Canada and the world beyond Trump’s America; Trudeau’s Liberals seem ready to support a woman’s right to manage her own reproductive affairs. Even if you generally oppose Justin Trudeau’s leadership; his approach to abortion is free from the judgemental hypocrisy of those determined to limit women’s autonomy.