#CanadaSummerJobs: What’s Next? Hard Choices.

People have connected with the issue of the #CanadaSummerJobs attestation clause. Those who oppose the Government’s position and those who support it want to know what’s next.

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Opponents desire to stop such imposition on freedom where it stands.

Supporters wish for this reshaped interpretation of rights by the Government to multiply. The first glimpse of their wishes being granted is found in the attestation requirement for participation in the Canada Service Corps youth initiative. And, there are rumblings about implementing a similar attestation requirement for registered charities.

Let me use the next thousand words or so to paint a thorough picture for the Church, one that depicts where we’ve come from on this issue and where we might be headed.

First, the issue of a government changing funding requirements is not new. Neither is the issue of government expanding funding requirements beyond expectations detailed in human rights legislation and decisions of the courts. That doesn’t make such behaviour acceptable. Although also addressed elsewhere in my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017), there are two chapters directed toward the topic, Chapter Fourteen ‘The Church Likely Cannot Serve Both God and Government without Trouble’ and Chapter Twenty-Five ‘The Church as Charity.’ It’s important we enter government funding opportunities with our eyes wide open, aware that over time:

Christian ministries and government bureaucrats have entered into agreements in good faith, knowing that the ministries were doing a better job than the government because of the heart behind the work. It was ministry unto Him, not simply unto them. Times changed, representatives on both sides of the negotiating tables changed, and government spokespersons increasingly pushed beyond the focus of serving people in need to challenging things they didn’t understand or accept about the Christian ethos of the increasingly government-dependent organizations. (Under Siege, page 122)

Second, despite what you may have read or heard, Canada remains a democracy. The next federal election is scheduled to take place in October 2019. In Canada, governments change.

Third, although much attention was given to the issue of pro-life anti-abortion activism, the concern with the attestation clause is about much more. The requirement to tick the box of agreement is a violation of constitutionally enshrined freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression that are guaranteed to all Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The clause reads:

Both the job and my 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 or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression

If the clause only stated, “Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada” it would comply with the Charter and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be a non-issue.

Problems arise with the following:

  • The undefined nature of “the values underlying the Charter. Do you have any idea what those values are? Neither do I.
  • The unidentified extent of “as well as other rights.” What exactly are these other rights that are not included in the words “individual human rights in Canada”?
  • One example given as an other right isreproductive rights.” Reproductive rights don’t exist under the Charter or in Canadian human rights law. Any wonder that asserting a non-existent right became a point of contention?
  • The list of bases on which the job and core mandate of an applicant organization are to be free from discrimination imposes commitment beyond the requirement to “respect individual human rights in Canada.” As I have noted previously, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized a positive right for religious organizations to be selective in employment based on religious requirements of belief and practice (and other organizations based on culture, heritage, etc.).

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the protections provided to Canadians in the Charter require government action to be neutral in the treatment of Canadians. The attestation clause steps away from government neutrality, requiring from applicants a form of compelled expression that goes beyond constitutional or legal requirements in order to secure an otherwise neutral funding grant.

Fourth, the dispute over the attestation clause is about something more significant than money or jobs. It is about constitutional freedom. However, it is also about money and jobs.

With the support of the Official Opposition, MP Karen Vecchio presented a way out of the conflict with this motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.

The motion was not politically tainted, as some can be. It aligned with statements made by Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau. It even left space to exclude anti-abortion activist organizations.

When the vote was called, it was encouraging to see pro-choice NDP Member of Parliament David Christopherson, Bloc MPs Xavier Barsalou-Douval, Marilene Gill and Mario Bealieu, Green MP Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Scott Simms break party ranks to stand in favour of the motion with Conservative MPs. It was also encouraging to watch MP John McKay stand for the roll call and then depart the House of Commons prior to the vote. Christopherson stood knowing his party had earlier chastised MP Nathan Cullen for commenting that the attestation clause was problematic. Simms and McKay understood full well their party leader’s requirements to vote with him on this issue and will likely face retribution from the Prime Minister.

It was disappointing to watch my MP, Andrew Leslie, vote against the motion. A pastor from our riding who had addressed the unnecessary but very real difficulty of this situation directly with Mr. Leslie was in the gallery. If the government does not relent, Mr. Leslie knows that lost to our riding will be student summer employment opportunities to serve in day programs for children with disabilities as well as children from financially challenged and middle class families, service opportunities working with individuals and families who are struggling financially, service for seniors, and more. This will be multiplied for students, children, people in need and senior citizens across the 338 ridings from coast to coast to coast.

Mere moments following the 207 to 93 vote against the motion, social media was aflutter with the question, “What’s next?”

First, the number of applications rejected at the initial stage jumped to 1,561 in 2018 from 126 in 2017. (That number does not include organizations that received #CanadaSummerJobs funding in the past but opted not to apply this year because of the attestation clause.) Many of those 1,561 are organizations that provided written explanation as to why they could not “tick the box” when submitting their applications. Having received notification as to what is required for an acceptable application, a number are awaiting reply from the second round. It is possible that, the point having been made in the House of Commons by defeating the Opposition motion, the Government will approve the applications. Not likely, but possible.

Second, there are active pieces of relevant litigation. The Trinity Western University law school cases were heard November 30 and December 1, 2017. Now retired Chief Justice McLachlin took part in the hearings and then retired on December 16. If she is to participate in the decisions then they are to be issued within six months of her retirement date. Keep praying and pay attention to whether there is content in the outcome that may impact this situation. The other piece of litigation to watch is a direct challenge to the attestation clause initiated by the Toronto Right to Life Association, scheduled to be heard by the Federal Court on June 19, 2018.

Third, the Toronto Right to Life litigation is about the attestation clause but the situation differs from other organizations denied funding because they engaged their Charter right to protection from this government action. Those organizations will have to make some difficult choices. Will they seek alternate sources of funding to operate programs such as day activities for children with disabilities, fresh air camps for city kids, summer outreach to those living on the streets, and other summer employment opportunities? Or will they cancel for lack of funds? Can they afford to put money into litigation, even if subsidized by lawyers working for little or nothing? These organizations will need your support. Your prayer support. Your financial support. Your volunteer efforts. If you know of Christian organizations that have in the past hired summer students for these efforts, don’t wait. Contact them now and let them know how you can help.

Organizations in a position to litigate will have to determine process. One litigant or a group. Even if successful, will it be of any benefit this summer? Will it benefit those organizations not part of the litigation? What about the organizations that opted not to apply because they thought the situation overwhelming? This is best coordinated with those experienced in Charter litigation for the Church. Encourage organizations you know of to contact the Canadian Council of Christian Charities or Christian Legal Fellowship for advice. And, be prepared to support them.

By the way, Government uses our money to fight these court battles, just as it knowingly excluded us from equal access to our money to employ our students to offer services to our children and our neighbours. Governments have no money of their own. They have only the money of the people they serve, and money borrowed on our behalf.

Fourth, pray for students who planned on returning to or commencing previously #CanadaSummerJobs funded positions who find themselves in limbo because of this situation. Do they look for another job? Do they wait to see if the organization they want to work with finds funding? How will life plans change if they can’t find a summer job?

Fifth, after the final list of approved #CanadaSummerJobs applicants is released, Christian organizations will likely be on the list. Not everyone paid attention to the attestation clause. Not everyone objects to the attestation clause. Others, decided the #CanadaSummerJobs funded work done by summer students to serve children and other clients in need was more important than the disputed clause. The Body of Christ has many parts. If we all agreed beyond acceptance of the Trinitarian creeds we wouldn’t have multiple expressions of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Love one another.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

Sixth, consider signing this petition, E-484 (Discrimination). It is on the parliamentary website, so your personal data will be required but not collected. Remember petitions that are not on the parliamentary website may be used to collect your personal data, which may result in other use. Petitions are regularly presented in Parliament and help to keep debate alive on the issue. It’s important to continue efforts in Parliament even after the news cycle has moved on to other things or some have entered the courtroom. This petition is open for additional signatures until June 6, 2018. Inform your friends so they can sign too.

Seventh, the Church will have to seriously and prayerfully consider disentangling from dependence on government support. Assistance from programs such as #CanadaSummerJobs may have to be regarded as in addition to rather than necessary, and caution may have to be exercised to prevent drift back into the essential funding column. Christian giving and generosity are also not the same thing as tax receipted donations. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of those receipts while we have them, but our giving must not be dependent upon them. As noted in Under Siege,

How we steward the financial resources God gives us is part of the “spiritual return on investment” Jesus expects from those who follow Him. (Under Siege, page 242)

What’s next will involve some hard choices for others, as well as for you and me. Hard choices are best made with prayer.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what former Member of Parliament Preston Manning had to say:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.