#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.

 

Why I’m praying today for #CanadaSummerJobs

I’m praying today that tomorrow there will be resolution of the dispute between Canada’s government and Canada’s people concerning the controversial attestation clause attached to this year’s application for #CanadaSummerJobs funding.

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Why?

First, I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer because I believe in God who answers prayer.

I find myself praying while feeling a bit like those in the group with Rhoda, the servant girl mentioned in Acts 12. They were praying for the release of Peter from prison. Rhoda answered a knock at the door to find Peter standing there. She was so excited she forgot to open the gate when she ran back to the prayer group to tell them Peter was standing there. Others in the prayer group thought she was out of her mind. They knew what a Roman jail was like! Nevertheless, God had heard their prayer and Peter was soon standing in their midst telling the true story of his miraculous release. (Acts 12:5-17)

Today is a day to pray because tomorrow presents an opportunity for our government to adjust the wording that has prevented many faith groups, and other groups, from completing the #CanadaSummerJobs application form to the satisfaction of Service Canada. Those groups – ministries, churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, indigenous peoples’ governing councils, and more – have concluded that the controversial attestation clause – it is the clause which is controversial, not the potential applicants – compels them to agree to a statement that expresses a position of the current government with which they do not or cannot agree. Equally those groups understand that under Canada’s constitution, particularly the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2, the government is prohibited from compelling such agreement either as violation of conscience, religious belief, thought, opinion or expression of citizens.

The opportunity presented tomorrow (Monday, March 19) is a scheduled vote in the House of Commons on the following 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, although presented by the Opposition, is not politically tainted, as some can be. It is simple, straightforward, and presents occasion for Government and Opposition to agree on a helpful adjustment that aligns with statements made by the Government in efforts to clarify the intention of the attestation clause, relieving potential applicants from the requirement to agree:

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

Should the Church be dependent on Government funding for the carrying out of its work? No.

Should the Church have equal access to Government funding under a program such as #CanadaSummerJobs? Yes.

The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that, because of the protections provided to Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, government is required to be neutral in its treatment of Canadians once it implements Charter compliant parameters for a program. In this instance, the program is intended to provide funding for the provision of summer jobs for Canadian young people aged 15 to 30 who are in full-time education. Some priorities for funding are identified. Then, the Government of Canada is required to be neutral in regard to applicants. The attestation clause steps away from that neutrality.

The second reason I’m praying today is because respected Christian leaders have called us to do so. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, denominational leaders, ministry leaders and others have called for a day of prayer. There is power in individual prayer, and great benefit to praying as part of a larger community. Rhoda wasn’t praying alone. Neither am I. Neither will you, if you decide to join us.

As we pray, we are not praying for the Liberal Party or its leader, or for the Conservative Party or New Democratic Party, we are praying for our Prime Minister, our elected representatives and our government.

The same Peter who was prayed out of prison two millennia ago wrote these words:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,whether it be to the emperoras supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Although we have an elected House of Commons rather than an emperor, and may challenge the government in the courts if necessary, we submit ourselves to Canada’s free and democratic structure. And we live as servants of God.

We have also been called to pray for the ministries, churches and other organizations that will have to find alternative funding or cancel opportunities to serve some of the most vulnerable among us: children, including indigenous children and those with disabilities, who would otherwise attend day activities or attend camps in the country; those who are homeless who benefit from the additional care provided by summer student participation in their lives; and others.

And, please pray for the students who may otherwise go unemployed if the numerous organizations across the nation are forced to change or cancel hiring plans.

Pray today, knowing it’s also not too late to pray tomorrow.

Like Rhoda’s friends, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the Government members of the House of Commons agree with Opposition members to pass this motion. Still, I’ll pray. Wouldn’t it be a great surprise!

Why I said “NO” to the Law Society

In October of last year, I wrote Lawyers Won’t Bow to Law Society. The article was published a few days after the then Law Society of Upper Canada, now called the Law Society of Ontario, announced that members’ individual annual reports for 2017 would include a new mandatory declaration:

I declare that I abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.

Simply, tick the “Yes” box and all would be well. Opting to tick the “No” box would require explanation.

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In early consideration of the Law Society’s edict, I reflected on the origins of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court of Canada’s robust definition of freedom of religion, and the Law Society benchers’ (board of directors) discriminatory decision in regard to Trinity Western University’s proposal to establish a school of law. The Law Society’s resolve was akin to a determination to impose a form of ideological tick box on TWU – intruding on the religious beliefs, as expressed in the TWU community covenant, of the religious institution in order for that religious institution to be permitted by the government regulatory body to provide a private religious education that meets or exceeds the government established standards for that education.

In Lawyers Won’t Bow, my conclusion was stated as,

I expect to find myself among a group of lawyers from a variety of faith communities who consider our religious beliefs, commitment to the laws of nation and province, and obligations under existing rules of professional conduct – which is a mandatory community covenant for all who desire to practice law – as sufficient to address the Law Society’s concerns. There really is nothing more to add for purposes of an individual Statement of Principles.

Observing,

However, submitting a statement that says my faith beliefs and existing obligations are more-than-enough may fall short of the Law Society’s expectation for members to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.” Perhaps, only because we may have different understandings of what the words “promote,” “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” mean.

In the time between writing those words and this week completing my 2017 annual report, additional disconcerting government impositions on constitutional freedoms have either been established or announced.

The federal government introduced an attestation clause to the application for Canada Summer Jobs grants. The attestation required is not about adhering to the law, not about following human rights requirements, or even requiring compliance with government funding policies. It mandates that applicants endorse the position of the federal Liberal Party’s leader (currently the Prime Minister) on matters of human rights. His position is not official party policy. Nor is it a proper understanding of our constitution or the law. It is, however, the requirement to be considered by his government for funding that is otherwise generally available to public employers for purposes of providing summer jobs to high school and university students.

Despite the best efforts of religious leaders from a diversity of faith communities, as well as lawyers and members of the media from across the political and religious/non-religious spectrum, to explain to the Prime Minister and Minister of Employment why certain religious individuals and communities could not comply with (let alone be legally be required to comply with) the demand to tick the box in agreement with a stipulated ideological position that is contrary to their religious beliefs, the government persisted. Essentially the government position is, there are different understandings of the words “core mandate,” “must respect” and “as well as other rights.” The common dictionary definitions of those words do not apply. Neither, apparently, do the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada in regard to freedom of conscience and religion or freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as guaranteed in the Charter.

The Charter states, and has been unquestionably understood by the courts, that its purpose is to protect citizens from having our rights violated by government action.

The Law Society is a government authorized regulatory body. The Charter constrains its actions. The federal government is likewise bound by the Charter. Similarly, as doctors in Ontario are engaged in a battle for their conscience rights, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is a government authorized body that is bound by the Charter. The federal government has announced a new national youth initiative, the Canada Service Corps, to which its tick box requirements will apply for partner organizations and youth applicants.

For the first thirty-five years of the Charter’s existence, the responsibility of government and government authorized agencies and regulatory bodies for Charter compliance was understood. Now, the question is “Who will next be bullied into unconstitutional confession of agreement with a statement of political ideology?”

Don’t get me wrong. In Canada, we have robust freedoms. Guaranteed by the Charter. Protected by the courts. And, until recently, respected by government, including its authorized agencies and regulatory bodies.

To maintain these freedoms, we will have to stand for them. If necessary, we will have to fight for them in the courts, both judicial and of public opinion.

In 2008 I sat in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. with several Christian lawyers from China. We talked about the personal cost they and their families were paying to fight for religious freedom in Chinese courts. Many have “disappeared” since that meeting. This week, I read the news that one has made what in military terms is referred to as the ultimate sacrifice. Just as I was deeply moved by the faithfulness of twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded on a Libyan beach in February 2015, I was touched to the core to learn of Li Baiguang’s death.

As a writer, I read. Really, you can’t write well unless you read good writing. Every now and then, I read something that causes me to move through the following progression. I wish I had written that. That is well written. Kudos to the author for writing that. It’s good to know I’m not alone in those thoughts. I’m glad someone else wrote something that is so inspiring. I need to write.

In the last few days I have read two such commentaries.

In Tearing Down the Idol of Religious Freedom, Kristopher Kinsinger reminds,

Christians should educate themselves about the challenges currently being mounted against religious freedom in Canada and around the world. Those of us who have a passion for public affairs should look for ways to engage our culture for the sake of the Gospel. In doing so, however, we must remain attuned to the pendulum of our motivations. If our primary desire is for cultural revolution – rather than seeing hearts and minds transformed by and for Christ – then our witness is a false one. Only when we are fully “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” can we truly say our fight for religious freedom is for the glory of God alone.

In Just Check the Box: the growth of statism and what’s next for Canada’s Christians, André Schutten writes of the tick boxes,

It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license.

Schutten briefly explores the early stages of state control in several nations that descended into authoritarian communism, concluding with a series of questions relevant for today.

So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next?

Bearing Kinsinger’s thoughts in mind, I completed my annual report for the Law Society, dutifully noting in the optional section on religion that my religious belief is “Other” and offering the one-word explanation “Christian.” I chose this rather than ticking the pre-itemized boxes of “Protestant,” “Roman Catholic,” or “Other Christian, such as Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic.” When I consider the plight of many in the Church around the world, I am compelled to define myself as simply Christian, a member of the global Body of Christ – one Body with many parts.

Bearing Schutten’s thoughts in mind, I ticked the “No” box for the Statement of Principles declaration, providing the following explanation,

The Law Society benchers have demonstrated in debate and decision that they do not themselves understand or promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally as understood in decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning application of constitutional and other human rights legislation. The oath I voluntarily swore at my call to the bar, and my adherence to both the Rules of Professional conduct and the law generally are sufficient. The Law Society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand more of me. I, therefore, refuse for reasons of conscience and principle to provide such a statement to the Law Society.

There will be Christians who tick the “Yes” box. There will be others who tick the “No” box. Depending on the form being completed, there may be explanation as to why they can’t tick “Yes.”

In time, Freedom of Information requests will reveal which Christian organizations received Canada Summer Jobs funding. Also, the Law Society will take whatever action (intimidating by the lack of stipulated potential penalty) against dissenting members. Whether or not one ticked “Yes” will be revealed.

I hope and pray that a small mark in a small box does not become a great line of division.

I also hope and pray that those asserting our freedoms will help to maintain them. Those freedoms belong to all Canadians.

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 Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, had to say:

Don Hutchinson in Under Siege walks us through the critical issues of freedom of religion in a country where one might naively assume its record is stellar. His message is that there is always the need for vigilance. In a time when the secular assumption that faith will soon ebb away carries with it a belief that there is no need to protect its freedom, this book advises the opposite. A timely and wise warning.

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

Canada Summer Jobs: headed to a courtroom near you?

These have been an interesting seven days for those with interest in Canadian religious freedom. Two important decisions in regard to violations of religious freedom demonstrated that decision-makers are not necessarily listening. A third suggests, it is possible.

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Hope – adventus as Jürgen Moltmann referred to it, the need for something new to come from outside to change the situation, like the advent of Christ, the Hope of the World – was high that the Canadian government would hear the united voices of over eighty religious leaders and thousands of calls, emails and letters to Members of Parliament, Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about problems with changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program that bar participation for many religious organizations.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister posted photos of himself observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Surely he would hear the pleas of Canadian rabbis in regard to CSJ. Any concern for the marginalization and exclusion of an identifiable group of religious Canadians, including Jews, precipitated by the CSJ attestation requirement did not, apparently, change his mind.

Two days later, the Prime Minister attended the ceremony observing the first anniversary of the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy where six Muslim men were killed and nineteen seriously injured while participating in worship. Surely the Prime Minister would listen to the pleas of Canadian imams in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? Not yet.

The next day, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. The day after that, he issued a statement celebrating Black History Month. The significant and continuing contribution of Christian black leaders, including congregations and ministries that have a history of accessing CSJ funding to benefit vulnerable communities must have come to mind. Perhaps, he would hear these leaders in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? He did not.

Having committed to be in the House of Commons for Question Period each Wednesday when Parliament is sitting, it was reasonably anticipated we would that day get answers from the Prime Minister to the questions with which Canadians have inundated Members of Parliament since the CSJ announcement in December. This week, however, the first week Parliament is sitting after the government’s announcement of the revised CSJ attestation clause, Prime Minister Trudeau opted instead to leave Ottawa following his morning caucus meeting, skip Question Period, and fly to Winnipeg for a town hall Q&A at the University of Manitoba.

The response of Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau to the repeated efforts of Canadian religious leaders, from across the spectrum of faith communities, has been to repeat government talking points, like the tourist speaking slowly, louder and more assertively in a foreign land, as if religious leaders did not understand them the first time. Core mandate and student hiring conditions as defined in the new for 2018 requirements from the federal government for CSJ funding insist religious leaders and communities must compromise their beliefs, surrender the constitutional right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion,’ and relinquish the right granted under provincial human rights legislation to observe religious beliefs and practices in the hiring of co-religionists, even summer students, for their work.

Each summer, many CSJ summer students have worked with religious charities to serve, among others, the needs of those with disabilities, or identified as underprivileged, or the most in need and at risk in our society. Without question, they have also provided services that benefit co-religionists, equally Canadians.

The mandated checkmark may have seemed innocuous to government officials, but the response of religious leaders made it clear the attestation statement to which that checkmark is affixed was a demand to betray their beliefs. In addition to calls, letters and emails, the concern was expressed at town hall after town hall. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response at those town hall gatherings suggest he is more concerned about talking than listening.

Thursday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its report Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia, in which it recommended consultation with religious organizations on government action that affects them. (There is some good stuff in the report, for a later blog. There are Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs who consider listening to religious perspectives by government to be both possible and beneficial.) On the matter of Canada Summer Jobs funding, such consultation might have prevented the current predicament. Actively listening to after-the-fact communications from religious leaders and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast would also have led to a solution.

The last time I was as disenchanted by government refusal to hear legitimate concerns about taking action that will have damaging impact on employment opportunities and services for Canadians living on the vulnerable edge of our society was the previous government’s decision to cancel the national census. The Canadian census is internationally recognized as one of the most accurate. It is valuable to government at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards), charities and businesses for their program and financial planning. The people most impacted by the cancelled census were those who became the invisible disadvantaged, because they did not show up on the national household survey. The same holds true for those who will lose out on the benefits of summer jobs and the programs conducted by summer student employees across the country. Many are students on the edge of being able to pay for their education. Others are those living on the edge of poverty who will lose the option of supervised activity for their children during school vacation, and those caring for special needs children who will lose the one or two weeks of respite provided by summer camps or a few hours each day provided by local church-run day camps.

While the clock ticked down to the Friday midnight (Pacific Time) deadline for CSJ applications, Minister Hajdu offered her own form of compromise. To those asking for a change in the attestation clause and an extension for application, she conceded a one-week extension, but kept the clause. Is there still hope that the many voices, and more voices, might be heard over the next week and the necessary adjustment take place?

Hope had also been high that three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court would sort out the law, accurately apply the Charter, and protect physicians from being forced to choose between violating their consciences or leaving their current medical practices. Thursday, in its decision, The Divisional Court concluded the beliefs of physicians were indeed violated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy requiring all practicing physicians in the province to participate in ending-life medical procedures. But, the court also found it justifiable to require this standard as a condition of patient care in the province. (Yes, patient care was defined to include intentionally ending the patient’s life.) Ontario is the only province refusing to accommodate physician’s personal beliefs on this matter.

Unchallenged, the decisions of government and court will mean those in greatest need will be those who suffer most.

The shortage of summer opportunities for those in need – whether student employees or student clients – means the vulnerable, perhaps the most vulnerable, will pay the cost Canada’s government has so far declined to fund because of an ideological transformation of a previously non-discriminatory successful program.

The violation of physicians’ beliefs will result in a different kind of shortage. Doctors have said they will retire or move on from meaningful work that was, for them, always about healing, easing pain, and saving lives.

If either or both decisions are to be contested further in the courts – the guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it were– there will be a different cost. The litigation process is expensive.

If you believe these freedoms are deserving of continuing protection, i.e. equal treatment of all applying for summer employment grants (of our money from our government) and recognition of the conscience rights of those who have taken an oath to do no harm, then you will want to follow the status of these situations. In addition to prayer and writing your MP about the CSJ, or your Member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly about the policy of the government regulatory College of Physicians, you may also want to make an encouraging financial contribution to those fighting the fight for continued recognition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion.

However these situations turn out, hope – adventus – is not sacrificed at the feet of Prime Minister or Divisional Court. We do need to keep praying for our Prime Minister, government leaders and the judges of our courts; appealing to Him who is our Hope, with confidence He is, in truth, the Hope of the world.

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 the lawyer in Ontario’s physician rights case, Albertos Polizogopoulos, had to say about the book:

As a lawyer whose practice is largely focussed on religious freedom litigation, I read about the issues and cases referred to in Under Siegeon a regular basis. Don Hutchinson has been able to present a legal and political history of religious freedom in Canada in a manner that is not only easy to follow and understand, but also personal and engaging. It is written for lawyer or layperson and is equally accessible.

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

Liberal MPs Cut and Paste on Religion test for Canada Summer Jobs

If you sent an email or letter to your Member of Parliament, you may have received a reply by now. The exercise has been fairly simple for Liberal MPs. Several I’ve seen indicate MPs just cut and paste what was given them. There are two variations on the theme. Both demonstrate a lack of basic understanding of Canada’s constitution.

DonParlForum

The first response is a cut and paste of the supplementary information provided by Employment and Social Development Canada as a ‘clarification’ of ‘core mandate.’ As tone deaf as the clarification is to the concerns of religious individuals and communities, it exhibits a continuing failure to grasp the most basic point of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As more Canadians find themselves driven to read the Charter, which is a good thing, it’s best to do so with that most basic point in mind.

Section 32 of the Charter informs us:

  1.  (1) This Charter applies

(a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament including all matters relating to the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories; and

(b) to the legislature and government of each province in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of each province.

The Charter applies to government – federal, provincial, municipal, school boards and government agencies. The Charter protects Canadians from acts of government.  The Charter states the freedoms and rights of Canadians, which the government is not allowed to violate.

Section 1 notes the purpose of the Charter.

  1.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The only limitation permitted on Charter guaranteed freedoms is when government can demonstrate and justify to the courts that the proposed limitation is reasonable, i.e. prescribed by law (i.e. government action), and the least intrusive way to accomplish a legitimate government purpose in Canada’s free and democratic society. The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that for government to violate or infringe the rights guaranteed in the Charter in a manner that is considered reasonable, the government must be have a pressing and substantial purpose, i.e. it’s got to be something that is really important. Government must also prove the action proposed or taken is one that minimally impairs/infringes the right in question, and the action taken is proportional to the objective.

All of this to say, Canadians are not required to abide by the Charter, the government is. Under our constitution, Canadians are required to adhere to relevant human rights legislation in the province or territory in which they live.

The fundamental flaw in the government’s efforts to require private entities to agree to apply the Charter to themselves is the Charter does not apply to private entities.

The second flaw of the government’s required attestation clause is that, by mandating all applicants for a Canada Summer Jobs grant endorse the statement, the government may require agreement to an expressed belief that is contradictory to that held by the applicant. This government requirement violates the expressed Charter rights to “freedom of conscience and religion” (s. 2a), “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” (s. 2b).

The other party line response includes a paragraph on two decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Having an MP send this to a constituent might seem definitive, but it is misleading. Here’s the paragraph, which has been placed in bold at the centre of a response on more than one occasion:

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that an individual’s reproductive autonomy is a right protected under section 7 of the Charter. In Blencoe v. British Columbia (Human Rights Commission) the Supreme Court commented that “Few interests are as compelling as, and basic to individual autonomy then, a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy… Such interests are indeed basic to individual dignity.” In the Morgentaler case, the Supreme Court held that certain restrictions on access to abortion violated women’s right to security of the person under section 7 of the Charter.

Let’s talk about the first part and the quote from the Blencoe decision in 2000. Blencoe was a case about a politician seeking to avoid a human rights hearing following a complaint of sexual harassment being filed against him under the British Columbia Human Rights Code. Blencoe asserted he was unable to face the hearing because he became depressed after the complaint was filed. Here’s the rest of the quote from paragraph 86 in Blencoe:

Few interests are as compelling as, and basic to individual autonomy than, a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, an individual’s decision to terminate his or her life, the right to raise one’s children, and the ability of sexual assault victims to seek therapy without fear of their private records being disclosed.  Such interests are indeed basic to individual dignity.  But the alleged right to be free from stigma associated with a human rights complaint does not fall within this narrow sphere. [I italicized the parts the government skipped]

There is no mention there of a “right” to an individual’s reproductive autonomy.

Second, the reference to the Morgentaler decision from 1988 is also misleading. Much has been written on the 1988 decision. Apparently, in terms of the government’s comments, little has been read.

The decision of the Supreme Court in Morgentaler was in regard to the particular section of the Criminal Code that was being challenged. The issue in question was the inconsistent availability of therapeutic abortion committees across the country. The job of the committees was to assess whether an abortion could be justified on the basis of the pregnancy endangering the mother’s health. An “endangered” woman might arrive at a hospital to find there was no capacity to save her life because it lacked a therapeutic abortion committee. The Court determined that the state had an interest in determining the point in pregnancy when the child’s life should be protected, but the law had to apply consistently across the nation. Here’s what Chief Justice Dickson’s court (McIntyre, J.) had to say:

The historical review of the legal approach in Canada taken from the judgment of the Court of Appeal serves, as well, to cast light on the underlying philosophies of our society and establishes that there has never been a general right to abortion in Canada. There has always been clear recognition of a public interest in the protection of the unborn and there has been no evidence or indication of any general acceptance of the concept of abortion at will in our society. It is to be observed as well that at the time of adoption of the Charter the sole provision for an abortion in Canadian law was that to be found in s.251 of the Criminal Code. It follows then, in my view, that the interpretive approach to the Charter, which has been accepted in this Court, affords no support for the entrenchment of a constitutional right of abortion.

That’s why the Mulroney government’s Bill C-43 (defeated on a tie vote on third vote in the Senate after passing in the House of Commons and two Senate votes) did not use the Charter’s ‘notwithstanding clause’ (s. 33 of the Charter, which provides for supremacy of elected representatives in the event of disagreement with a decision of the appointed members of the courts). The Supreme Court had not found that a right existed, so none had to be overridden by Parliament.

Even if a right had been found, we return to the matter of the Charter applying to government behaviour, and the protection of Canadians from having government opinion forced upon us in violation of our guaranteed rights.

As I have noted previously, and in my letter to the Prime Minister and my Member of Parliament:

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

Guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is that government cannot force agreement with this kind of ideological position. In these matters, the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that government must be neutral to avoid violating the Charter rights of Canadians. Government action in administration of a government service/program, such as the Canada Summer Jobs Program, must treat all Canadians equally, regardless of religious or other beliefs, opinions or expression.