Canada’s youth summer jobs program is right to uphold the right to abortion

“Freedom of religion” does not mean freedom from Canadian law

Written by Lachlan Alexander Karr, SFU Student

Growing up in a Christian household, I always appreciated my family’s ability to place Canadian values and identity ahead of their religiosity. My grandfather always told the story of his cousin’s coming out later in life, and how it taught him to adopt and respect the laws of our liberal democratic society, even if they contradicted his Catholic upbringing.

While my grandfather’s changed attitude about homosexuals was not state-imposed, it certainly was more in line with Canadian values. It is a facet of our culture that I’ve always admired: a commitment to shared values that supersede our backgrounds.

While this mindset is shared by most religious people in our country, there are still those who believe their private views should warrant special treatment from public resources. I was amazed to find that the narrative of Christian victimhood still alive and well in David Millard Haskell’s CBC News article about the federal government’s youth summer jobs program.

This program offers funding to various companies, businesses, and other workplaces, so that they can afford to take on more student employees during the summer months. One of the government’s recent adjustments is that, to apply for the grant, you have to commit your institution to respecting the Canadian rights outlined in our Charter. This is stated to include reproductive rights: in other words, you have to respect a woman’s right to an abortion.

Haskell’s argument is that abortion is not a Charter-promised right. Therefore, by restricting grant funding to institutions who support women’s reproductive rights, the Canadian government is overstepping their bounds. Haskell claims that the requirement “shows a complete lack of awareness of what it means to be ethical.”

But Haskell’s argument fails to understand that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not the only enforceable and recognized legislation of Canada’s federal government. For example, it is equally valid to say that there is no Charter right protecting access to nursing services. However, as it is a provision covered in the Canada Health Act, it would be reasonable for the federal government to ask grant applicants whether or not they agree with medical patients having rights to nursing.

Perhaps the use of the term “right” is the point of semantic confusion for Haskell; regardless, access to abortion is also covered by the Canada Health Act. Haskell is unequivocally wrong in saying that no legislation has covered abortion since the decriminalization in 1988. Abortion is “medically necessary,” which renders it protected under the Act, and abortion clinics are considered hospitals for providing the service.

The Canadian government’s requirement in regards to the youth summer jobs program is also in line with typical grant requirements. For example, the Canada Service Corps — Projects for youth-serving organizations grant shares similar requirements. The grant is also ongoing, and details ineligible candidates as those “that do not respect existing individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights . . .”

Other grants include preferences for Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis recipients, or LGBTQ+ focused projects, both of which could be considered politically or ideologically motivated, but are nevertheless accepted. Government grant programs are also only temporary, and are therefore likely to reflect the agendas of the ruling parties. To compare a single grant program to the suppression of Christians in the Roman Empire, as Haskell does, is at best gross hyperbole, and at worst insidiously misleading.

Finally, no institution is coerced into applying for government grants, as Haskell’s analogy would imply. Neither are they entitled to receive those grants. If your institution chooses to privately hold beliefs contradictory to Canadian law, it should be of no shock to you that it is ineligible.

This entire issue is to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is uncontroversial in 2018 for the Canadian federal government to require support for reproductive rights. According to Pew Research Center, only 26% of Canadians believe abortion is immoral compared to 49% in the United States, with the remainder believing it to be moral or not a moral issue at all. It is clear that Canadian values, as a reflection of popular opinion, favour access to abortions. Christian ethics are irrelevant to the requirements of government grants: they are, and should be, based on Canadian law and values.

To allow institutions that oppose abortion access to government funding would be privileging religious organizations over their non-religious counterparts. Such a decision would be antithetical to our secular society. With the non-religious demographic in Canada tripling in size from 2001–11, and in some provinces reaching nearly 50%, religious arguments will continue to lose merit in our discussions about ethics, especially as it relates to governance.

Arguments like those of David Millard Haskell don’t deserve our sympathies. They ask for special treatment under the law that should apply to all Canadians equally. Our country’s freedom of religion is no excuse to oppose our laws.

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