David Manley says he agrees women have the right to have an abortion under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — but thinks he shouldn't have to in order to access federal funding.
The Saskatchewan bakery owner has written to federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu to oppose a clause in the Canada Summer Jobs program funding application that requires groups say they respect reproductive rights.
The form asks applicants to attest that their "core mandate" respects charter rights.
The program will not consider applications unless the box is filled out.
Although it does not specifically ask the applicant to mark that they personally agree with reproductive rights, Manley said the form's specific reference to certain types of rights makes it "feel" like it asking him to do so.
"Just ask me to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; that's not a problem," said Manley.
"But then when they specifically identify other things — 'these include' — it feels like they are asking me to endorse, and that's the way that that thing's written."
Clause goes too far, says Manley
Manley is a minister and bakery-owner in Consul, Sask., in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan.
He agrees the choice to have an abortion is a right, although he does not personally agree with the decision to do so. He said those beliefs are tied to his Christian faith.
He said he wants to apply for funding through the program but feels that the government has overstepped its jurisdiction with the new requirement.
"The stuff just moves into that whole grey area of, 'OK, just become the Big Brother. We become the thought police and we become somehow restricting parts of society,'" said Manley.
"Let me decide that I want to access government funds and if I abuse that right then take me to court."
Clause to stop inappropriate use of funds
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has previously said that prior to the change, the government heard some groups were using the funds from federal grants to "create graphic pamphlets that featured aborted fetuses as a way to shame women about reproductive rights."
"This is about the activities of the organization and the job description," Hajdu told CBC News in January. "This is not about beliefs or values."
Government facing backlash
The addition to the form has been controversial with anti-abortion groups and some religious organizations across Canada.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon said last month that he disagrees with the government's interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes women's reproductive rights relating to abortion.
Myron Rogal, the co-ordinator of the office of justice and peace for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, said last month he knew of businesses that would no longer apply for the funding because of their beliefs.
"That's not something that they can sign on to and agree with in terms of getting funding," said Rogal.
Change wording or remove, says Manley
Manley thinks the federal government should deal with applicants who use the funding inappropriately individually and based on their actions, rather than making the values of an organization a requirement for accessing funds.
He said that regardless of his personal values he would not discriminate against potential student workers — or customers — based on their beliefs.
"In this culture everyone has the right to live and choose and make decisions for themselves as they desire," said Manley.
The federal government has stood by its decision to add the requirement.
Manley hopes writing to minister Hajdu will help convince the government to change the wording, or remove it completely and focus on punishing groups who use the funding inappropriately.