Canadians split over abortion attestation for summer jobs program, poll suggests

Canadians are evenly divided on whether the Liberal government's new requirement for summer job grant recipients to sign an attestation respecting abortion and LGBT rights is fair or not, a new poll finds. The Angus Reid Institute online survey also found that respondents' views on abortion also influenced how they assessed the new form.

Divisions cross party lines, with some opposed to limits on freedom of conscience

A child looks at placards for the "March for Life" rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 12, 2016. Canadians are split on the fairness of Ottawa's rule requiring job grant applicants to attest support for charter rights - including a woman's right to choose. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadians are evenly divided on the question of whether it's fair for the Liberal government to require that summer job grant recipients sign an attestation respecting LGBT and abortion rights, according to a new poll.

The Angus Reid Institute survey found a clear 50-50 split across the nation. Conservative supporters are more likely to oppose the attestation (68 per cent) compared to those who voted Liberal (41 per cent) or NDP (44 per cent) in the last election.

The Trudeau government unleashed a storm of controversy when it declared that organizations would have to confirm that their "core mandates" respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on reproductive and LBGT rights in order to be eligible for Canada Summer Job grants.

The poll found that respondents' views changed according to how they thought the grant money would be spent.

Presented with a hypothetical scenario involving an anti-abortion organization applying for a grant to fund activities unrelated to abortion advocacy, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of Canadians said they believe the organization should be eligible. Support for funding falls below 37 per cent in a scenario which sees the anti-abortion group spend its grant money on anti-abortion advocacy.

Personal views on abortion

Personal views on abortion are a significant factor in how respondents assess the fairness of the attestation. Those who say abortion should be severely restricted are more likely to see it as unfair (86 per cent) compared to those who hold a pro-choice position (36 per cent).

The Angus Reid Institute survey, conducted between May 2 and 3, 2018, interviewed 1,512 Canadian adults who were members of an online panel. A probabilistic sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The 2018 attestation requires applicants to attest that "both the job and the 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," says the Department of Employment and Social Development website.

"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, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression."

Religious groups and others have complained they are ineligible for funding under the new guidelines because they are unable or unwilling to attest their core mandate aligns with the Liberal government's position.

A spokeswoman for Labour Minister Patty Hajdu's office said the government isn't looking to drop the attestation requirement but is open to "suggestions."

"Our government will always be unequivocal in our support for reproductive rights and LGBTQ2 rights. Government funding shouldn't fund work that seeks to undermine those rights," said Carlene Variyan. "We continue to be open to suggestions for how to improve this program for the young Canadians it serves."

Freedom of conscience

Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, said the poll results show the attestation left a lot of people feeling it infringed on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

"You might have a situation where someone is in favour of not having abortion laws, in favour of access to abortion, but perhaps does not have the stomach to see government dictating what organizations that want to apply for federal grant money can and can not believe," she said. "I think that's the tension point."

The government has insisted it's not targeting beliefs or values, but rather anti-abortion groups like the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform that distribute flyers depicting bloodied, aborted fetuses.

Kurl said the fact that the poll shows divisions across all political lines — including among Liberal supporters, some of whom think the new rules aren't fair — shows it could be trouble for the party going forward.

"That is something of a liability for the Trudeau government," she said. "Is it one that will cause people who voted for the party or considered voting for the party in the past to turn against them? I can't answer that without a crystal ball."

Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the changes impact a lot of people, including those who have no faith affiliation, such as kids who attend faith-based summer camps.

"Those families are but one segment of the total impact, so people are engaged with this issue, and will remain engaged as long as they continue to be impacted," he said.

"We believe that the government should remove the attestation. Funding decisions should not be made based on the private convictions of those who want to engage in good community work."

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