NDP's Nathan Cullen adds his voice to those condemning Trudeau government's summer job abortion stance
'It seems to be driving a wedge on something that we needed no wedge drawn on,' Cullen said
New Democrats are joining a chorus of voices across the country in condemning the Liberal government's move to tie summer job funding to a respect for the rights outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including reproductive rights.
"If somebody is doing something that goes against the [charter], it's what we have a charter for, it's what we have courts for, it's what we have police for," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen on the fringes of his party's caucus meeting in Ottawa Wednesday.
"I think it's offensive to some Canadians because it's saying: 'if you hold these values, you are not worthy of any government funding even if the work that you're doing supports the charter, supports the general values that Canadians hold.'
"It seems to be driving a wedge on something that we needed no wedge drawn on," Cullen said.
The Liberal government has come under fire from churches, faith groups and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer over a decision to require groups that apply for summer job funding to tick a box affirming the group will respect the rights set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It means groups getting summer job funding must respect 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.
Under the program, MPs allocate federal funds to non-profit organizations and small businesses in their ridings. The change in the application process comes after a review last year that was prompted by revelations MPs approved tens of thousands of dollars in grants to anti-abortion groups in two ridings.
'Not an appropriate way to go'
"I think there is actually an issue here," Cullen said. "I think the way the government has handled this conversation hasn't been very respectful of many of the faith communities in this country.
"There are many community groups who are faith based who apply and receive summer grants who do amazing work that don't proselytize or promote any issues that would be hard for Canadians to hear," he said.
Scheer condemned the move earlier this month saying the Liberal government was imposing the prime minister's values on faith-based groups.
"I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go," Scheer said.
Liberal Newfoundland MP Scott Simms is trying to get his own government to change its mind arguing that "the application is asking them to do something that they shouldn't be asked to do for the sake of a summer job for kids."
Church groups upset
The application is also causing uproar among church groups across the country.
"We couldn't hold our integrity and check off the box about the reproductive rights," said Jeff Hillier, lead pastor at Community Pentecostal Church in Ottawa. For summer 2016, the last year for which the federal government has provided statistics, the church received approximately $19,544 to create five jobs. While the church's teachings oppose abortion, "abortion has nothing to do with why I'm hiring students," Hillier said.
The pastor of a New Brunswick church is also worried about the government's requirement, saying he is not sure that his church will hire summer students at all.
"They're really saying, 'If you don't agree with the federal government on our position of abortion, you can't hire a student,'" said Norman Woodworth, a member of the Sunny Brae Baptist Church in Moncton, whose church won't be applying for a grant.
Other religious groups such as the Southern Alberta Bible Camp say they can't agree to an applications that requires them to express respect for reproductive rights.
"We don't believe that abortion is right and we're being told that in order to be able to access these grants we need to affirm that," said Jon Gartly, executive director of the SABC.
Despite the ongoing backlash, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu remained unmoved. She said that after reports that job grants had gone to camps that discriminated against the LGBTQ community or used funds to "create graphic pamphlets that featured aborted fetuses as a way to shame women about reproductive rights" the government would hold fast on the policy.
"In order for organizations to receive funding, they have to affirm that they will not actively work to undermine the rights of Canadians," she said in Toronto Tuesday.
With files from Joe Lofaro, Aaron Wherry, Susan Burgess, Anis Heydari and Elizabeth Fraser