The House

Government faces pushback for injecting politics into summer jobs

Religious and pro-life groups were left dumbstruck when the government changed its summer job funding application to add a mandatory section affirming the group and the job in question respect reproductive rights — including a woman's right to a safe a legal abortion.

Organizations must now check box affirming they support reproductive rights, including abortion

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu is facing criticism for the government's new requirement for organizations to affirm their belief in reproductive rights in order to qualify for summer jobs funding. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Political influence in summer job funding threatens the diversity that so often Canada boasts of, according to a retired pastor.

Religious and pro-life groups were left dumbstruck when the government changed its summer job funding application to add a mandatory section affirming the group and the job in question respect reproductive rights — including a woman's right to a safe a legal abortion.

Many said they couldn't ethically check that box and contradict their core beliefs.

Marianna Harris, a retired United Church pastor, used funding from the then-Conservative government to hire one student every summer to coordinate her congregation's social media accounts and plan activities like a community teddy bear picnic.

With the new announcement, she told The House she fears for other groups with similar values.

"If the job that's being done is against government policy, then maybe they don't get [funding], but it's not just [based on] what they believe. There's a difference between those two things," she said.

'It's not just a religious issue'

While many pro-choice advocates are lauding the government's stance, others across the country share Harris's unease.

"It is not just a religious issue. There are non-religious groups that see this interference as the beginning of government dictating personal ideology," Lucille Swerdelian said in an email to The House.

Pushback acknowledged, Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, is still standing firm.

"This is about the activities of the organization and the job description," Hajdu told CBC News on Tuesday. "This is not about beliefs or values."

Applying politics to religion and reproduction is the core debate of the decision, but Harris said she wishes the political side could be removed from the issue entirely.

"That's why I wanted to speak up for these people, because I think those grants need to be free of political influence," she stated.

"I'd say take those check marks off that form because it's creating too much difficulty for some faith groups."

Rev. Marianna Harris explains why she felt compelled to write to The House about the federal government's decision to require groups applying for summer job funding to tick a box affirming they respect the values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including reproductive rights. 3:02

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