Positive response as Liberals remove Canada Summer Jobs ‘values test’

Employment Minister Patty Hajdu says the Liberal government changed the attestation requirements after listening to “a variety of voices.”

The federal Liberals have backtracked under sustained pressure on their provocative attestation requirements for the Canada Summer Jobs program. Christian responses to the move have been positive, though some groups have expressed reservations (go here for a good overview).

Following is a December 7 statement from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which has been very active in opposing the guidelines.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) welcomes the news that the government has changed the controversial attestation on the Canada Summer Jobs application that negatively impacted so many Canadians and charities in 2018.

The EFC, along with many faith-based organizations, civil liberties groups and others, objected to the 2018 requirement that in order to access government funds to hire summer students, organizations had to attest that their core mandate respects individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.

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 or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

Julia Beazley of the EFC says the attestation amounted to a values test.

“Our primary concern with last year’s attestation was that it was, in effect, a values test. And that values test was an infringement on the Charter-guaranteed freedoms of conscience, thought, belief, opinion and expression,” says Julia Beazley, director of public policy for the EFC.

“While there are still restrictions on the kinds of jobs or activities that can be funded under the program, that values test is gone.”

The attestation for the 2019 program now requires applicants to attest that “any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of legally protected rights in Canada.”

In the 2019 guidelines, there are limits on the kinds of activities that will receive funding. For example, student jobs that “advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice; or actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services” will not be eligible.

Although the word “undermine” is vague and may need clarification, the EFC believes it is a significant improvement that the restrictions are limited to the student employment activities rather than the values of the employers.

“We believe these changes will allow Canadian churches and faith-based organizations to apply and be eligible for funding under this program,” says Beazley. “The new wording should also mean that pro-life organizations are not excluded simply because they are pro-life.”

In meetings and conversations with Minister Hajdu, other government officials and MPs, the EFC recommended that the government replace the attestation with wording that indicated employers would comply with applicable human rights and labour legislation, rather than requiring respect for rights and values.

In multiple letters and statements, the EFC argued the problematic attestation was tantamount to a values test and a restriction of religious freedom in Canada. The EFC, along with other faith-based organizations, has said consistently that the ability to participate in a government program must not be limited based on the values and beliefs of the applicant.

“This is an issue that has affected churches and faith-based organizations across the country and their ability to serve their communities, and it has been a top priority for us,” says Beazley. “We are pleased and encouraged that the values test has been dropped from the Canada Summer Jobs program.”

The following is the 2019 Canada Summer Jobs attestation and the eligibility criteria for employers and projects:

Attestation

  1. I have read, understood and will comply with the Canada Summer Jobs Articles of Agreement;
  2. I have all the necessary authorities, permissions and approvals to submit this application on behalf of myself and my organization;
  3. The job would not be created without the financial assistance provided under a potential contribution agreement;
  4. Any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.

Eligibility Criteria

Ineligible Employers:

  • Members of the House of Commons and the Senate
  • Federal Government Departments and Agencies
  • Provincial and Territorial Departments and Agencies
  • Organizations that engage in partisan political activities

Ineligible Projects and Job Activities:

  • Projects consisting of activities that take place outside of Canada;
  • Activities that contribute to the provision of a personal service to the employer;
  • Partisan political activities;
  • Fundraising activities to cover salary costs for the youth participant; or
  • Projects or job activities that:
    • restrict access to program, services, employment or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds, including sex, age, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression;
    • advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice; or
    • actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.

This statement is re-posted by permission from the EFC.

The Canadian Council of Christian Charities, which has also been very active in pursuing the issue, also responded December 7. Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the group, said it is “a very positive move” that the government has “removed the problematic 2018 values language,” but added that “the 2019 Attestation is not without some troubling aspects.” Go here for the full statement.

Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, program director for the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute (CRFI) raised a number of issues in a Convivium article, Beneath the Summer Jobs Controversy.

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