Abortion at the heart of summer jobs program debate

Christians in East York weigh in on the controversy

Mary Quigley is disappointed.

The devout Catholic, who has been living in East York since 1966, was frustrated to hear about changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program application.

The grant program now requires applicants to state that their organization’s  core mandate supports reproductive rights, including access to abortion.

“It’s terrible to try and force people to say they believe in something when they don’t,” Quigley said. “I’m very disappointed in Mr. Trudeau. As a baptized Roman Catholic, he should know better.”

On Jan. 30, a federal court judge ruled against an emergency injunction filed by the Toronto Right to Life Association to keep the application changes from being implemented this year.

Justice Martine St.-Louis found that the pro-life organization did not meet the burden of proof required.

The injunction is part of a larger lawsuit against the federal government that will challenge the constitutionality of the application changes.

Blaise Alleyne, the president of Toronto Right to Life, said in an official statement on their website that the organization was “disappointed by the ruling.”

The organization will return to court in a few months, when it will present its arguments against the federal government.

“It’s a violation of Canadians’ charter rights to freedom of belief, expression and religion,” Alleyne told the East York Observer.

“The Charter is a shield to protect us from the government, not a sword for the government to use against us when we don’t agree with the Prime Minister,” he said. “This is a bold, unconstitutional overreach, and we have to stand up and defend our beliefs.”

According to the Archdiocese of Toronto, the approximately 150 summer jobs that could be negatively affected are primarily summer counsellors’ positions.

The archdiocese was one of the 80 groups present at an interfaith press conference on Jan. 25 asking the federal government to change the new requirements.

“I don’t think the government intended to politicize programs that were never political in the first place,” said Neil MacCarthy, the director of public relations and communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The archdiocese and its partners still see the potential for dialogue.

“We feel the door has been closed, but we are hopeful there is a solution,” MacCarthy said.

The archdiocese said that legal action is not planned at present.

At Hope United Church, located at Danforth Avenue and Main Street, the new application requirements aren’t an issue for pastor Brian Stevens.

The United Church of Canada tends to be liberal and in line with changes to Canadian society and law when it comes to social issues, including abortion and contraception, he said.

“As a Christian, I think it’s important we stay in tune with the laws of our country. I personally believe in a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her own health.”

When asked about organizations opposed to the changes due to religious and moral grounds, Stevens’ response was, “Just don’t apply.”

“You absolutely have the right to disagree,” he said. “But if you disagree strongly enough that you aren’t going to tick the box, just don’t apply to that program.”

When it comes time to apply for his own church to receive funding for after-school programs and summer drama camps, Stevens said he will have no qualms ticking the little box.

Despite the backlash, the federal government has no plans to change the new requirements.

The application deadline has been extended to Feb. 9.