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Anti-abortion advocates in Manitoba say new requirements to receive federal summer job funding are unfair, undemocratic and “unCanadian.”

Applications for the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program opened Dec. 19 with a new catch: employers seeking federal funding to hire summer students must be pro-choice.

“I think it’s absolutely bogus,” said Justin Jeanson, president of Lorette-based Eastman Youth for Life. “I don’t understand how (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) could decide that only the people who believe what he believes can receive this kind of money.”

He said Canadians pride themselves on accepting of diverse views, so this policy change is “completely unCanadian.” Not-for-profit organizations, public-sector employers and small businesses are eligible to apply to the annual program, they just have to sign an attestation that declares their organization’s core mandate respects a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

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Anti-abortion advocates in Manitoba say new requirements to receive federal summer job funding are unfair, undemocratic and "unCanadian."

Applications for the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program opened Dec. 19 with a new catch: employers seeking federal funding to hire summer students must be pro-choice.

"I think it’s absolutely bogus," said Justin Jeanson, president of Lorette-based Eastman Youth for Life. "I don’t understand how (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) could decide that only the people who believe what he believes can receive this kind of money."

He said Canadians pride themselves on accepting of diverse views, so this policy change is "completely unCanadian." Not-for-profit organizations, public-sector employers and small businesses are eligible to apply to the annual program, they just have to sign an attestation that declares their organization’s core mandate respects a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Recipients must guarantee they support the individual right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The government is not saying that organizations must adhere to these criteria, full-stop, but rather, that tax dollars are no longer going to be allocated towards programs that aren’t in line with these criteria," said Christie McLeod, founder and director of Human Rights Hub Winnipeg.

Most Canadians support those beliefs, she said. Last summer’s specific CSJ numbers aren’t available, but the program has reportedly nearly doubled the number of student summer jobs created since 2015.

The funds helps create summer camp jobs run by organizations across Manitoba, including the Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) and Catholic Church.

While the new application requirements won’t affect camps run by the MIA, which are "focused on encouraging expressions of multiculturalism and a better understanding of the Canadian mosaic," camps run by the Catholic Church will lose out on funding.

The new requirements will preclude the church from being able to access the program’s benefits, according to James Buchok, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg’s Catholic Church Centre.

"We just wouldn’t qualify because we’re not pro-choice," Buchok said. "That would pretty well end the conversation."

Kevin Prada, director of the Catholic School of Evangelization, which runs the St. Malo Catholic Camps, said he relies heavily on CSJ funding to provide affordable camps. Prada said he won’t be able to sign the attestation.

"It’s going to hurt us," he said, adding the government’s actions transcend the abortion debate and should bother pro-choice Canadians, too.

"For me, this is a serious affront on my liberty and the liberty of Canadians: their liberty of conscience, their liberty of freedom of expression, freedom of religion," Prada said.

He said now that the Liberal government has decided to withhold money from groups who don’t share the party’s values, he worries about these groups losing their charity status in the future.

The message about Canadian values is simply mixed up, according to Elizabeth Andrzejczak, president of Kildonan Advocates for Life.

"We are promoting Canada as a place of ideological and religious freedom, but CSJ will not hire you if you have different values from the official government of Canada position," she said. "Far from promoting diversity, the new CSJ stipulations undermine it."

The updated application process comes months after revelations surfaced a Toronto-area MP allocated CSJ funds to an anti-abortion group.

"If groups such as the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform — an anti-abortion advocacy group that received more than $50,000 through this program last year — want to advocate against certain rights, they have the protected freedom to do so," McLeod said. "But it does not have to be supported on the country’s dime."

The CSJ applications close Feb. 2.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca


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