The government retreats from compelled speech on Summer Jobs program
Canadians no longer need to express agreement with Justin Trudeau’s opinions about abortion as a condition for accessing the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program.
The federal government has abandoned parts of the CSJ “attestation” that required businesses and non-profits to declare their “respect” for “reproductive rights,” including “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
The 2018 attestation affected thousands of Canadian businesses and charities which have no involvement with pro-life work or advocacy.
People like William and Rhea Lynne Anderson, a couple who operate a small business in Brooks, Alberta, providing ecologically responsible irrigation services to local farming operations. Although their business is not engaged in pro-life work, the Andersons could not, in good conscience, sign a statement expressing their support for Justin Trudeau’s vision of abortion “rights.”
Compelling people to say things they do not wish to say violates the Charter’s free expression guarantee as much as prohibiting people from saying what they want to say.
The right to remain silent is one of the differences between a free society and a repressive regime. A law that requires Canadians to say “please” and “thank-you” would be a bad law, not because these are bad words, but because in a free country, nobody should be compelled to say them.
In the twentieth century – one of the darkest in human history – Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and other tyrants required citizens to speak out or otherwise display their support for the regime or the regime’s ideology.
The question of compelled speech is not a new one.
In medieval England, King Henry VIII passed a law requiring people to declare their support for him as the head of the Church in England. Thomas More had his head chopped off in 1535, merely for remaining silent and for refusing to say that King Henry (and not the pope) was the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Hence the Andersons took the federal government to court, seeking a declaration that the attestation violated their charter freedoms of expression and religion.
Other businesses have also filed court actions, joining the non-profit group Free To Do Business Canada, which states that “it is a dangerous precedent for a government to compel businesses and business owners to agree with the government of the day’s values in order to access a public service.
The Charter was “never intended to be a tool for the government to force business owners to think a certain way and violate a citizen’s freedom of thought, conscience and belief.”
Thanks to the Andersons and other principled Canadians who have taken the federal government to court, the 2019 attestation does not require applicants to assert any beliefs or values. However, it adds new language which could penalize many Canadians with various unpopular viewpoints.
Applicants in 2019 must state that the project or activity for which funding is sought will not “advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice” and will not “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.”
If government retains the right to favour its ideological allies, one could see all kinds of groups defunded for holding the “wrong” opinions. For example, a future government might defund anti-pipeline activists, or anti-Israel groups, citing Trudeau’s CSJ program as a precedent.
No group, business or organization is constitutionally entitled to taxpayer funding. The federal government could scrap the CSJ program altogether, if it wanted to. However, withholding summer grant money on the basis of ideology violates the legal requirement that the secular state be neutral.
While the Charter protects freedom of expression, the Charter does not require governments to fund any group or person.
However, once a government commits to funding a program, in this case for the purpose of providing Canadian youth with summer employment and work experience, the withdrawal of funding for expressing the “wrong” opinions is, effectively, a form of censorship.
Disclosure: John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca), which represents the Andersons in their constitutional challenge to the CSJ attestation.