What is the Canada Summer Jobs Program Attestation?

And how does it affect women's equality rights?

The Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJP) is a federal grant program that provides wage subsidies to not-for-profit organizations, the public sector and private sector organizations to create quality summer work experiences for young people between the ages of 15 and 30.1Not-for-profit organizations can get funding to cover up to 100 per cent of the cost of hiring young Canadians. Public-sector and private-sector employers can get funding to cover up to 50 per cent of those costs through the program. Applications typically open in February, are assessed in February and March, approved in April, and funds are released as of early June. The initial assessments are done by Service Canada officials. Tentative lists of approved employers are then sent to individual Ministers of Parliament. MPs make final recommendations on which jobs to fund and final approval rests with Service Canada. MPs play a large role in determining local priorities and confirming the lists of recommended projects drawn up and sent to them for validation by Service Canada. Those lists have historically been based on what was funded the year before. In 2018, the national priorities were: “[e]mployers who intend to hire youth who are in underrepresented groups, including new immigrant youth/refugees, Indigenous youth, youth with disabilities and visible minorities; [s]mall businesses, in recognition of their contribution to the creation of jobs; [o]rganizations that support opportunities for official language minority communities; [o]rganizations that provide services and/or supports for the LGBTQ2 community; [and] [o]rganizations that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and information and communications and technology (ICT), particularly for women.”  Canada Summer Jobs, “Canada Summer Jobs 2018: Applicant Guide”, (2018) at 10.

In 2017, reports revealed that anti-abortion groups had secured $3.5 million in funding through the CSJP and some funding had been used to distribute graphic placards.2Amanda Connolly, “Canada Summer Jobs: Everything you Need to Know about the Crackdown on Anti-Abortion Groups”, Global News (19 January 2018). These groups included the Campaign Life Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. At the same time, concerns emerged around the program’s inclusion of LGBTQ and transgender youth.3Amanda Connelly, “Canada Summer Jobs attestation specifically targets activities, not beliefs: Hajdu”, Global News (January 23 2018).

In August 2017, the then Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patty Hadju, directed her Department to investigate ways to ensure CSJP funding went to groups whose “mandates were consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and court decisions”.4Jordan Press, “Documents shed light on how Liberals came up with controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation”, The Canadian Press (April 24 2018), online: <https://globalnews.ca/news/4164477/canada-summer-jobs-patty-hajdu-attestation/>. By December 2017, the government announced the 2018 CSJP application process would include a rights-affirming attestation to ensure the program was Charter compliant.

Specifically, the 2018 CSJP required any employers applying for these grants would have to check off a box in the application form attesting that their “core mandate respect[s] individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.” The application elaborated that Charter rights 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.”

Anti-choice organizations, religious groups and small business owners objected to the attestation. They claimed that requiring employers to sign this attestation constituted a ‘values test’, which breached their rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. By December 2018, seven lawsuits were filed by anti-choice organizations and their allies — demonstrating efforts to undermine women’s equality rights, including the right to abortion.

The attestation was amended in 2019. The federal government replaced the language of “core mandate” with a provision barring an employer from using the funding to “undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada”. Clarification was also provided on what project and job activities would be considered ineligible. The same wording was used for the 2020 attestation.

NAWL maintains the attestation is not discriminatory, but equality enhancing. Governments have domestic and international obligations to protect and promote equality rights, including reproductive rights, and the attestation works towards fulfilling these obligations. To challenge the misinformation and misrepresentation about the CSJP and women’s equality rights, we have produced a series of six truths to make clear the government’s obligations and the rights at stake.

 

Six Truths

  • The attestation is not discriminatory—it is equality enhancing.
  • The funding conditions of the CSJP do not infringe freedom of religion, conscience or any other rights that people in Canada enjoy. The safeguards put in place by CSJP are designed to ensure that federal monies are not used to fund discriminatory activities that undermine Charter rights, particularly as they relate to bodily autonomy, sexuality, gender identity and expression.
  • The CSJP Attestation and eligibility criteria are fully aligned with Canada’s existing domestic and international human rights obligations. This includes protecting and promoting fundamental rights to security of the person, equality rights, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to access accurate, evidence-based scientific and non-judgmental health information and services, including sexual and reproductive health services.
  • Women’s equality rights are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—including having control over their body and access to abortion services.
  • Before 1988, it was a crime for a woman to have an abortion in Canada, unless a committee of doctors determined that her life or health was in danger. But hospitals were not required to have a committee and the guidelines were unclear and not evenly applied.
  • In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion ban in the landmark R v Morgentaler case involving Dr. Henry Morgentaler—a doctor who fought alongside women’s rights advocates for the right to choose in Canada.
  • In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada decided the abortion ban was unconstitutional because it interfered with a pregnant woman’s ability to make such a fundamental personal choice and violated her right to security of the person under section 7 of the Charter.
  • Women’s reproductive rights have been protected by the Charter for over 30 years.
  • Since the Morgentaler decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly stated that Canadian laws must respect individual decision-making, dignity and autonomy. The Court has upheld every individual’s right to make personal decisions according to their own conscience, without the state interfering. One person’s religious or conscientious beliefs can’t override the fundamental Charter rights of another.
  • The Court has struck down discriminatory barriers that prevent people from accessing health care services and recognized that laws adversely affecting pregnant women amount to sex discrimination.
  • As a result of these rulings over 30 years, any attempt to recriminalize or otherwise restrict women’s access to abortion would be unconstitutional.
  • The attestations included in the 2018 and 2019 CSJP do not violate anyone’s Charter rights to freedom of expression. Individuals and organizations are free to express views and hold beliefs that oppose women’s reproductive rights.
  • The CSJP attestation simply ensures that federal government funding does not support organizations or summer jobs whose objective is to undermine human rights in Canada.
  • To access funding under CSJP, organizations must commit to respect women’s 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.
  • Everyone in Canada remains free to express and advocate for their religious beliefs.
  • The CSJP attestation does not interfere with these rights in any way. It simply says that applicants for summer job grants must agree to respect equality rights protected by the Charter and Canadian human rights law.
  • CSJP offers prospective employers funding for jobs that will further education and provide youth with skills needed to succeed in the modern Canadian workforce. The federal government is free to target CSJP funding to employers who agree to respect human rights and to exclude employers or jobs that actively seek to undermine equality in Canada.
  • This is exactly the type of priority setting that Canadians expect government to do.
  • Canadians both expect and demand that our governments fulfill their human rights obligations, both at home and abroad. This is a legal requirement under the Charter and is part of Canada’s international human rights obligations.
  • Judges in Canada, Members of Parliament, other elected officials, as well as federal, provincial and territorial governments as a whole, are obliged to protect and promote Charter rights. This includes women’s equality rights.
  • CSJP is just one example, among others, of government action designed to promote women’s equality and ensure that Canada respects human rights.