December 27 2017
The Government of Canada recently announced that it was changing the rules governing its Canada Summer Jobs program; the changes will deny funding to employers who advocate against abortion rights or the equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians (see here). While these goals may be laudable, this policy sets a dangerous precedent. In a free and democratic society, government funding should not be contingent on adherence to a prescribed set of ideological values.
While many Canadians would describe themselves as pro-choice on the issue of abortion (a March 2017 poll found that 77% of Canadians support legal abortion), and most Canadians believe that LGBTQ2 people should have equal rights (on the issue of same-sex marriage, a 2015 poll found 70% of Canadians supported equal marriage), a significant minority of Canadians do not hold those views. In a democracy that values open dialogue and free speech, these citizens are free to hold contrary opinions as long as they are not breaking the law in doing so.
Denying government funding to organizations which do not support public policy on abortion and LGBTQ2 rights is a form of state coercion of private thought. Funding should not be used as a tool to silence critics, if those critics hold opinions that have nothing to do with the provision of services to the public. For example, the Salvation Army provides much-needed help to the poor, homeless, and hungry in 128 countries, but its governing principles define marriage as heterosexual and call on homosexuals to lead a celibate life. This stance, while repugnant to many people, is perfectly legal, and denying them funding for summer employees while reaping the benefits of the many programs that the Salvation Army provides that are unrelated to LGBTQ2 rights, such as homeless shelters and disaster relief, is hypocritical and harms people who need those programs desperately.
Churches and other faith-based organizations that run a wide range of programs targeted at society’s most vulnerable and needy individuals will be ineligible to receive funding for temporary summer staff under this policy. Summer camps for disadvantaged children run by faith-based organizations that hold views that differ from the government’s orthodoxy on abortion and same-sex marriage, for example, will be unable to access grant money to hire staff.
There are sufficient safeguards in Canadian labour law and in federal and provincial human rights codes to protect LGBTQ2 workers and others from discrimination in employment without requiring an ideological purity test on the part of the employer to qualify for government funding. The right to religious freedom and freedom of thought and belief is enshrined in our constitution and has been repeatedly upheld in legal case law. Canadians should be wary of this serious over-reach by the federal government into the area of private beliefs that are both legal and constitutionally protected. No government should set itself up as the arbiter of these moral values.
It’s not hard for LGBTQ2 people to imagine a different scenario, where they are the targets of government policies trying to regulate speech and expression. It wasn’t that long ago that the federal government used the apparatus of the state to clamp down on the freedom of speech of LGBTQ2 Canadians by censoring publications, raiding bookstores, and stopping shipments of LGBTQ2 material into the country at the border. For decades, LGBTQ2 civil servants were harassed and had their employment terminated because their sexual identity did not conform to government standards of morality.
Canada is a pluralistic society, and divergent opinions on social issues should be not only protected but encouraged. This policy by the government of Canada is misguided and dangerous.