The Liberals are changing the controversial Canada Summer Jobs attestation that required program applicants to attest respect for a range of established rights, including access to abortion.
Now, groups that work to undermine those rights or that promote discrimination simply won’t be eligible for funding.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the Canada Summer Jobs crackdown on anti-abortion groups
“The changes this year are really a reflection of the conversations we’ve been having with Canadians, with members of Parliament, with faith-based leaders and with progressive groups across the country,” said Employment Minister Patty Hajdu in an interview with Global News.
“At the end of the day, we are extremely pleased with how this landed. We think that we’ve managed to listen to Canadians and listen to a variety of voices.”
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An announcement from Service Canada with more information about the changes is set to go out to MPs on Thursday.
The changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program will also allow all youths between the ages of 18 and 30 — not just students — apply for jobs funded through the program.
Last December, the government introduced a new attestation that required all employers seeking a Canada Summer Jobs grant to attest that “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.”
READ MORE: Canada Summer Jobs program will no longer fund anti-abortion, anti-gay groups
Those other 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, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
Religious groups and Conservative critics quickly cried foul, arguing that requiring employers to attest to what they deemed a “values test” breached their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Several anti-abortion groups that refused the attestation filed a lawsuit against the government in Federal Court; the lawsuit remains ongoing.
Federal officials argued the decision on whether to apply for funding is entirely voluntary, and employers had the choice not to do it.
WATCH BELOW: Employers should have no problem with new attestations on reproductive rights: Hajdu
Hajdu said that while the government had tried to make it clear the attestation wasn’t targeting “beliefs or values,” some people were still confused and uncomfortable.
“Last year, what we were trying to ensure was that money didn’t go towards activities that would in any way ask a kid to undermine or violate the rights that Canadians have fought for and won through hard legal battles,” she said.
“Despite our effort to make that case, many faith-based groups still felt it was uncomfortable for them to sign and so we wanted to make sure that we worked with faith-based groups, with leaders, but that we also worked with rights organizations to get it right, to make sure the attestation gets at the core of ensuring that any funding doesn’t support activities or projects that in any way undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.”
Under the new eligibility criteria being set out for applications this year, any employer wanting to use the money to hire youth for work that would undermine or restrict reproductive rights, promote intolerance or prejudice or that would otherwise discriminate on any prohibited grounds cannot receive funding.
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Prohibited grounds for discrimination, as defined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, include sex, age, religion, race, ethic origin, any form of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
All of those were originally covered by the attestation wording introduced last year.
However, the changes to the attestation set to be announced would essentially remove the responsibility of specifically attesting to those from the employer.
Instead, it will be up to Service Canada to assess applications and determine whether employers meet the criteria.
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Hajdu says she had several one-on-one meetings with religious leaders earlier this year as well as subsequent group consultations on the issue.
Her staff has also been going back and forth in discussions about proposed language changes to the attestation in order to find wording that both gets to the root of the issue that the government wants to address and reflects concerns from religious groups that they were being judged on their values.
“They understood that objective, by and large, and I think felt very comfortable and happy that we were listening to their concerns, that we were so open to working with them,” she said.
“Certainly, we’ve been reaching back on a regular basis to propose various kinds of language that would get at those mutual goals, and I think, by and large, many faith-based groups are quite happy.”
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The original attestation, put in place last year, was sparked by a series of media reports in spring 2017.
Those reports revealed that anti-abortion groups had been using the program to obtain tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to advocate for the erosion of reproductive rights.
READ MORE: Anti-abortion group got $56K federal grant from Liberal MP
Liberal MP Iqra Khalid had approved $56,000 in 2017 to the local chapter of a group that is infamous for using graphic pictures of aborted fetuses in their efforts to curtail reproductive rights.
Given that Khalid had run under the pro-choice banner of the Trudeau Liberals, documents obtained by the Canadian Press under access to information laws showed that news caught Hajdu’s attention.
Rachael Harder, the Conservative status of women critic, was also found to have approved thousands in funding to similar groups and centres in her riding.
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By August 2017, Hajdu had directed her department to come up with ways to ensure the Canada Summer Jobs money went only to groups with “mandates that are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and court decisions.”
The attestation was announced in December 2017.
READ MORE: Canada Summer Jobs attestation endorsed by 80 Canadian rights groups
While more than 80 human rights groups in Canada signed a declaration supporting the move, some religious groups and Conservative critics were outraged.
Hajdu would not comment when asked about whether the ongoing legal challenge was an impetus for the change to the 2019 attestation.
“I don’t have any information on that,” she said.
Employers can begin submitting their applications for 2019 funding on Dec. 13.