By Christopher Wells
The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, is speaking out about attempts by the Canadian government to impose an ideological test on organizations wishing to receive funding from Canada’s Summer Jobs Program. The program provides federal funding to organizations – including small businesses and not-for-profit organizations, as well as charitable organizations – which hire students during the summer months.
In December 2017, the current Canadian government changed the requirements for groups choosing to take part in the program, requiring them to “attest” that they support what they describe as individual human rights. The government insists that those poorly-defined "rights" include “sexual and reproductive ‘rights’,” including access to abortion. The vague language of the new regulations also requires organizations to affirm their support for the rights of “gender-diverse” and “transgender” Canadians, without clearly defining those rights.
A troubling situation
“This is a very troubling situation,” Cardinal Collins says in an interview with Vatican News. He acknowledges the government’s right to require organizations to act in accordance with the law, but argues that the government is going beyond that in requiring organizations to attest to beliefs that go against their faith. “It’s an ideology test, it isn’t relating to action,” he says. “Obviously, you should be able to say” that funding will not be used illegally. “That’s perfectly legitimate.” But the current regulations require organizations to attest to their belief – their faith – in things like access to abortion and other issues that are “problematic” to Christians and others.
“No government has the right to have an ideology test on anyone,” Cardinal Collins says. “That just isn’t fair. You should be screened on behaviour… but this is not right.”
Canadians "appalled" by government attacks
The government’s efforts to impose a religious or ideology test on recipients of federal funding is being opposed not just by Christians, but by leaders from a wide variety of traditions, including Judaism and Islam. Many people across the country, Collins says, are “appalled” by the government’s actions.
Cardinal Collins insists that the government is attacking the very rights it claims to be protecting. “Although the government refers to the Charter of Rights… all the time, and to the underlying ‘values’ of the Charter of Rights, actually, if they read the Charter of Rights, they’d see two things,” he says. “First of all, the very first fundamental right that is actually in the Charter of Rights, is freedom of conscience and religion.” The second point he notes is that the Charter of Rights explicitly says that the Charter applies to governments, not individuals. “So in any case, it is intended to protect citizens from being intimidated by the government, against their conscience and religion. It’s not intended to intimidate citizens, which is how the government is using it.”
Keeping the issue before the public
In the interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Collins outlines a number of steps that have already been taken in response to the new requirement. “We’re not seeking a war with the government,” he says, emphasizing the legitimate role of the government, and the immense good that has come from cooperation between the government and faith-based and other charitable organizations. “We didn’t want to get into a dispute with the government,” he continues. “So that’s why we’re trying to give them a way out,” by agreeing to follow all the laws of Canada – while maintaining deeply held convictions, and refusing to attest to beliefs and values that contradict our faith.
Cardinal Collins, however, is sceptical of the government’s willingness to reverse course. “I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’re going to back down on this.” But one of the things, he says, “that we are surely going to do, is to keep this before the public.”
“I think a lot of Canadians,” including people of different faith traditions, and even non-believers, “are appalled by this heavy-handed, dictatorial approach that has been taken by the government, for no reason at all,” Cardinal Collins concludes. “I mean, why are they doing this? I just find it astonishing.”