Liberals Acting Illiberally

need a job

 The Liberal government of Canada recently announced new terms for the Canada Summer Jobs program (CSJ), and they are alarming.

Along with requiring any participating organization to adhere to Canadian law, which of course they (redundantly) should, the program newly adds a series of “values” to the list. I have italicized a few words for your special attention.

   “CSJ applicants will be required 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.

        These 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.

         The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.

       The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies.

     The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

Notice this language of “recognition,” as if the government’s values are simply out there, simply obvious in the world—“truths we hold to be self-evident,” as one might say. But of course they are not self-evident, as many people disagree with them. And so this policy has to refer also to its own particular definitions of human rights—definitions that are not so defined in the Charter or any other Canadian legislation. They are, in fact, simply the values of the current government, which has chosen to place them “at the core” of its policies.

The Liberal government is certainly entitled to place any values it likes at the core of its policies, subject of course to Canadian law. But what it is not entitled to do is to require those values of everyone else who is going about their Canadian business.

Yet according to this policy, Canadian organizations—including religious organizations—must comply with the current government’s values in order to participate in a program funded, of course, by all Canadians, not just Liberal Party supporters.

I see at least two major problems with this proposal.

First, this proposal itself commits the government to practicing religious discrimination, and at two levels.

(1) The government’s insistence on compliance with its own orthodoxy (and not merely with the laws of the land) discriminates both against particular religions (and the institutions they sponsor) that hold to different views, and

(2) also against individual employers, whatever their religious self-description on the census, who hold different values on these matters…which values are part of their basic worldview—which is to say, their religion, functionally speaking.

Second, organizations/employers participating in the program would have to hire only people who agree with these views—that is, practice religious discrimination—if such views have anything to do with the work of that organization in order to avoid employees of different views exercising their religious freedom to opt out of practices they would find objectionable. Think, for example, of pharmacy interns who would reserve the right to refuse to cooperate in the dispensing of contraceptives or abortifacients, or summer camp counsellors who refused to agree with the latest version of sexual and gender plasticity.

Autocracy comes in many forms. Perhaps the smiling face of our current federal government has charmed us into unwitting docility. So let’s borrow from our American cousins and put things slightly differently.

Suppose the U.S. federal government insisted tomorrow that to participate in a similar summer jobs program, everyone involved not only had to comply with the American Constitution and all relevant rights legislation, but also had to share President Trump’s views on a similar list of values regarding sex, gender, reproductive rights, and the like.

How many seconds would elapse, do you think, before a firestorm of controversy and a flurry of lawsuits would explode across that land?

The current government of Canada draws its party’s name from the commitment to freedom, as in liber, liberty. Insisting instead on a new orthodoxy, it betrays its name and, indeed, the values of accommodating deep difference—including deep religious difference—enshrined in Confederation and our Constitution.

The CSJ preamble concludes thus:

“The objective of the change is to prevent Government of Canada funding from flowing to organization whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law.”

But those last four words are doing an awful lot of work: attempting to justify in the vaguest way, in fact, what amounts to considerable governmental overreach, preventing tax dollars from going to Canadian employers and students who do not share current Liberal Party doctrines.

You can certainly agree with those doctrines and yet be dismayed at the government’s heavy-handed insistence upon them in the CSJ. I have written to my Member of Parliament to express my concern. To date, I haven’t heard back from her…but it’s a busy time of year.

May I suggest you make it busier for your M.P., too.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).