Values test tested

When the owners of an Alberta irrigation company applied for grant money from the federal government’s summer-jobs program, they refused to sign the “attestation” that their “core mandate” was to ensure that Charter rights are protected.

Wish makes sense, considering that the “core mandate” of an irrigation company would be to, you know, irrigate things.

Anyway, their application was denied, and now they’re taking legal action:

The applicants, Rhea Lynne Anderson and William Anderson, are a married couple residing near Brooks, Alberta. The Andersons are the sole owners of A-1 Irrigation & Technical Services (“A-1”), which offers ecologically responsible irrigation services to local farming operations.

Believing that they could provide a quality summer job to a qualified student, the Andersons submitted a CSJ application on January 24, 2018. However, the Andersons submitted their 2018 CSJ application without checking the “I attest” box, because they object to being compelled to express their agreement and respect for ideological positions as required by the new attestation requirement, which reads:

Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, and 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 or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

The federal government has defined “respecting” “reproductive rights” as including “the right to access safe and legal abortions”. The 2018 CSJ Application Guide states that the federal government “recognizes” that “the right to access safe and legal abortions” is protected by the Charter and human rights legislation.

[…]

On February 10, 2018, the Andersons responded to Service Canada, indicating that they would not be checking the “I attest” box because they viewed it as unconstitutional for the Government “to require a specific prescription of personal beliefs” to qualify for participation in a government program.

The court application seeks a declaration that the new attestation requirement violates section Charter 2(a) and 2(b) freedoms of conscience and expression. The new attestation requirement also breaches the duty of state neutrality, because it compels the Andersons to profess their agreement with, and ostensibly adopt, specific beliefs and values in order to qualify for a government benefit to which they would otherwise be entitled.

The court application further seeks a declaration that the new attestation requirement violates section 32 of the Charter by compelling private entities to assume the legal obligations of the Charter that only the government is required to honour.

The Andersons also seek a declaration that the new attestation requirement is ultra vires the authority of the federal government, and a court order to strike the new attestation requirement and to approve their CSJ application.

The “attestation” was ostensibly required because anti-abortion organizations received funding in the past. And if the Trudeau government had simply required applicants to confirm that they wouldn’t use grant money to agitate against abortion or same-sex marriage, they’d probably be on steadier legal ground.

That they instead decided to make applicants pledge fealty to Liberal party policy is no accident. This is exactly the kind of “wedge issue” politics that Conservative governments are constantly accused of playing.

I’ll admit, I’m kind of looking forward to this policy being struck down for violating the Charter, and seeing Liberal partisans respond by arguing that we have to violate the Charter in order to save it.

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