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Jonathon Van Maren knows better than to count on funding from the Canada Summer Jobs program to help the pro-life Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform financially this year.
After all, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has pinpointed CCBR as a prime cause of explosively controversial changes to the Summer Jobs funding process. No one among the Centre’s 25 staff members will be surprised to hear the cheque’s not in the mail from Ottawa, Van Maren says – even after a last-minute deadline extension.
“We are public enemy number one,” the CCBR communications director tells Convivium from the organization’s Western office in Calgary. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
There have, however, been several other surprises arising from the “kerfuffle” that quickly became a potent political kick in the pants for the Trudeau government during January.
The first surprise, Van Maren says, is that the CCBR application to the Summer Jobs program wasn’t just quietly nixed behind closed bureaucratic doors. There would then have been no fuss, no muss, no month long outcry about the federal government trampling free speech and religious freedom.
“That’s exactly what I thought was going to happen. I can’t quite believe it’s happened this way.”
Instead, he says, the government’s addition of what has been called an “ideological purity test” to the application process has been a gift-wrapped box of lucky pennies from Heaven on a silver platter for both CCBR and the pro-life movement at large.
When prospective employers were told they qualified for summer jobs funding only if they professed support for pro-choice views, religious groups across Canada raised the alarm about a perceived assault on their beliefs. The result was a rapid outcry against a simple program intended to help kids get summer work being hijacked to force faithful Canadians to either deny or lie about their beliefs.
In late January, 80 leaders of different faith traditions signed a demand that the Trudeau government withdraw the so-called “attestation” provision. Even unapologetic pro-choice advocate Joyce Arthur, of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said the government had gone too far in its apparent attack on religious rights. Various groups are still exploring legal action against the government.
Two critical unintended consequences – or unexpected benefits, depending on your perspective - came out of the backlash, Van Maren says. Groups that had little or no contact with each other suddenly recognized the vital need for collective self-defence. And abortion itself, which had been relegated to the deep, dark hidey-hole of political conversation, was given new life by a government committed to suppressing it as an issue.
“It has essentially forced people to pick a side,” Van Maren says. “That’s a change from it not even being on most people’s radar. A lot of people would prefer to stay out of (the abortion debate) completely, but when the government says ‘you’re either with us or against us’ that causes a lot of people to speak up and say ‘okay, on this, we’re against you.’”
The furor that Prime Minister Trudeau initially dismissed as a minor “kerfuffle” involving only a few religious groups has, Van Maren says, brought CCBR a fresh wave of volunteers, and an extremely positive response to its door knocking work across Canada.
“Suddenly, you’ve got a huge number of people who traditionally haven’t been pro-life simply because the pro-life movement has been mainly Catholics and Protestants. It’s been incredibly helpful to us. We’re connecting with communities. We can train them as volunteers. We know who talk to about getting people involved in the pro-life movement.”
Another major benefit, he adds, has been the media response that has at long last stripped the scab off the falsehood about abortion being a Charter right in Canada.
“We’ve been saying for years that abortion’s not a Charter right. No one would listen. But now the media is saying it. I don’t know if there’s ever been a time since (abortion) became a story that the media has said so clearly, “No, by the way, it’s not the case; abortion isn’t a Charter right.”
Van Maren accepts that some of the singling out of CCBR might have been pure political payback for its nation-wide “No To Trudeau” campaign before the 2015 federal election. But he stresses the far more important influence was the Liberal government falling into an ideological trap of its own making.
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Both the prime minister and Employment Minister Patty Hajdu have publicly excoriated CCBR for its use of pamphlets showing gruesome depictions of aborted babies. At a recent town hall meeting, the PM called the images “hateful” and said no organization that uses them – he singled out CCBR - would ever receive funding from his government.
But Van Maren dismisses that as a Justin-come-lately pretext. CCBR has also been vociferously denounced for handing out pro-life pamphlets that simply show unborn children at various weeks of development.
“It’s actually stunned me that there’s absolutely zero difference in response whether we use abortion photography or images of the baby in the womb.”
Where there is a difference in response is in the “before and after” exposure to information on what abortion involves. The tracking CCBR has done shows more than 60 per cent of Canadians who receive pro-life literature shift toward a negative view of abortion, he says.
That, he’s confident, is not a figure the Trudeau government counted on, or even took into account, when it made the Summer Jobs program a focal point of its pro-choice advocacy.
“The whole reason for the overreach with the Summer Jobs Program is that the Liberals simply don’t understand not everybody shares their views on this issue. They’re discovering there are a lot more pro-life Canadians than they expected.”
So while Van Maren isn’t a expecting a job-funding windfall from the current federal government any time soon, he can’t discount the delight of the unexpected turn the pro-life debate has just taken.
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