OTTAWA — Activities and projects that are considered to be anti-abortion will be ineligible for funding as part of Canada’s revamped national youth volunteer program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched the first phase of the new Canada Service Corps program during a live Instagram video Tuesday, calling it an exciting opportunity to get young Canadians engaged in their country and community.
“Our vision and our goal for this is really going to be to create an opportunity for any young person who wants to serve their country in meaningful ways,” Trudeau said.
The government is investing $105 million into the program over the next three years, and while it won’t be fully rolled out until 2019, there are already funding applications being accepted for the initial phase.
And much like the Canada Summer Jobs program, the Canada Service Corps will not approve funding for any projects deemed not to “respect existing individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” including reproductive rights.
Other values listed include 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 funding will be used for projects that “engage young people and get them involved in meaningful service opportunities.” Examples include a peer-to-peer mental health support network, or a three-month project to have youth promote the need to conserve local wetlands.
There will be a special emphasis on projects that target reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, including those that bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.
Unlike the jobs program, Employment and Social Development Canada won’t require organizations to sign anything attesting that their core mandate doesn’t oppose human rights or the charter, including reproductive rights.
Rather, it will be up to the department reviewing the applications to decide if the specific activity or program for which funding is sought meets the requirement.
The government has been criticized about the Canada Summer Jobs program by faith groups and charities who say they can’t sign a statement that contravenes their religious beliefs, and now won’t be eligible for funding for summer jobs such as camp counsellor positions and summer internships.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of imposing his values on others, but his spokesman said Tuesday they want to know more about why the government is implementing the policy differently for the Canada Service Corps.
In an interview Monday with The Canadian Press, Trudeau was asked if the eligibility rules for Canada Summer Jobs would extend to any other areas of the government. He said he couldn’t “think of any examples,” but reiterated the government would “be thoughtful about ensuring rights are protected.”
“I think people can expect us to be consistent on that.”
In a letter to Trudeau this week, Jim Hughes, president of the Campaign Life Coalition, said abortion is neither a “human right” nor a right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canada Service Corps will include volunteer opportunities with 10 organizations already approved by the government — 4-H Canada, Apathy is Boring, Boys and Girls Club of Canada, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Chantiers jeunesse, Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – Canada, Katimavik, mindyourmind, Ocean Wise, and the YMCA.
Local and regional organizations, including schools, not-for-profits, municipal governments, indigenous organizations and Crown corporations, can also apply for funding for projects in their communities. Individuals can also apply for small grants of $250, $750 or $1,500 for service-related projects.
The revamped program finally fulfills a campaign promise made by the Liberals to spend “$25 million per year in a restored youth service program, to give young Canadians valuable work and life experience, and provide communities with the help required for much-needed projects.”
The first Liberal budget in 2016 promised $105 million over five years and $25 million annually after that to support youth service. The 2017 budget promised the new initiative would finally be launched in the fall of 2017 but that didn’t happen.