Federal Court Rejects Anti-Abortion Challenge to Government Funding Restrictions

On October 22, 2021, the Federal Court dismissed an application by the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area (TRTL), which sought to challenge the Federal Government’s decision to deny it funding for the 2018 Canada Summer Jobs program because its president refused to sign an attestation that the job and the organization’s mandate respected human rights, including reproductive rights.

In its decision, the Federal Court dismissed all of the Applicants’ central arguments. The Court found that the attestation was within the scope of the legislation, given the broad powers the act granted to the Minister to oversee and administer the summer job program. Furthermore, the attestation was included to prioritize funding to groups that supported Charter rights and human rights, which was within the scope of the act. The Court also found that the Minister did not base the decision on irrelevant considerations, nor was there any reasonable apprehension of bias.

The Court rejected a further argument that the decision breached the equality rights of the Applicants; however, the Court did find that the attestation engaged the Applicants’ rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion because agreeing to the attestation would have violated the organization’s core beliefs, as well as its president’s personal moral and religious beliefs, and would have required them to agree to a statement they did not wish to make. Despite this, the Court concluded that these interferences with Charter rights were justified, as they were proportional to the government’s objective of creating an inclusive labour workforce by ensuring respect for the Charter and human rights, including reproductive rights. This minimal interference with the Applicants’ Charter rights reflected a proper balancing of their rights with the statutory objectives of the legislation and the summer job program. Therefore, the Minister’s decision was reasonable, and the application was dismissed.

David Yazbeck and Karen Sisson from RavenLaw appeared on behalf of the intervener, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, to support the Government’s position that the attestation was a legitimate requirement to place on government funding through the summer jobs program.

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