Its remarkable how something as prosaic and mundane as a government application form— crafted, as I imagine, by staid government bureaucrats toiling away somewhere in an Ottawa office tower— can be fodder for such divisive public debate. But here we are, roughly a month into the “kerfuffle” surrounding the Canadian Summer Jobs application form and— although media coverage has ebbed to a trickle— emotions still run high. The controversial addition to this form would require the organization requesting funding to make the following attestation; namely that, “both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect… reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination…” Lest the applicant remain unclear about what precisely constitutes “reproductive rights,” the accompanying guide provides the necessary clarification: “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.”
Much of the public resistance to the new form centres around one particularly troublesome phrase: “core mandate”— a phrase suggesting that an adherence to pro-choice principles would be a necessary prerequisite for receiving funding. However, as the Liberal Government eventually clarified, the phrase “core mandate,” does not refer to matters of belief but, rather, matters of practice. A church or a para-church organization can, for example, hold pro-life views so long as its primary or “core” set of services does not “seek to remove or actively undermine these existing rights.”
Despite the most recent clarifications, there is much that still irks me about what the Liberal Government is doing with the Canada Summer Jobs application form. However, being the plodding and methodical thinker that I am, I don’t feel that I’m currently in a place where I can fully articulate precisely why I believe much of this to be problematic. What I would like to do is share with you how the Summer Jobs Application controversy has and likely will affect a local, non-profit Christian organization for whom I have a great deal of respect. That organization is the Pregnancy Resource Centre (PRC)— an organization which, although adhering to the belief that human life has intrinsic value from conception to natural death, is in no way engaged in any form political lobbying or activism. It’s my belief that— according to the terms spelled out in the CSJ application form— there is absolutely no reason why they should be denied funding for the hiring of summer students.
The Pregnancy Resource Centre of Saint John works under the umbrella of a national organization called the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services (CAPSS)— an organization which has deliberately disavowed all political activity such as lobbying, distributing flyers, protesting and marching. (Individuals within CAPSS-affiliated centres may have participated in events like the March for Life in Ottawa but only as private citizens with the democratic right to do so. However, CAPSS prohibits its affiliate centres themselves from engaging in any form of political activity). CAPSS also prohibits the display of any graphic images of aborted fetuses when working with clients. Their stated aim is simply to support vulnerable women during the course of their pregnancy, after the birth of the child, after their miscarriage and, indeed (should it happen) even after their abortion.
The vast majority of women and couples seeking support from the PRC (roughly 80% according to their director, Anna Steeves) have already decided to keep their baby or are currently parenting. For these women, the PRC provides the very helpful and non-controversial services such as providing supplies (diapers, baby clothes, personal care items, etc.) and parenting classes. A smaller number of clients (roughly 20%) are unsure about their future and do not know whether or not to carry their babies to full term. These clients— if they choose— can undergo a process known as “options mentoring” whereby they are encouraged, in a clear, systematic manner, to think about (1) their own personal values, (2) their present life circumstances and (3) the interplay between the two. For some women, the end result of this discernment process might be the decision to get an abortion. For others, it might be to carry the baby to full term. (For an example of a couple that has made the latter decision, I would highly encourage you to watch their story here [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeIzVgnz5y8&t=1s].
This process is by no means tainted by leading questions, subtle manipulations, shaming tactics or guilt. Not only would such an approach be unethical but it would also undermine the long-term mission of the PRC. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after four years of ministry in a tightly knit, economically impoverished neighbourhood it’s this: building trust with the community you’re serving is absolutely crucial. If the PRC were to employ questionable tactics in their approach to serving women then, believe me, the people of this neighbourhood would talk. They would share their bad experiences with one another and, eventually, the PRC would be smeared with the reputation of being an organization staffed by judgemental and uncaring people (indeed, the very opposite of their actual reputation). Furthermore, the use of heavy handed tactics would prevent the PRC from fulfilling another important dimension of their mandate; namely, offering meaningful post-abortion care to their clients. Why, after all, would a woman who has undergone an abortion return to an organization to address any uncomfortable or complicated feelings if her initial experience with the staff was difficult and unpleasant?
In addition to the dignity and respect that they consistently demonstrate to their clients, the PRC is also very transparent. All of the clients who enter their doors are informed, right at the outset, that they are a Christian organization with the mission of serving people facing pregnancy-related challenges— not a medical facility with trained, medical staff. Clients are further told that the PRC does not make referrals to abortion clinics— a fact that one can quickly learn by simply scanning their public website. And, although the PRC has employed at least two licensed, professional counsellors over the years, they even state that they are not an actual counselling service.
Although I cannot speak for every last organization working under the CAPPS umbrella, everything that I know about the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Saint John leads me to believe that they are staffed by caring women who perform their mission with conscientiousness and integrity. They do excellent work in our community and, for this reason, any federal money sent their way would be put to good use.
Yet last year— when the Pregnancy Resource Centre of Saint John applied for funding to hire a summer student— they were denied. At the time, the reasons for this denial weren’t entirely clear. They had, after all, been relying on grant money to hire students for several summers in a row, without ever experiencing a hitch. Since then, however, the government has made the controversial new additions to the Canada Summer Jobs application form, spelling out— in black and white terms— exactly who is and who isn’t eligible for funding. Having read the documents very clearly (and believe me, I have) I cannot fathom why this year the PRC and organizations like it would be denied a grant to hire a summer student should they apply for grant. If it is true that the recently added attestation does not discriminate against Canadians on the basis of their conscience, then the PRC should be entitled to receive the necessary federal funding to hire a summer student.
By Terence Chandra