Upholding the right to have a conscience must also mean upholding the right to exercise that conscience.
There has been a considerable amount of attention drawn to the federal government’s insistence that all organizations applying for the Canada Summer Jobs program agree with the Liberal government’s policies on reproductive rights, specifically, abortion.
The Canada Summer Jobs website states the following:
“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. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies”. (https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/funding/canada-summer-jobs.html)
We find this decision by the Liberal government troubling for many reasons most important, it violates an individual’s (and the organization’s at large) right to freedom of conscience and expression. Canada is a diverse society. To make it mandatory that organizations adhere to a certain mandate that one party has subjectively discerned to be in accordance with their beliefs flies in the face of what Canada prides itself on: being a nation of many religions and cultures, each having their own set of core beliefs, and a nation that protects the right to not only hold those beliefs but act according to them.
Mr. Trudeau did address the concerns that have been raised with the Canada Summer Jobs application. In a recent townhall meeting, he explained, “Of course, you’re more than allowed to have whatever beliefs you like. But when those beliefs lead to actions determined to restrict a woman’s right to control her own body, that’s where I, and I think we, draw the line as a country. And that’s where we stand on that…At the same time, we need to know that there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs.”
The question needs to be asked: Is being allowed to have beliefs but not act on them real freedom? We would firmly insist this is not what a free and democratic society looks like. Having a conscience is what compels us to act and keeps us always searching for new and better ways for humanity to live and work together for the common good.
This imposition of a political party position into the distribution of public funds, such as the Canada Summer Jobs, is a dangerous precedent and likely a conflict of interest for the government in power. It is in contradiction to the non-partisan structure intended for these programs, meant to be available in each riding regardless of politics. Is it now to be used to reward all who favour a particular party, while suppressing diversity of thought?
As a research institute accuracy is the hallmark of responsible writing and speaking. The misleading pairing of the requirements for support of “access to abortion” with “the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” is inaccurate. It has resulted in a widespread notion that the Charter contains such a “right”. It does not. It bears repeating that organizations or individuals unable to give assent to unqualified support for abortion are NOT in opposition to the Canadian Charter. Furthermore, there is a “because I say so” simplicity which surmises that abortion is safe if it is legal, and that pregnancy termination is ipso facto beneficial to women’s health. Surely every drug, device and procedure administered to Canadians remains in need of rigorous study and honest scrutiny.
This past November, the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research hosted a public lecture at the University of Toronto with Dr. Christina Lamb on conscience and conscientious objection. Dr. Lamb delved into the meaning and necessity of conscience, saying: “Conscience is something we all have. Rather than letting it divide us, it should be a point of connection between people. If we recognize that each of us has a conscience we can start to understand why we should respect and value each person’s right to act according to their conscience and the choices they make from it.”
This is the approach we advocate our own government and those in leadership roles to take. All Canadians have a conscience that guides our beliefs and actions and society is best served when we have the right to follow it. This is the point from which real dialogue on important issues can begin; for a free and democratic society to flourish, we must respect each person’s right not only to have a conscience but to allow their moral views to shape their lives and actions.
Martha Crean, Co-President
Christina Holmquist, Board Member
Christina John, Board Member
The deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research
415 Oakdale Road, Unit #215
Toronto, ON M3N 1W7