Small business taking Ottawa to court over Canada Summer Jobs controversy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with high school students about artificial intelligence at the University of Toronto in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 26, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
OTTAWA -- An Ontario business says it will take the Liberal government to court over the conditions attached to the federal Canada Summer Jobs program, arguing they violate freedom of speech.
Tamara Jansen, spokeswoman for a newly formed group called Free To Do Business Canada, says a number of other companies are also expected to challenge the government's controversial attestation requirement.
She said Sarnia Concrete Products Ltd., was the first to challenge the requirement in Federal Court as part of her initiative.
Organizations that applied for funding under the program were required to attest that both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights, including reproductive rights and the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The core mandate means the primary activities undertaken by the organization.
Jansen says the requirement "forces" small businesses to take positions that are "irrelevant" to their business. She said her organization's argument is not on the basis of religious freedom, but on the basis freedom of speech.
"It forces them to publicly agree with government ideology in order to access a public program that should be equally available to all small businesses. This is unfair and unjust," Jansen told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
Jansen refused to answer questions about her own ideology and would not say if she opposes abortion. She wouldn't say if she's affiliated with any religious or political groups, reiterating that she's tackling this issue from a business perspective. However, last month she was listed on an anti-abortion website called Life Site News as a speaker for a March for Life event in Victoria .
Albertos Polizogopoulos, the lawyer for Sarnia Concrete, said he has applied for a judicial review on behalf of his client, and expects other organizations to file similar applications in the coming days.
Polizogopoulos said his client has no position on reproductive rights, but by checking the box, they would be taking a position they otherwise would not.
"This is an initiative or policy decision of the government that compels organizations to say something they otherwise would not say," he said, adding it's a violation of their freedom of expression.
Polizogopoulos said his client does not evoke freedom of religion in its case and it wasn't a matter of an individual refusing to fill out the application because of personal beliefs.
"It was a corporate view that they do not want to take a position on a controversial political issue because they're not in the business of controversial political issues. They're in the business of concrete."
Jansen said five businesses have indicated they're supporting her initiative--three in Ontario and two in Alberta--but Polizogopoulos said he doesn't know how many will come forward to file applications.