For more than two decades, Tamiko Charlton has taught horseback riding to kids with special needs, autism, anxiety and mental health issues, as well as mentally challenged adults, elderly from care homes, and children at risk.
She says the equine opportunities she provides at Cheam Stables in east Chilliwack are more than just learning about horses: They are life skills.
Looking to expand her program offerings for next year, Charlton looked into funding to hire an employee through the federal government’s Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program.
But then she hit a wall.
Charlton is opposed to abortion, and an attestation applicants are forced to sign — one that is becoming increasingly controversial among faith-based groups — specifically refers to the reproductive rights of women.
On page three of the guide, it states that CSJ applicants are required to attest that the job and the organization’s core mandate respects human rights in Canada, including those in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“These include reproductive rights and 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.”
When Charlton read an article on a pro-life website about the attestation, she couldn’t believe it.
“Politically, I felt like I was in a twilight zone,” Charlton said. “The moment my social democracy made a turn towards a totalitarian state. The thought that my business could not participate in a summer jobs program simply because I personally believe that an unborn child is just as human as a newborn baby.”
The attestation as part of the CSJ program is new as of last year, and came about after a number of anti-abortion groups received money to support anti-abortion efforts. The Toronto Right to Life Association, for example, received $10,800 through the CSJ program, something the Employment Minister Patty Hajdu called an “oversight” in an interview with iPolitics.
Charlton’s riding programs have nothing to do with pro-life or anti-abortion efforts — opposing abortion is not part of her core mandate — so she is welcome to apply, according to a spokesperson for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).
“As in previous years, churches, religious groups and faith-based organizations are encouraged, welcome and eligible to apply,” according to a statement to The Progress.
“As stated in the Applicant Guide for CSJ 2018 : ‘That an organization is affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.’ Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program.”
It is also not a new requirement for applicants to outline the organization’s mandate and key activities of the proposed job.
“Faith-based groups are required to meet the same eligibility criteria as any applicant to CSJ 2018. CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada.”
Still, the attestation is coming under increasing criticism from churches and other religious organizations who say it is forcing them to sign a statement that goes against their beliefs.
Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl joined that criticism, saying that many local summer employment jobs may be lost since many Fraser Valley groups that apply for CSJ funding are faith-based.
“I believe that organizations should be evaluated based on the quality of the job opportunity they are providing, not based on how closely their political or religious philosophy aligns with the Liberal Party of Canada’s,” Strahl said. “This is a divisive policy that has no place in a tolerant, pluralistic and diverse society like ours.”
.@CCCCharities has some helpful resources on the changes to the #CanadaSummerJobs program (you can also find this link and other resources on our website at https://t.co/or6LE3GFO2): https://t.co/cEhmPF7ZsV #CSJ2018 #cdnpoli
— The EFC (@TheEFC) January 8, 2018
Strahl and other critics of the attestation point out that also under the Charter exists the right to freedom of belief and opinion. Women’s reproductive rights are indeed protected under section 7 of the Charter, and freedom of expression is protected under section 2.
“You see, the Charter offers us the right to believe different from the law but not the license to disobey the law,” Charlton said. “I can live with that.”
HRSDC said the change “helps to ensure that youth job opportunities funded by the Government of Canada take place in an environment that respects the rights of all Canadians.”
While Charlton’s services and her employment offering has nothing whatsoever to do with the reproductive rights of women, her deeply held beliefs that abortion is wrong prevents her from signing the CSJ attestation, she said.
And since she runs Cheam Stables basically as a non-profit (not by design, but by default as she puts it), without a funding grant, she can’t afford to hire the young woman, Grace Lamb, she hoped to hire for this summer.
“It’s Grace who misses out on an opportunity to gain valuable work experience in her chosen career path,” Charlton says. “She misses out on the personal satisfaction of facilitating miracles in the lives of children and families.
“Who else misses out? It’s the dozens of kids she would have helped throughout the summer. It is the loss of laughter, joy, healing, and personal growth in some of the most vulnerable in our community. It’s the loss of a respite for parents and kids weary of counseling appointments, physical therapies, and doctors appointments.”
The application period for the CSJ program started Dec. 19, 2017 and runs until Feb. 2.