In their 2021 federal election campaign, the Liberals pledged to “no longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations (for example, Crisis Pregnancy Centres) that provide dishonest counseling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”
It is difficult not to see this as evidence of the political elite’s antipathy towards the traditional religious community. The Canada Summer Jobs “kerfuffle” (as it was labelled by the Prime Minister) was but the opening salvo. Now it appears that political expediency threatens the very life support of those charities that assist women who are most in need.
To a certain extent, this is not surprising: abortion is routinely invoked during elections, usually as a scare tactic to divide voters. Unfortunately, if this promise becomes reality, it will have a devastating effect on the young women who seek emotional and practical help from pregnancy care centres.
Every woman deserves respect, whether she faces an unplanned pregnancy, domestic abuse, single-parenthood, or other challenge. Today I spoke with someone who volunteered at one of the centres that has been demonized as being “dishonest.”
When I read the platform to her, I was met with shock. “How can they say we were ‘dishonest’?” she asked. “We treated each woman who came through our door with care and support. We gave caring, non-judgemental counselling, completely supporting her choice to keep the pregnancy or not. Once she decided to have her child, we provided her with all kinds of support all the way through early childhood, including clothing, baby food, baby toys, cribs, strollers … you name it. Whatever the young mother needed, we provided. If we did not have something we searched the community until we found it. Most of it was donated. It was a whole community support. If the mother wanted to put her child up for adoption, we also worked with a number of adoption agencies that assisted us.”
As I listened to this compassionate volunteer tell me of her work, I was left to wonder how any politician could be so callous as to deny charitable status to these centres. What is so objectionable about giving supplies and support to young mothers in need? Far from seeking to “withhold access to care,” these centres literally exist to care for “young people and vulnerable women.”
Despite claims that “the vast majority of Canadians” support “a woman’s right to choose” (in fact, polls show that roughly half of Canadians believe there should be laws to restrict abortion) – charitable status has never been dependent on public approval. Charities can hold controversial or minority views and still provide a significant benefit to society. And while it may be tempting to celebrate changes to charity law when we agree with the current government, we should always be leery about letting the state impose its ideological views.
And although “crisis pregnancy centres” are singled out as an example, there is no definition given for “anti-abortion organizations.” So who are the other targets accused of spreading “misinformation”? Are churches now in the crosshairs because their pastor preaches a sermon on the sanctity of all life, or because their denominational school provides materials teaching that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, including the unborn?
Recently, the government was chastised in two court rulings for failing to treat Canada Summer Jobs applicants with procedural fairness. The Federal Court gave an added warning that faith-based institutions should be treated “with respect for their Charter-protected rights.” It appears that our political leaders have not learned from its experience in the courts. The CSJ precedent suggests that the purging of charities will not be limited to pregnancy care centres. There is little question that, if this policy is implemented, organizations with traditional beliefs on other fundamental human life issues – including marriage and end of life – will be next on the list to have their charitable status removed. Given the enormous financial and social benefits provided by these churches and charities, this will be nothing but a profound loss to Canadians.
Unfortunately, we are living at a time when traditional religious positions are being directly challenged. If this continues, I can only anticipate a legal challenge