Summer job grants are the sort of thing governments love. A pot of money for MPs to bestow on small businesses and non-profits in their ridings for the purpose of hiring students? It's a feel-good, win-win policy.
Until last year, that is, when the Liberal government learned that one of its own MPs had used the Canada Summer Jobs program to give more than $50,000 to a group that actively campaigns against abortion rights, the protection of which is a pet issue for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
To avoid a repeat of the awkwardness that ensued, the Liberals rewrote part of the application. This year, groups that want money have to tick a box saying their "core mandate" respects the right to have an abortion. A similar standard will apply to the government's new youth volunteer program, the Canada Service Corps.
That has set off a wave of objections from faith groups who feel they are being compelled to express support for something they regard as immoral in order to qualify for programs they thought would be open to all Canadians.
Their concerns are understandable. But a close reading of the application makes clear that the Liberals have a more specific target in mind. The document says only a group's "core mandate" has to be in line with reproductive rights, which means Bible camps, churches and the like can get funding without explicitly supporting abortion rights.
Narrowed this way, it becomes tougher to criticize the government. Few want to argue that groups opposed to abortion should be allowed to use federal money to hire summer interns to picket outside clinics. As Mr. Trudeau points out, many women fought hard for legal abortion and cherish it deeply. So do we.
But the Liberal justification for denying grants is nonetheless incoherent and troubling.
Mr. Trudeau says that groups who "have the explicit purpose of limiting and eliminating Charter rights" will not be eligible for summer job grants.
Even assuming that abortion is a Charter right – and scholars disagree – most pro-life groups are not physically limiting anyone's access to it. If they were, they would be breaking the law.
Most of these groups are simply mounting arguments, sometimes in obnoxious or even disturbing ways, but peacefully and within their free-speech rights.
The Charter protects their freedom to dispute the contents of the constitution and its interpretation by the courts. But Mr. Trudeau appears to have unilaterally decided that arguing against a right is as bad as infringing it. That's chilling.
The Prime Minister is also saying that any argument against abortion is beyond the pale, placing it squarely in the category of legally protected but widely deplored speech, like the blog posts of white supremacists and the ramblings of homophobic tweeters.
Conflating opposition to abortion with bigotry is simplistic, and no better than demagoguery. It's possible to be against abortion without malice in your heart toward women. For those who call themselves "pro-life," abortion isn't exclusively about women – it is about a woman and a fetus, and whether her right to security of the person outweighs its right to life. They will always argue that it doesn't, regardless of what the Supreme Court says, because, if you choose to believe – either personally or because your faith dictates it – that human life begins at conception, it's impossible to reach another conclusion.
Which leads us to the final point: Anti-abortionists have zero chance of limiting access to the procedure, in spite of Mr. Trudeau's fearmongering.
The Supreme Court struck down Canada's abortion law in 1988. The procedure has been legal across Canada ever since. Three quarters of Canadians think abortion should be allowed in some circumstances, and more than half think it should be allowed whenever a woman wants.
Even Tory leader Andrew Scheer, a socially conservative Catholic, claims he wouldn't try to legislate against it were he ever to form a government.
Legal access to an abortion in Canada isn't going anywhere. By the same token, neither is the debate about it. The Trudeau government should make peace with those facts, instead of stigmatizing – and discriminating against – Canadians who don't toe the Prime Minister's line.