Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says new rules for the Canada Summer Jobs program that restrict government funding for anti-abortion groups reflect where his government draws the line on freedom of speech.
At a town hall at McMaster University in Hamilton Wednesday, Trudeau was asked by a first-year Mac student if he views freedom of speech as important. The student charged that "leftists" often call critics who disagree with them racists or bigots.
"If you're pro-life then you are ridiculed and insulted, but if you're pro-choice then you are praised," the student said, sparking some applause.
The prime minister responded that he has "demonstrated time and time again that defending rights and freedoms is at the core of who I am and quite frankly at the core of what Canada is."
Yet, Trudeau said there is a difference between holding personal beliefs and acting on them.
An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women's rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.Justin Trudeau
And with that, he pointed to a "kerfuffle" around changes to the Canada Summer Jobs grants that have outraged social conservatives.
Small business and non-profit groups, including faith-based organizations, can apply to the government for wage subsidies to create summer jobs for secondary and post-secondary students.
Under new rules introduced last year, employers must sign an attestation vouching that their organization upholds human rights and Charter values, including reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Earlier from HuffPost Canada:
While Trudeau has taken a firm line that all Liberal MPs must uphold abortion rights, a review of the program was sparked after iPolitics revealed that an anti-abortion group, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, received $56,000 in federal funds from a Grit MP.
The change has led social conservative MPs, such as former Tory leadership contender Brad Trost, to accuse the government of punishing groups that don't fall in line with the Liberal government's views, particularly on abortion. Religious groups have also expressed concerns they will not receive funding to hire students for summer jobs.
Trudeau told the town hall the changes don't preclude religious groups from applying for funding and praised faith-based organizations for doing incredible work across the country.
"It does however mean — and this is where we get to the crux of the matter — that an organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women's rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society," Trudeau said.
Women have fought for generations to control their own bodies and choose when and with whom they have children, he said.
"There are organizations out there that couch themselves in freedom of speech, freedom of conscience... which 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," he said, spurring applause.
"And that's where we stand on that."
The full town hall video from Trudeau's Facebook page can be seen below:
With files from Zi-Ann Lum