New York Times misses the nuances on Canadian battle over abortion, religious freedom

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Justin Trudeau certainly is an engaging politician but he’s seems pretty tone-deaf to how religious Canadians -- and I don't mean just the conservative ones -- feel.

Yes, he is Catholic, although many Catholic officials on both sides of the border believe his policies are solidly against the church's doctrines. So his term in office has been an interesting ride considering his stance on abortion. 

The latest explosion is about who funds student workers in religious summer camps. Even though not directly of Trudeau's making, this issue got the attention of The New York Times recently in this piece

MONTREAL -- A Canadian government requirement that groups seeking federal grants for student jobs must support abortion rights is inflaming a cultural battle and angering religious groups, opposition politicians and even American conservatives.
Under new guidelines announced in December, groups applying for a federal grant program, which provides roughly $113 million in annual funding for about 70,000 student jobs, must check a box on an electronic form acknowledging that they respect “individual human rights in Canada.”
Those rights encompass women’s reproductive rights, including “the right to access safe and legal abortions.”
In what some critics are calling an “ideological purity test,” the application guidelines, for the Canada Summer Jobs program, have not only offended leading conservatives in Canada, but have also led to anger spilling across the border to religious groups and right-wing ideologues in the United States.

It’s a bit foggy throughout the piece as to which religious groups are angry about the policy --  although that answer is easily found if you check Canadian media.

I’ll go there in a minute. Back to the Times: It only mentions one American “right wing ideologue” and no American religious groups. I like to think the GetReligion team does a decent job of monitoring religion news in North America and we would have gotten ear of any sizable number complaining about this Canadian policy. By the way, "right-wing ideologues" is interesting language -- note the lack of attribution -- in a hard-news report.

The Times continues:

On Friday, Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said the policy had been meant to ensure that the government would not be funding groups that undermine human rights. But she said the lack of clarity had allowed the policy to be hijacked by conservative groups pressing their own ideological agendas.
“It was a no-brainer requirement,” she said by phone from Vancouver. “But the wording needs clarification so the issue doesn’t get misunderstood. Unfortunately, it has become a big distraction.”

Canadian media had a different take on all this. Let’s go to the National Post’s Jan. 21 piece on “How the Canada Summer Jobs program became a freedom-of-religion controversy.” Their version is a bit different than Arthur’s.

Last year, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published reports that showed how federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups. It specifically highlighted Canada Summer Jobs grants as a source of such funding.
The story was picked up by iPolitics in April 2017 and, in response, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s office put out a statement that said: “Any funding provided to an organization that works to limit women’s reproductive rights last summer was an oversight … That’s why this year we fixed the issue and no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

So if your legislator is liberal and your Bible camp happens to be in his/her district, you can forget equal access to these kinds of funds. That’s like saying all religious groups in (blue states like) Washington, Oregon and California can say good-bye to their non-profit status. Not the best analogy, but you get my drift.

The government wasn't going after all groups said to be undermining human rights; it was going after those seeking to undermine abortion rights. Big difference there and a distinction the Times should have made. Then again, this might be part of a familiar Times pattern on coverage of key moral, social and religious issues.

The National Post article spells out an “attestation” that all groups wanting funding have to sign that stipulates they must agree that basic rights include a woman’s right to abortion. Then:

Both Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have insisted the attestation does not affect religious groups because of the key phrase “core mandate.” They say a church’s core mandate is not focused on anti-abortion activism, so churches should have no problem signing it.
However, faith-based organizations say it’s wrong to think their religious beliefs are separate from their core mandate. Some groups who don’t have a stance on abortion feel it’s wrong to be forced to take a side by signing the attestation. Others are also opposing the attestation on the principle that it violates the Charter’s right to religious freedom.
It is not just Christian groups who are expressing concerns. Earlier this week, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and other organizations gathered in Mississauga (at the initiative of a Conservative MP) to discuss the attestation and consider potential next steps in speaking out against it.

Whoa. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews are also upset about this?

That’s a different constellation of opponents than the zealots in the Times piece, which insinuated that it’s mainly conservative Christians who are unhappy with this issue.

Let’s look at what CBC said about it all: Near the end of its story, it quotes Catherine Macnab, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa as saying pro-life groups shouldn’t get summer jobs money (even though her group does) but that she was fine with churches getting it.

A Jan. 18 opinion piece that ran on CBC’s site chastising the government got 9,233 comments. Just google “Canada federal grants abortion” and you’ll get plenty of URLs.

So there's a lot going on up there on this issue and there's a lot more nuances than Times lets on. One last paragraph from the Times:

Mr. Trudeau, who has sought to balance his own Roman Catholic religious views with his commitment to abortion rights, has called the reaction to the policy a “kerfuffle.”

Like I said, the man's a bit tone deaf to how the devout feel. Most Canadian Catholic groups don’t see any such “balance” in Trudeau's approach and one Catholic publication quotes a Vatican advisor asking the faithful to pray for Trudeau’s conversion. Here’s an Ottawa bishop trashing Trudeau for his pro-choice stance. A Catholic publication in British Columbia calls Trudeau a new George Orwell. And here the nation’s Catholic bishops criticize Trudeau for spending more time creating an international feminist development policy than helping to feed the world’s hungry.  

Obviously the issue needs more -- and better -- reporting by reporters willing to do more than just pick up the phone and call a few familiar sources. As for Trudeau's Catholicity, journalists should at least call attention to how leaders in his own church have major problems with him.

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