Nathan Cullen triggered a brief scandal for his party last week with comments against a federal government program that critics interpreted as an NDP attack on a woman’s right to have an abortion.
The Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP apologized for his choice of words hours after saying it was “offensive” that grant applicants for a summer jobs program must respect human rights protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including reproductive rights.
“I think it’s offensive to some Canadians because it’s saying: if you hold these [pro-life] values you are not worthy of any government funding even if the work that you’re doing supports the charter…,” Cullen said, facing immediate backlash.
Responding to news headlines, Cullen took to Twitter shortly after: “NDP & I have always & will always staunchly defend a woman’s right to choose. Any group whose purpose is to infringe on that right should receive $0 Govt funding! Period. Funding for summer jobs should be based on the work.”
Employment and Social Development Canada has clarified the core mandate of the Summer Work Experience Program, saying it targets the primary activities of the organization only, and not its values. In other words, a church that recognizes only traditional marriage between a man and woman, for example, but who’s charitable work extends to groups regardless of its individual members’ sexual orientation, would still qualify for a student’s grant funding.
Cullen said he was satisfied with the clarification and apologized for his choice of words when calling the rule “offensive”
“Let me be clear: I apologize for the harm from my comments. I & the NDP are fiercely pro-choice. I reacted to concerns raised by groups in my riding on the gov’ts first statement on the policy. The subsequent examples put those fears to rest.”
The Summer Work Experience program provides wage subsidies to employers from non-profit organizations, the public sector and faith-based organizations to create jobs for secondary and post secondary students.
The program overview states applicants must attest that both the job and organization’s core mandate respects individual human rights and values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions,” it reads.