OTTAWA — New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen has apologized for criticizing the Trudeau government's decision to force groups applying for summer-job grants to affirm their respect for a woman's right to have an abortion.
The apology came hours after Cullen criticized the way the Liberals added the new requirement to the Canada Summer Jobs program, which helps employers subsidize the cost of hiring students for summer work.
The requirement stipulates that an applicant must affirm that both the job description and the group's core mandate respect human rights, including reproductive rights.
Cullen initially called the new requirement "offensive" during a news conference on Wednesday, and compared it to the Harper government's decision to cut funding for foreign aid groups that supported abortion.
But he took to Twitter a few hours later to say he was sorry "for the harm from my comments," and asserted that he and the federal NDP are "fiercely pro-choice."
"I reacted to concerns raised by groups in my riding on the government's first statement on the policy," Cullen wrote.
A subsequent clarification earlier this week from the department responsible for the program "put those fears to rest," he added.
The clarification from Employment and Social Development Canada indicated that the core mandate concerns the primary activities of the organization, not its values or beliefs.
For example, the department said a faith-based organization that embraces a traditional definition of marriage but whose primary activities are aimed at reducing social isolation among seniors would be eligible for funding to hire students to develop or deliver programs available to all seniors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
A summer camp that does not allow LGBTQ youth, however, would not be eligible for funding to hire students as camp counsellors.
The clarification has not calmed all fears. A coalition of different organizations is set to release a statement Thursday signed by 80 religious leaders, institutions and other groups calling on the government to revise the policy.
The federal Conservatives have levelled their own attacks against the requirement, with leader Andrew Scheer saying organizations must submit to a "Trudeau values test" before receiving government funding.
The Canada Summer Jobs program created nearly 69,000 temporary jobs last year.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press