Vancouver Sun

Thursday 1 March 2001

University professor says federal cash funds left-wing social agenda


Vancouver Sun

WINNIPEG (CP) - Ottawa is spending millions to push gay rights and "stringent" feminist views of equality by funding legal cases, says a political scientist who has studied the court challenges program. The money is supposed to go towards "important court cases that advance language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada's Constitution."

But Ian Brodie of the University of Western Ontario says the court challenges program has made up its mind which groups will get the cash.

"They're heavily funding the one side," he said Thursday. "It happens to be the gay-rights side, the pro-pornography side, the feminist side and the abortion issue."

Since 1999 the program has adopted a policy of absolute confidentiality, refusing to provide any information on the cases or groups it funds.

Brodie analysed the program prior to 1992 by obtaining records that were available under access to information laws. His study is being published in the June issue of the Canadian Journal of Political Science.

"I was looking only at the program's influence as far as Supreme Court cases went," he says.

"There basically wasn't a language rights case that went to the Supreme Court without the court challenges program all over it and probably about a third of the equality rights cases that went to the Supreme Court prior to '92 had some kind of funding from the court challenges program."

B.C. lawyer Melina Buckley, acting executive director of the program, said she doesn't agree with Brodie's characterization.

"All I can say is that's not an accurate reflection of what the program's work is all about," she said.

Brodie said the individuals and groups on panels that hand out the cash were, and generally still are, the same groups that get the cash.

Usually they also receive other government money - "either from the women's program or the citizenship program or the multicultural program; the aboriginal groups were almost all getting money from Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

"You pretty much already had to be on the federal gravy train to get into the court challenges program."

The program, started in 1977, was killed in the final years of the Tory government but reborn after the election of Jean Chretien's Liberals in 1993 and guaranteed $2.75 million a year.

However, it no longer sends records to the office of the Secretary of State, keeping its affairs free from access to information requests.

Brodie says based on the pre-1992 records he analysed, there's no doubt about who gets the cash.

"The political agenda of the program was set in those years.

"They were in favour of extending language rights, whatever the claim was," he said. "And they were in favour of as stringent a feminist interpretation of the equality rights section as you could possibly have, to the exclusion of all others.

Nothing has changed, he suggests. That impression is supported by some who have been turned down by the program.

Roz Prober of Beyond Borders, for example, a group that opposes the sexual exploitation of children, struck out recently in a bid to get money to help her fight against the right to possess child pornography.

She also hit a brick wall when she tried to find out if those on the other side of the issue were getting government money.

"The government here is not acting as a neutral arbiter between competing claims of what social policy ought to look like in Canada," Brodie said.

He adds this issue could have a far greater impact on Canadians than anything Chretien may have done to help business friends get loans in his home town of Shawinigan. That story has made big headlines recently.

"I'm outraged as a taxpayer but in the grand scheme of things the impact of that is limited. The impact of these decisions is quite broad," said Brodie.

"It's public money with a very wide-ranging and very powerful social reform agenda attached to it, and that's why I think the stakes here are a little different."