The Far Right Dark Money Network Behind Conservative Politics: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
In a little less than two weeks, members of the Manning Institute, the hub of Canada’s rightwing political movement, will descend on Ottawa for the Manning Conference. This is one of the premiere rightwing events of the year, a chance for conservatives to hob-knob and strategize about how to shift Canada to the right. Andrew Scheer, Patrick Brown, Jason Kenney, and over a dozen Conservative MPs will speak.
The Manning Institute, with events like this one, has positioned itself at the heart of the Canadian conservative movement. What is discussed at their Conference sets the agenda for conservative politics in the country. It’s worth asking, then: who exactly is paying for all this?
The Manning Conference’s sponsors and partners are a whos-who of big corporations and influential conservative groups. While some are household names — Air Canada, Labatt, and Facebook — others are secretive and shadowy special interests with opaque titles like “My Canada” or the “Modern Miracle Network”.
We dug into what these groups actually are — who runs them, what they do — and found that many advocate for a far-right agenda that most Conservatives publicly disavow (but may privately embrace).
As the Manning Centre Networking Conference event approaches, we feel it’s important that Canadians know the groups behind the Manning Institute and what they believe — because these are the groups that are helping shape the agenda of Conservative leaders across the country, including Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney and provincial Conservative parties.
The mainstream media isn’t talking about it, but we at North99 will.
This is the first in an ongoing series leading up the Manning Centre event on February 8th. If you enjoy this story and want us to cover more of the far-right, please consider becoming a North99 member.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
Founded in 2010, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) is focused on “defend(ing) the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education”. In their own words:
…each and every Canadian is treated equally by governments and by the courts, regardless of race, ancestry, ethnicity, age, gender, beliefs, or other personal characteristics.
While this sounds benign, but in practice the JCCF advocates for policies that are anything but.
One of the JCCF’s main areas focus is promoting conservative Christian groups, dedicating significant time and resources to litigation on their behalf. And it has paid off. The JCCF has secured secured court victories for pro-life organizations across Canada.
Like many rightwing groups, the JCCF is obsessed with “freedom” on university campuses, initiating numerous court cases (many of which are ongoing) targeting student unions. They also publish a yearly Campus Freedom Report which measures “the state of free speech at 60 Canadian public universities.”
Far from being an inconsequential organization, the JCCF is an increasingly influential voice, appearing 123 times in mainstream media (according to their latest annual report).
Secretive, Deep-Pocketed Rightwing Donors
Like many rightwing organization, the JCCF keeps its sources of funding hidden. Very little information appears on their site and as a charitable organization, they aren’t required to declare their donors.
Charities Canada shows that in 2016 the JCCF generated $1,008,807 in revenue.
JCCF’s website shows 8 employees, including a Litigation Manager, Director of Communications and Development, two staff lawyers and a digital media producer. Such a large permanent staff, of which at least 3 are lawyers, requires a sizeable budget.
So where do they get their funding? Only three sources are identified on their website.
- Aurea Foundation
- Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation
- Donner Canadian Foundation
The Aurea Foundation is an arm of the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation, supporting numerous causes.
Information about the Lott and John Hecht Memorial Foundation is sparse, with few groups listed on their website. The only organization that sticks out is the Fraser Institute, an organization we’ve reported on in the past that is supported by the Koch Brothers, two far-right Republicans with ties to dark money groups inside the US and Canada.
The last is the Donner Institute. While they fund numerous organizations, including environmental and social services, the Donner Institute funds organizations connected to Canada’s right, including the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and think tanks such as the Institute for Liberal Studies, the Montreal Economic Institute and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
One group not listed on the JCCF’s website is the Atlas Foundation, which features the JCCF prominently in their Canadian partners section.
The Atlas Network funds rightwing organizations throughout the world, including organizations connected to the Koch brothers like Freedom Works and the Cato Institute. While it’s not definitive whether they provide financial support to the JCCF, the Atlas Foundation lists $204,671 in grants to 11 Canadian partners. The term “partners” is the same language used to describe the JCCF and other Canadian organizations.
Based on that information, there is strong reason to believe the JCCF receives funding from the Atlas Network. It is odd, therefore, that the JCCF doesn’t include it on their website. Perhaps they don’t want to appear too closely connected to the Koch-Republican dark money network.
Without additional information, it’s impossible to determine the full extent of the JCCF’s ties to other rightwing groups and money sources. What we can say with certainty is that the JCCF is part of a vast rightwing dark money network spanning North America.
History of Supporting Rightwing Policies
The JCCF claims its mandate is to “defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education”, but the vast majority of their work appears to involve litigation aimed at rolling back women’s rights and making it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Our analysis of cases currently being pursued by the JCCF shows that 50% (10) involve supporting anti-abortion groups and anti-LGBTQ cases, 25% are in support of religious groups, and the remaining 25% involve men’s rights, homeschooling and other issues.
The anti-abortion and anti-LGTBQ issues include:
- Barry Neufeld who refuses to teach curriculum-mandated Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Neufeld called educational resources aimed at supporting LGBTQ students “nothing short of child abuse”.
- Groups opposed to gay-straight alliances in schools. The Bill at issue in the case allows students at any school to form GSAs and makes it illegal to punish kids who join a GSA. Observers say the JCCF’s challenge is unlikely to prove successful.
- An anti-abortion organization trying to force a city to fly a flag opposing abortion.
- An anti-abortion student group distributing disturbingly graphic flyers at Brandon University.
- A Manitoba Marriage Commissioner who refused to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The list goes on.
While the JCCF claims to be focused on constitutional freedoms, their focus is overwhelmingly in support of anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion causes.
A Vast Rightwing Network
The JCCF is connected to numerous other rightwing groups, and part of a larger network of conservative organizations operating in the shadows.
Michael Kennedy, the JCCF’s Director of Communications and Development, was an intern at the Manning Centre and worked as a research assistant at the rightwing business lobby group the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He was also an economist with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a rightwing organization that was accused of “policing classroom knowledge, monitoring curricula, and limiting the autonomy of teachers and students as part of its larger assault on academic freedom.”
Staffer Chris Tomalty, responsible for digital media, worked at the Conservative Research Group, an arm of the Conservative Party’s Caucus Services accused of misusing government resources for partisan purposes (though in fairness to him, accusations of wrongdoing occurred long after he left the Group).
Members of the Board of Directors are connected to some of Canada’s most prominent rightwing groups:
- Marco Navarro-Genie, President, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. He is the President of Civitas Canada, which hosts a secretive rightwing conference every year.
- Troy Lanigan, President and CEO, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Regina. The CTF has a history of supporting rightwing causes and, similar to the JCCF, refuses to divulge their funding sources.
- Michael Taube, former Stephen Harper speechwriter.
The JCCF also advertises endorsements from prominent figures at right-leaning think tanks:
- Michel Kelly-Gagnon, President and CEO, Montreal Economic Institute. They received funding from the Koch brothers’ Claude R. Lambe Foundation.
- Matt Bufton, Executive Director, Institute for Liberal Studies. He graduated from the Atlas Network’s MBA for Think Tank Management and its Think Tank Leadership Academy.
- Brian Lee Crowley, Managing Director, Macdonald-Laurier Institute. He’s a respected policy wonk, but has existing connections to the Atlas Network through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation
- Gordon Gibson, Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute. A far-right think tank that is funded by the Koch brothers.
Behind the Curtain
Rightwing think tanks, “charities”, and activist groups like the JCCF are intimately connected to each other, advancing an agenda that is at odds with the majority of Canadians and is backed by American dark money sources.
In just a few weeks many of these groups will converge at the Manning Conference. And while the mainstream media appears to have no interest in exposing this rightwing network, we are happy to take on the job. And there are multiple other shady groups that we want to investigate.
But these investigations cost money. Our goal is to generate 25 new members to fund more investigations into far-right groups. We are chasing one story in particular about Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s connections to Canada’s anti-abortion movement. It’s an exclusive that nobody else has reported on yet. If you like what we’re doing, please consider becoming one of our 25 new members.
Story correction: The article previously stated that Harry Neufeld refused to teach curriculum-mandated Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The individual’s name is actually Barry Neufeld.
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