Canada’s Standing Committee on Health (HESA): Report 13

Canada’s Standing Committee on Health (HESA) is a tool of the Canadian parliamentary system and is intended to help guide Canada’s position on matters of health policy  As such, it is a significant and influential voice on health priorities in Canada.  For the 41st Parliament (the current Parliament of Canada), the Chair of the Committee is Huron-Bruce MP, Mr. Ben Lobb.  According to the Canadian government website, the HESA committee is

empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management, and operation of Health Canada. This includes its responsibilities for the operations of the internal body called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). The Committee is also responsible for the oversight of four agencies that report to Parliament through the Minister of Health:

The mandate of the Standing Committee on Health also includes reviewing and reporting on matters referred to it by Orders of Reference from the House of Commons relating to Health Canada and its associated agencies such as health-related bills, the budgetary estimates of Health Canada and its associated agencies, study of reports tabled in Parliament that relate to health, and examination of the qualifications and competences of Order in Council appointees.

The Standing Committee on Health may also study matters the Committee itself chooses to examine. It holds public meetings and considers evidence from witnesses. At the end of a study, the Committee usually reports on its findings and makes recommendations. The Committee may request a Government response within 120 days of the tabling of the report.

Detailed information on the role and powers of House of Commons committees can be found in the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure and in Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

It is ironic and unfortunate that HESA – a committee established to report and inform health policy matters - has issued a report (Report 13) entitled Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation and the Health of Canadians.   This is, however, what has occurred effective June, 2015.  CFIC is concerned with the contents of the report and the process which supports the generation of this report.  We are particularly concerned that a report of this nature may influence Canadian health policy – a potentially problematic move away from proven science-based medicine that Canadians need.


CFI Canada Does Not Support HESA Report 13

CFI Canada has sent a letter to HESA Chair, the Honourable Ben Lobb regarding our concerns with Report 13.  We excerpt that letter here for our members’ reference:

Centre For Inquiry Canada is a registered Canadian charity with the mandate to provide education and training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library.  One of our central priorities is to educate Canadians about the importance of science-based medicine to our health system – and that unproven health claims and practices are dangerous and costly for our publicly-funded system.

We are deeply concerned about the process by which a report regarding Wifi and Cellphone radiation ( Report 13 – Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation and the health of Canadians)  was prepared and that its recommendations, not based on evidentiary science, will mislead the public and cause unnecessary fear.  The introduction states that the study was driven by the concerns of witnesses who attended hearings but does not acknowledge that the hearings were strategically packed by “anti-WiFi” activists and MPs sympathetic to their lobby efforts. Unfortunately it appears that committee members were swayed more by voices of fear and misunderstanding than by those of reason and science. 

The report refers to a few low-quality studies that purport to show a link between cancer, autism or other ailments and cell phones or UHF radiation but omits the thousands of high-quality studies that conclude the opposite.

In fact, brain cancer incidence in the US has been steadily decreasing since 1992, despite the steep rise in cell phone use (  Dozens of expert panels from virtually every industrialized country have reviewed this literature and have reached the same conclusion (  

It is unfortunate that the report relies heavily on quotes from Dr. Magda Havas, an activist for people who claim to have electrohypersensitivity (EHS). There is a rich literature showing that EHS is the result of the nocebo effect, and has no relation to actual EMF.  In dozens of sham studies “sufferers” are unable to tell the difference between real and fake devices, for example, and develop symptoms whenever they believe they are “exposed”, whether they are or not.  Since researchers have not yet found any subjects who can detect or respond to EMF, we can conclude that there is no such condition, yet Dr. Havas claims otherwise. Her research on EHS has been highly criticized and she should not be considered as expert testimony by the committee (  The links on Dr. Havas’ website to several companies selling products that profit from the public’s fear of EMF are red flags.

The anecdotes from individuals believing they suffer from EHS carry no scientific weight, yet the report includes them as if they did.  It goes further by recommending that EHS be recognized as a functional disability, which would be utterly ridiculous.  The nuisance and financial costs for the government and business to be required to accommodate such sufferers in the work place would be unbearable. Instead of reviewing the published literature, the report calls for EHS questions to be included in a National Health Survey. We might as well include questions about Bigfoot or ghosts. 

There is no need to call for more research because there is already a rich literature indicating that EHS does not exist.  The Canadian Medical Association and other health organizations have already considered the lack of evidence for EHS.  We do not need recommendations to change policy based on anecdotal evidence.

Canadians require health policy based on scientifically valid evidence and verifiable facts – not the lobbying efforts of individuals who refuse to acknowledge repeatable and valid science.

It is unfortunate that the voices of Prof. Tarzwell, Bernard Lord and Tom Whitney were not given more weight. 


As an educational charity with a mandate to provide education and training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library, CFIC encourages a skeptical and rational review of the report and the process supporting its creation.  As a program to promote scientific skepticism, CFIC has launched “Science Chek” to encourage Canadians to  use a skeptical approach when faced with extraordinary claims.

From time to time, people in the community – whether driven by fear, competitive business models, or other factors – make health claims or statements that do not have scientific evidence backing them.  CFI Canada and the scientific skeptic community has an important role to play in questioning not only the claims themselves but also the processes which encourage further incursion of pseudoscience into the healthcare system.

Further Inquiry


Muti: Traditional Medicine Practice in Africa

Synopsis:  CFI Canada is an educational charity whose mandate includes providing education to the public about science and the important of evidence-based healthcare.  Sometimes that means we also speak out against superstitious and/or pseudoscientific practices that we find frustrating and wasteful.  Often the skeptical, scientific community is brushed aside with a “what’s the harm” attitude when it comes to such practices as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and others.  We contend that superstitious thinking does cause harm here and around the world.


Muti: What’s the Harm?

Muti is a traditional medicine practice from Africa; a cousin to traditional medicine systems from ancient cultures around the world, it is a mix of herbal medicines, witch-doctoring, cultural norms, ignorance and the deadliest black-market practices.  The people most vulnerable to muti are people with albinism.  CFIC’s National Executive Director, Eric Adriaans wrote a blog post on Canadian Atheist on April 16th, entitled “The Heinous Depths of Superstition” with reactions to the horrible truth that people with albinism are hunted for their body parts in parts of Africa.  On May 8, “Muti” joined other Extraordinary Claims on CFIC’s Extraordinary Claims website.

The ignorance and superstition which underlies the hunting of human beings for use in traditional “witch-doctoring” can only be defeated by education; simultaneously, people with albinism may only lead a comparable life to their family and neighbours through well-thought medical care and support.  Leading needs for people with albinism include low vision clinics and skin-cancer care.

Whether in the appropriate medical care for people with albinism or in defeating the brutal black-market practices which sees them hunted – education is the key.


CFIC’s Experience with muti and Helping People with Albinism

On May 8, 2015, Eric Adriaans spoke with Under The Same Sun’s Don Sawatzky about UTSS’ work, people with albinism and what Canada’s secular and scientific community might do to help.  We are discussing strategies today to mobilize Canada’s humanist and skeptical community to help alleviate what can only be described as one of the most egregious harms of superstitious thinking on our planet today.


Community Action

Announcements to come shortly; all the latest bulletins will be posted.

May 10, 2015 Malawi – The Association of Persons with Albinism calls for tougher penalties for people found guilty of abducting, attacking or killing people with Albinism.

May 8, 2015 Kenya –  The Albinism Society of Kenya has launched the ‘Niko na Haki’ awareness campaign.

May 8, 2015 Nigeria - Nigeria’s government urged to retain free cancer treatments for people with albinism.

May 7, 2015 Nigeria - Urges to criminalize the stigmatization of albinism.

August 2015 Canada – CFI Canada contributes an auction item to a secular fundraising auction held by Benjamin Radford


Our Conclusions

Muti is a deadly form of traditional medicine which sees human beings hunted by a black-market which preys on ignorance and superstition.    Muti is significantly different than other unproven pseudo-sciences (particularly those making claims related to health and wellness) only in the extremes of its victimization.

People with albinism are often stigmatized by extremes of superstitious thinking – treated as supernaturally good or bad.  Clearly they are nothing other than human beings with a medical condition which places them at risk of harm from the sun and from the predation of other people.  Whether in Canada or around the world, CFIC is proud to play a role in assisting in the de-stigmatization of people with albinism and the humanization not only of the victims of muti, but of all victims of pseudo-science.


Further Reading





CFI Okanagan’s Kids for Inquiry program uses the website. is a website that helps kids learn skills of many different kinds, and share their work with others. It’s easy to use. With a parent’s help, kids sign up to the website. They do not use real names and do not provide any private information. An adult account is associated with each child, so you can see what your child uploads and also make sure that they do not share any information that should be kept private. The adult has to provide confirmation of their own identity, using a credit card (which is not charged).

Kids choose a skill they’d like to work on. Let’s say they choose the Astronomer skill. Each skill has a number of different challenges associated with it.

The kids then decide which of the different challenges they’d like to try. Some of them can be done at home (with or without parental help); some they can do at a KFI gathering. In May, for example, KFI collaborated with the Royal Astronomical Society to make solar viewers and sundials — while learning about the related science.

When the kids have completed each challenge, they take a photo or video and upload it to the website to share it with the world! When they’ve completed three challenges associated with a skill, they earn a patch for that skill. (Sew-on patches can be purchased at the DIY Market for $4 each, plus shipping.) They can, of course, go to complete more challenges.

The skills at are very varied; there is something for everyone — IllustratorCamperWriter,Sailor… They even have a Philosopher patch! KFI focuses on the science-related skills, such asPhysicistBotanistEntomologistMeteorologist. However, plenty of the other skills and challenges lend themselves to learning about science too. The Bake a Loaf challenge provides an opportunity to learn about chemical reactions; the Meditation challenge provides an opportunity to learn about the brain; the Develop Strength challenge provides an opportunity to learn about the physiology of muscles.

As well as learning about science, and engaging in projects and experiments, it’s great for kids to realize that science doesn’t happen only in the lab. Scientific thinking can be applied to the world all around them!

Kids For Inquiry Canada

IMG_0256Kids for Inquiry was founded in June 2012 by then 8 year old Ben Ryder who heard about all the interesting things that the Okanagan branch of CFI Canada was doing and he thought that kids should have a CFI group especially for them — and so KFI was born!

We at CFI Canada would like to see Kids for Inquiry eventually spread to all branches of CFI Canada. It’s an important way for us to fulfil our educational mission.

In the experience of the Okanagan branch, KFI attracts a broad range of families, in addition to the children of CFI supporters and members. Most significantly, KFI has attracted families who would otherwise be uninterested in CFI activities. For example, one family that frequently attends KFI Okanagan activities are devout Catholics. The parents are uninterested in CFI activities for themselves, but they do support their children’s interest in science. In another family, the parents own an alternative medicine clinic, and they are not interested in CFI activities for themselves — but, again, they support their children’s interest in science. In cases such as these, we hope that KFI is a positive contribution to these kids’ science education and critical thinking skills.

Kids for Inquiry focuses on science and skepticism. Importantly, we stay away from religious topics. This is for a number of reasons. We don’t want to alienate parents who might otherwise want to get their families involved. Religious parents simply wouldn’t bring their kids! We think it’s more important that we excite a child’s interest in science and contribute to their critical thinking skills, than that we make what is bound to be a vain attempt to challenge their family’s religious beliefs. We also don’t think we should be putting children in the uncomfortable position of having their family’s religious beliefs challenged by strangers, when children are not in a position to fully evaluate those religious beliefs. If, however, their critical thinking skills are transferable — from evaluating the evidence for the existence of Big Foot to evaluating the evidence for the existence of God — that would be a positive “side effect”. We do hope that, one day, we will be able to set up a Teens for Inquiry group, and we think that religious topics will be fair game for that age group.

We try to keep our KFI events as low cost as possible (usually free, with donations gratefully accepted) in order to make sure that kids from low income families are able to attend. Please help us to spread the word to engage families in your community!

LGTBQ people not welcome at BC law school

Last summer, Trinity Western University, a private liberal-arts school in B.C. applied to have its law school accredited by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Controversy arose within the legal and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities because all students, staff and faculty at the school must adhere to a covenant in which they  agree not to engage in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

So what’s the harm, you may ask?  Why shouldn’t a private university be able to set standards of behaviour for its students?  How will anyone else suffer?  Well, according to lawyer Clayton Ruby, the covenant in effect creates a “queer quota” in university law schools. Trinity Western law school would add 60 to the 3,547 slots Canadian universities currently have allocated for first-year law students. But, as Ruby says, “If you’re queer, you can’t apply to the extra 60 seats… We find that just to be anathema.”

Read the rest of the Globe and Mail article, here

Read the editorial, here

Read Canadian Atheist’s commentary, here.

Check out No Queer Quota – For Equality in Legal Education on Facebook

Whether marching in Pride parades, defending GSAs in Ontario, speaking out against troublesome legislation or providing educational programs across the country, CFI’s valuable work needs your generous support. Please click here to donate or join as a friend of the Centre for Inquiry–Canada.