Update on Parliamentary Petition e-382 calling for the elimnation of Canada’s anti-blasphemy law

On January 30, 2017 the federal government tabled a response to an electronic Parliamentary petition (E-382) calling for the repeal of Canada’s blasphemous libel law (Criminal Code Section 296).

Despite the generally accepted view that Canada’s blasphemy law is an outdated and dead law that would never be successful if used today, this is still an historic situation. The federal government has reviewed archaic legislation and repealed obsolete law before, but this is the first time that the blasphemy law has been clearly identified for attention (that we are aware of).

The government’s response to e-382 may be found on the Parliament of Canada website and states:

The government is committed to maintaining a fair, relevant, and accessible justice system for all Canadians.
In her mandate letter, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has been asked to conduct a broad review of our criminal justice system. The Minister’s overarching goal is to ensure our legislation meets the highest standards of equity, fairness, and respect for the rule of law as well as the Constitution of Canada.
The crime of blasphemous libel, although included in the original Criminal Code of 1892, has not been the subject of a reported legal case since 1935. In 1979, a charge of blasphemous libel was laid in Ontario in a case involving the showing of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but the charge was stayed.
Blasphemous libel, along with numerous other provisions of the Criminal Code, are presently under review by the Minister and her officials. The Minister looks forward to addressing these provisions in the course of her mandate.

This is an encouraging situation.  Canadian secular humanists, and indeed any Canadian concerned to reduce faith-based tension and victimization in Canada and around the world must encourage our Parliamentarians to finally repeal this bill.  Whether the repeal is part of an omnibus bill or a dedicated legislative action – the blasphemy law must go!

Blasphemy laws are an attempt to protect faith-based concepts and ideas from criticism.  But this approach underlies much of the tension, victimization and violence throughout the world.  When rational discussion of ideas is considered a criminal act, the results often include alienation, isolation, frustration and a desire to strike back.

We must also remember that Canada’s position on human rights issues around the world is greatly respected.  When Canada opposes blasphemy laws here in Canada and around the world, an important message of inclusion, stability and good governance is sent.
It seems that the Canadian government, on this issue, is open to taking steps to advance an open Canadian society.  CFIC members are encouraged to educate their local Members of Parliament about the importance of this step. Consider using the CFIC website for further information regarding this bad law. Simply type “blasphemy, Canada” into your search engine!
 
Did You Know?
CFIC began our strategies to oppose Canada’s blasphemous libel law in 2014!  Change – even on an issue as self-evident as opposition to blasphemy laws is a long term commitment.  Please support CFIC with a donation today.  We are Canada’s leading secular humanist organization.

 

CFI Okanagan

Welcome to the Centre for Inquiry Canada Okanagan! CFI Canada is one of Canada’s fastest growing communities for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers. CFIC promotes reason, science, secularism and freedom of inquiry in every human endeavor.

CFIC Okanagan offers an opportunity to put your principles into practice by joining other rationalists to work for positive change in society. The Prince Edward Island branch sponsors social events for freethinkers, skeptics, atheists and agnostics.  We organize activism, provide educational resources and network with policy makers to help create a more skeptical and secular Okanagan.

In this time of rising religiosity, anti-intellectualism and political turmoil on ethical issues it is critical that rationalists and freethinkers join together to protect civil liberties, defend reason, and work toward increasing scientific literacy.

Our Priorities

Visit the CFI Okanagan website for more information about local events, activities and priorities.

Get Involved

CFIC Okanagan welcomes volunteers in all of our activities.  To get involved contact evolve@cfiokanagan.ca

 

Blasphemy Laws Still Exist in the United States

A part of CFIC’s complicated mission(see it at the top of this page) is to provide education and training about secularism.  To understand secularism, is to understand the interaction between law and religion.  While there are a variety of ways that religion indirectly influences law (such as laws which have the same effect as enforcing a religious perspective on all people in the country), the most direct influence is through blasphemy laws.  CFIC encourages an understanding of all blasphemy laws and how they impact their local societies and people around the world.  In this article, CFIC examines blasphemy laws in the USA.  In 2011 Pew Research Center published a study indicating that 59 countries (30%) still have some form of legislation against blasphemy, apostasy or religious defamation.  While nationally the United States has deemed blasphemy laws unconstitutional, some states still have them on the books. In the 1952 case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, the U.S. Supreme Court found that

 “the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them. . . . It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine . . . .”

President Obama, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, made a statement that “the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.”

bible-and-flag

 It is surprising, after this Supreme Court decision and Obama’s speech, that six  states still have laws against blasphemy.

 

Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming, have laws which reference blasphemy.

For example, Massachusetts, General Laws, Chapter 272, Section 36:

Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

It makes one wonder, if these laws are never enforced, why does it matter that they exist? They may rarely be enforced but their existence allows for some cases to be brought forward. A Pennsylvanian filmmaker was turned down in 2007 for a corporate name “I Choose Hell Productions”, based on Pennsylvania’s blasphemy law. States have symbolic power to enforce these laws. It’s a form of moral condemnation as stated by Sarah Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Blasphemy laws:

  1. Restrict freedom of speech
  2. Infringe on the right to freedom of religion
  3. Often lead to human rights violations during enforcement
  4. Can incite mass violence
  5. Fail to promote religious harmony which is supposedly the intention

The infamous Danish cartoons became so publicized because of the blasphemy laws attached to them. Raif Badawi faces physical brutality and the death penalty for a blasphemous blog posting. The Charlie Hebdo shooting is mass violence based on perceived blasphemy. There is no proof that blasphemy laws promote harmony, in fact, countries with these laws often have higher levels of religious tension.

 

Where does the United States stand today on blasphemy laws?

The United States has been fighting for religious freedoms and an end to blasphemy laws abroad, and has offered criticism on the intolerance of other cultures. The credibility of these actions will be seen as questionable until they put an end to the hypocrisy.

Both the American Humanist Association and the Centre for Inquiry (USA) are partners in the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL); the purpose of which is to remove blasphemy laws wherever they exist.

The American Humanist Association, an organization with a long history of opposing blasphemy laws within the USA, has called for a repeal of blasphemy laws:

“Laws prohibiting blasphemy are a relic of the Middle Ages and are blatantly unconstitutional,” declared Mel Lipman, a constitutional lawyer and president of the American Humanist Association. “Blasphemy is a purely religious offense and hence the sole concern of religious organizations and their own members. By contrast, those people without religion, or who have religious beliefs that don’t condemn blasphemy, shouldn’t be affected.”

CFIC approves the work of AHA and other organizations who educate Americans about blasphemy laws in the USA and around the world.  Just as Canadians must direct their gazes to Criminal Code Section 296, so too should the residents of other countries investigate blasphemy regulations which violate the human rights of their citizens. Specifically in the US, this requires investigation of Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming, which today still have problematic laws against blasphemy.

 

This blasphemy update is provided by legal project intern Cassandra Martino with CFIC. 

Canada’s Outdated Criminal Code Provisions

PMB – Section 159 of the Criminal Code of Canada

A Private Member’s Bill (PMB) is useful, even if it is not passed, to bring an issue to the attention of government, Members of Parliament, and the public. This is what NDP MP Craig Scott attempted to do when he introduced PMB C-448 on October 4th 2012. This Bill called for the repeal of section 159 of Canada’s Criminal Code, thus removing the distinction between anal intercourse and other forms of sexual activity. This section of the criminal code may be viewed as the criminalization of one part of gay sexual activity beyond the age of consent – although anal intercourse is not a sexual activity exclusive to gay persons. It is the intent to criminalize homosexual acts that is not only stigmatizing and outdated but unconstitutional.

Section 159 has been found unconstitutional by three courts in Canada: the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.

In the explanation in the case of R. v. C.M., 1995 before the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Justice Abella stated:

Anyone who is 14 or older, whether married or not, can consent to most forms of non-exploitive sexual conduct without criminal consequences, whereas no one can consent to anal intercourse unless he or she is at least 18 or married. Sexual orientation is an analogous ground of discrimination prohibited under s. 15 of the Charter. Gays and lesbians form a historically disadvantaged group, and s. 159 violates s. 15(1) of the Charter because it arbitrarily disadvantages individuals in that historically disadvantaged group — gay men — by denying to them until they are 18 a choice available at the age of 14 to those who are not gay.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canadacriminal code

Section 159 is not the only outdated provision in the Criminal Code of Canada. Recent events surrounding international religious violence and cruel blasphemy laws have provided Canadian organizations such as the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC), public attention and outrage about attempts to stifle freedom of expression. The public has begun to critically examine and reject Section 296 of the Criminal Code, which states that “every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years”.

Our Stance at The Centre for Inquiry Canada

The Centre for Inquiry Canada has been instrumental in establishing the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL) and the End Blasphemy Laws website.  As the Blasphemy Project Intern, for CFIC, I have reached out to MP Craig Scott and received the needed support to consider a PMB repealing Section 296. These outdated provisions no longer reflect our modern, diverse, and tolerant society. Not only are both section 296 and 159 unconstitutional, they are not reflective of Canadian values. Unfortunately, Canada is maintaining these outdated ideas by allowing them to remain in the Criminal Code of Canada. If you agree that section 269 should be repealed click here to join our Action List and keep in touch with the CFIC’s End Blasphemy Laws Campaign.

 

This blasphemy update is provided by legal project intern Cassandra Martino with CFIC. 

 

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

  1. http://www.timescolonist.com/life/islander/author-challenges-the-stereotypes-of-albinism-1.1930147
  2. http://allafrica.com/stories/201505090118.html
  3. http://allafrica.com/stories/201505080490.html
  4. http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/2015/05/govt-urged-to-continue-free-cancer-treatment-for-albinos/
  5. http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/albino-foundation-charges-national-assembly-to-criminalise-stigmatisation-of-albinism/208671/
  6. http://www.visionfortomorrow.org/albinisms-impact-on-vision/
  7. http://mg.co.za/article/2015-05-14-albinos-in-tanzania-fear-death-as-polls-near/
  8. http://www.wral.com/albino-girl-faces-rehab-after-robbers-take-her-leg/14958085/
  9. http://www.wthr.com/story/30223186/tanzanian-albino-teen-survives-attack-seeking-her-magic-bones
  10. http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/10/09/tanzania-albino-teen-los-angeles-bones-sidner-dnt-nr.cnn
  11. http://www.manicapost.com/chimene-comes-to-albinos-rescue/
  12. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2015/oct/09/tanzania-albino-children-new-limbs-vicious-attacks-witchcraft-elections-in-pictures
  13. http://www.msn.com/en-za/travel/news/albino-teen-attacked-for-her-body-parts/vi-AAfgOYN?refvid=BBgFMme
  14. http://theweek.com/speedreads/582631/tanzanian-teen-whose-limbs-cut-because-albino-finds-hope
  15. http://citizen.co.za/815732/albino-killer-pastor-wants-bail/
  16. http://www.voanews.com/content/tanzanias-coming-election-raises-threat-to-albinos/3005711.html