2016 Ottawa Pride March

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CFI-Canada has been a long-time supporter of LGBT rights, and a participant in pride parades across the nation. In Ottawa, CFI has walked in the Capital Pride parade since 2009. Our message, “Stop faith-based bigotry,” is a reminder that most of the barriers held up against LGBT equality are religiously motivated.

CFI Ottawa marched on August 21 in the Ottawa Pride March. Despite the rain we were there to support the GLBT community against Faith Based Bigotry. We had 600 “Stop Faith Based Bigotry” stickers and we handed out every single one.

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Our message against the few preaching hate on the sidelines, was very much appreciated by marchers and bystanders. This writer was personally thanked by many from the sidelines for all we do and those words of support were reward enough.

Saskatchewan Wants a Secular Government

Saskatchewan Wants a Secular Government

 

REGINA—Saskatchewan residents are calling on Premier Brad Wall to lead a secular government that respects Saskatchewan’s diverse population. The government must not give one religion priority over other religions or no religion. Through letters and an online petition coordinated by the Centre for Inquiry Canada, they are calling for an end to two practices:

1.      Opening prayer in the legislature.

2.      Christmas messages delivered by Premier Brad Wall or other government officials which favour one religious perspective over other perspectives or creeds.

 

Saskatchewan members of the Centre for Inquiry Canada will make a statement at Saskatchewan’s first Shift to Reason conference at 12:45 p.m. on April 30 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (1975 S Broad Street, Regina). Media are invited to attend this or any other portion of the conference. Dusti Hennenfent will also be speaking at ~12:30 p.m. regarding her petition to support Saskatchewan students’ right to a secular education by repealing the law that allows public schools to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

The petition will then be delivered at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building following a statement on the steps at 9:30 a.m. on May 1.

 

The Centre for Inquiry Canada’s stance is that tradition cannot be used as an excuse to potentially violate human rights. It is an established principle that minorities require protection from the will of the majority. Protection of all people begins with favouring none; therefore, any action by government that excludes a part of the community must be rejected.

SUMMARY

 

Who:    Centre for Inquiry Canada

What:   Calling upon Saskatchewan government to cease its Christian bias in the legislature and in its Christmas messages

When: April 30 – Petition announcement at Shift to Reason conference at 12:45 p.m.

May 1 – Petition delivered to Legislative Building at 9:30 a.m.

Where: April 30 – Shift to Reason conference at DoubleTree Hilton (1975 S Broad St., Regina)

May 1 – Legislative Building

Why:    To urge the government to equally represent all citizens instead of favouring a select group

How:    Delivering a petition to the Saskatchewan government

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

 

Regarding Christian prayer in the legislature, on April 15, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the City of Saguenay (QC) must stop reciting a prayer at the start of its Council meetings. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Premier Brad Wall said that the Saskatchewan legislature would continue to hold prayers and that:

I have not had one complaint. Not one concern registered. We’re very fortunate in Saskatchewan to have seen unprecedented population growth and we’re attracting people from all over the world. (Canadian Press, April 18, 2015)

 

Saskatchewan residents are now submitting this complaint and requesting that the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly acknowledge the spirit of this human rights affirming decision and end prayers in the legislature. Key points of the decision include that the state has a duty to be neutral on matters of religion and that non-belief is recognized as requiring the same protection as any specific religious belief:

A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society. The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality. (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), [2015] 2 SCR 3, 2015 SCC 16)

 

The Supreme Court ruling applies across Canada and provides a clear and strong secular direction on the matter of prayers in public spaces. All individuals, including Members of the Legislative Assembly, are free to pray, but these should not be government-led prayers.

 

Regarding Premier Wall’s annual Christmas messages, those who have sent letters and signed the online petition are not taking issue with the Premier providing year-end reflection and good wishes or even calling this address a “Christmas” message. In these messages, Premier Wall is using his government position to promote his Christian religion as superior to all others or no religion. For example, the 2015 address identifies Jesus as “the divinest heart that ever walked the earth.” Government exclusion of minority groups is certainly not the right thing to do and also not aligned with the duty of neutrality described above. Saskatchewan needs our government to represent the interests of the entire population and to protect the rights of minorities. Residents of Saskatchewan are calling upon the premier to cease these messages or make any such messages religiously neutral.

 

“Canadian secularists and the non-religious should not forget that human rights precedents in one region are very often cited in other regions,” said Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of Centre for Inquiry Canada. “Brad Wall’s comments should be of significance to any Canadian concerned with secular human rights.” 

REFERENCES

CFIC Secular SK Change.org petition

https://www.change.org/p/the-saskatchewan-government-must-stop-promoting-christianity

Supreme Court ruling on prayer at city council meetings

http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2015/2015scc16/2015scc16.html

Canadian Press: Supreme court rules prayers can’t continue at Quebec council meeting

http://globalnews.ca/news/1939749/supreme-court-rules-prayers-cant-continue-at-quebec-council-meeting

Canadian Press: Saskatchewan Premier says prayer will remain a part of legislature sittings:

http://globalnews.ca/news/1947060/saskatchewan-premier-says-prayer-will-remain-a-part-of-saskatchewan-legislature-sittings

Brad Wall’s 2015 Christmas message

http://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2015/december/11/christmas-message-from-premier-brad-wall

Saskatchewan’s first Shift to Reason conference

http://www.shifttoreason.com

Secular Education Change.org petition

https://www.change.org/p/hon-don-morgan-julie-mcrae-shelley-adams-support-saskatchewan-student-s-right-to-a-secular-education

 

Further Inquiry

  1. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/prayer-in-saskatchewan-legislature-will-continue-premier-brad-wall-says-1.3562743
  2. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/prayer-provincial-goverment-saskatchewan-1.3560937
  3. http://www.620ckrm.com/2016/05/02/group-wants-saskatchewan-to-have-a-secular-government/
  4. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/opening-prayer-legislature-saskatchewan-secularism-petition-1.3561634

CFIC Implores the Canadian Government To Help Tareq Rahim

On October 31, 2015, religious fanatics in Bangladesh continued attacks on atheist and secularist bloggers.  In the attack, Faisal Abedin Deepan, Avijit Roy’s publisher, was murdered while three bloggers were brutally injured. One of those bloggers, Tareq Rahim, is married to a Canadian citizen.

Monika Mistry is a Canadian citizen who was in contact with CFIC on the day of her spouse’s brutal victimization by people who can only be considered faith-based terrorists.  During a heart-wrenching conversation full of desperate concern and worry, Monika Mistry told us about the couple’s May 30th, 2015 marriage in Bangladesh.  Mistry and Rahim are a mixed-faith marriage – one of the couple being Muslim and the other Hindu. Although here in Canada such mixes are honoured and respected for their ability to spread diversity and tolerance, it is a situation that is often looked down-upon by the community and families in Bangladesh.

With their marriage so recent, Mistry was reluctant to see Rahim remain in unstable and dangerous Bangladesh, but their plan was to make-do until they could complete Immigration Canada’s paperwork that would enable the couple to reunite in Canada.  Unfortunately the terrorists found Rahim first.t and m 4

Mistry has told CFIC, “I am so frightened for Tareq. I am most afraid that when he is released from hospital that there are people waiting in the street to attack him again.”  In the hospital, Tareq Rahim has a modicum of security. On the streets and even in his home, protection is not available.  We know from the murder of Avijit Roy and the brutal assault on Rafida Bonya Ahmed that police and thousands of people will stand by as machete-wielding fanatics kill a target.  We also know from the murder of Niloy Neel that attackers will enter a person’s home to carry out their threats.

The targeting of atheist and secularist intellectuals is a strategic campaign intended to push Bangladesh away from its secular foundation.  The international community has been aware of this targeting throughout the year, and indeed the pattern began in 1999.  We urge you to listen to Rafida Bonya Ahmed’s Voltaire Address (British Humanist Association) to begin to learn the history. Despite being aware of the danger to this vulnerable minority, international governments have not stepped forward with a plan of assistance.

One of CFIC’s Bangladeshi contacts has asked, “Is it so difficult for a country to accept these 40-50 endangered people?“ CFIC and our humanist, secularist and human rights-oriented colleagues pass that question on to the Canadian government.  Can Canada not find compassion for a minority targeted by religious terrorists – particularly those with Canadian connections.

Canada and CFIC are intimately connected with this case.  Rafida Bonya Ahmed is a Canadian-American-Bangladeshi citizen who worked in Ottawa for many years and continues to maintain many friendships and connections here; Tareq Rahim and Monika Mistry have hopes to make Canada a safe place for their inclusive and tolerant relationship. CFIC has a circle of friendships in the Bangladeshi and Bangladeshi-Canadian community that grows each month. Where better than Canada to provide help?

To join us in calling the Canadian government to help the victimized spouse of a Canadian citizen – and to help other politically and religiously targeted members of the Bangladeshi intellectual, secularist community, please see the bottom of this article for sample language to send to your newly elected Prime Minister and/or Members of Parliament.

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Sample Letter of Support

 

To the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

It has come to my attention that one of the victims of the October 31, 2015 attacks by faith-based terrorists in Dhaka, Bangladesh is the spouse of a Canadian citizen.  Mr. Tareq Rahim, an intellectual and blogger, was attacked for exercising what Canadians enjoy every day – the right to freedom of expression in an open, tolerant and secular society.

Tareq Rahim is married to Canadian citizen and resident, Monika Mistry; they have a mixed-faith marriage and had plans to enjoy their tolerant and diversity-inspired marriage here in Canada once they were able to complete Immigration Canada’s paperwork.  Unfortunately terrorists found Rahim first with an attempt to take his life.  I urge the Canadian government to assist Tareq Rahim and Monika Mistry to expedite this process and bring Tareq to Canada and his family to recover from this brutal attack.

I further ask you to answer the question put to CFI Canada by one of our Bangladeshi friends, “Is it really so hard for a country to provide protection for 40-50 people” targeted by known faith-based terrorists?  Is it really so hard to extend protection to intellectuals, secularists, humanists, atheists who have been strategically targeted to separate a country’s population from its secular foundations?

Prime Minister, let the first days of your new government include an act of compassion and concern for Canadians such as Monika Mistry whose greatest ambition is to enjoy Canada’s diversity, freedom and welcoming community.  Help us to reunite Tareq Rahim with his wife while he recovers from this brutal assault of faith-based terrorism.

Yours Truly,

Eric Adriaans

National Executive Director

CFI Canada

 

 

University of Toronto Scarborough

Centre For Inquiry Canada has long been concerned with the incursion of pseudoscience into post-secondary education.  Whether it is the College of Medical Intuition in Vancouver or the University of Toronto, we are focussed on the promotion of science and opposition to pseudo-science for Canadian students.   Most recently, we have been very troubled to observe  trend toward endorsement of pseudo-science at the University of Toronto – Scarborough.  In February of 2015,  CFIC issued a letter to the University President, Dr. Meric Gertler.  Here is an excerpt of what we had to say at that time:

Dear Dr. Gertler,

Centre For Inquiry Canada is a registered charity with the mission 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. We are a voice for reason on matters of human rights, education and science expressing the concerns of our members across Canada.

Recently our members have expressed to us their concerns that the University of Toronto is rapidly becoming a platform for pseudo-science to the extent that there are now serious questions of the academic merits of an education from University of Toronto. We are deeply troubled by such a situation, and such comments, at an institution which has earned so much deep regard in Canada and around the world for its educational standards.

I will relate, Mr. Gertler, several specific concerns that have been brought to CFI Canada’s attention.

Homeopathic Trials organized by University of Toronto’s Dean of Pharmacy

We have been made aware that Dr. Heather Boon is investigating the use of homeopathic preparations for treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. We further understand that dozens of scientists and academics have expressed their concerns with this pursuit in a letter to Dr. Boon and have not yet received a reply to their concerns.

Alternative Cares of Medicine Conference at University of Toronto Scarborough

Members have brought to our attention that a conference will be held on February 28, 2015 at the University of Toronto Scarborough promoting pseudo-scientific health approaches. We are particularly troubled to learn that one of the lead speakers, Ms. Beth Landau-Halpern may also be related to University of Toronto (Scarborough) Dean, Dr. Rick Halpern. We question whether there is potentially a damaging conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest relating to the approval of this conference.

Centre For Complementary and Integrative Medicine

We are aware that the Faculty of Medicine and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy recently recruited a Director for a new Centre For Complementary and Integrative Medicine, another clear indication of incursions of pseudo-science into what should be the most vigilantly guarded area of science and evidence-based practices –medicine and health.

Other Concerns

I have also received commentary directly from a University of Toronto Scarborough professor regarding vaccination which I can only perceive as questionable in nature. Upon research I found connections between this professor and an “integrative/alternative” health business.

At concern, Dr. Gertler is the basic question, is the University of Toronto becoming a platform for pseudo-science and quackery? On behalf of our members, we are requesting your response to these serious concerns.

I would be very pleased to meet with you or speak via telephone to understand your perspective and what comment you would wish for me to pass along to our members and to the public. The University of Toronto is a much-treasured institution and we are hopeful that you will be in a position to share some indication that these troubling incursions of pseudo-science will receive your attention.

 

As may be expected, CFI Canada did not receive a reply to our expression of concern, though we did note an increase in media and public outrage over pseudo-science at UofT Scarborough.  The headlines were piling up.  Here is a sampling.

 

The Toronto Star on Feb 28, 2015  University of Toronto instructor and speaker boosts ‘alternative vaccines’

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The Toronto Star on Mar 5, 2015 Scientists critical of University of Toronto homeopathy study

National Post on July 6, 2015 Students at University of Toronto being fed bunk on immunizations as part of alternative health course

Ars Technica on July 12, 2015 U of Toronto OKs anti-vaccine homeopathy course

 

On July 31, 2015, CFI Canada received a copy of a memo (dated July 30, 2015) addressed to the Faculty, students and staff of UofT Scarborough PDAD&C.  The memo stated:

 We are writing to let you know that Professor Rick Halpern has resigned as Vice Principal (Academic) and Dean of University of Toronto Scarborough, effective August 1, 2015.

During his term as Dean, Rick led significant enrolment growth and innovative expansion, transforming eight academic departments into fifteen departments including two academic centres, as well as two graduate departments; introducing undergraduate programs in many subject areas, and through the Green Path program, paved the way for students from elite Chinese high schools to study at the University of Toronto and other Canadian universities.

We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the astute and progressive leadership he gave to UTSC. He was deeply committed to the spirit of excellence through diversity and community engagement that characterizes UTSC.

Following administrative leave, Rick will return to his position as a tenured professor.  We wish him well in his next steps.

We will be in touch shortly regarding plans to fill the position.

 

The memorandum is not uncommon in its content and style when it comes to changes in leadership at big organizations.   It may be expected that the University will wish to retain details of a change like this as a confidential matter between their Human Resources Department and Halpern.  Was there pressure to make changes due to public outrage over recent events?  Were students and faculty upset?  At this time, we just don’t know.

However, just as the University of Toronto administration promises to “be in touch shortly regarding plans to fill the position”, CFIC will be shortly be issuing a follow-up letter to our February 26 letter to The University’s President.   We want to focus on the future for U of T Scarborough.  You may expect that CFIC will encourage the University to seek a new Vice Principal and Dean who will:

  • be committed to Science
  • work to reverse the incursion of pseudo-science into the curriculum and culture of UofT Scarborough
  • engage the students and community who are concerned with the reputation and integrity of one of Canada’s leading post-secondary institutions

Further Inquiry

  1. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/authors/carly-weeksScienceChek-Draft03

 

 

 

Winnipeg Bus Shelter Ads Highlight Human Rights Violations

CFI member (and former board chair) Richard Thain has been a tireless campaigner for the elimination of the publicly funded religious school system in Ontario.    Richard’s most recent efforts have been successful in getting a series of ads on bus shelters in Winnipeg.  His aim was to have the ads appear at the time of the official opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights  in that city – unfortunately, the first advertising company approached to run billboards (Pattison Outdoor), though initially interested, refused to accept the job, citing concerns about violations of the  Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.    In the end, Outfront Media (formerly CBS Outdoor) accepted the message – a story mirroring that of CFI’s own billboard campaign.

Richard explains:

“This is a human rights issue here in Ontario.  We all bear the same tax burden, but only people of one religious faith have their own school system. Let’s treat all the religious groups the same.”

When presented with the standard objection that funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools is entrenched in the constitution, and as such cannot be changed, Richard pointed out that the constitution previously did not recognize women as persons – “[the Constitution] is not carved in stone,” he said,  “It can be changed.”

Read the article in the Ottawa Citizen here.

For more information, visit the One School System website, and Civil Rights in Public Education (CRIPE)

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