In April of 2016 CFIC launched Campaign 666  as an ironic nod to our goal to raise funds for our work to promote science, reason, secular human rights and critical thinking.  Given that we had pledges of $60,000, it seemed an obvious insider jest to ask our donors and supporters to raise our immediate (and urgent) financial needs with a further $6,666. It might have been easier to simply round the figure to $70,000 and remind our supporters that we’re Canada’s largest community for science and secularism- but the ironic juxtapositions were too ready and obvious to set aside.

Strangely, this little insider joke took on a unique significance to our mission when one of our members advised us of a recent story from Ontario.  Apparently an Ontario man will have his personalized licence plates (VI6SIX) revoked by the government because of a complaint – a licence plate he’s had for 15 years!
While naming our fundraising campaign after an obscure biblical myth  shouldn’t be more than an ironic insider jest, we were surprised to learn that an Ontario man has found himself the subject of unwanted controversy over his licence plate.  Daniel D’Aloisio, the man in question, provides  a singularly personal explanation of the licence plate which revolves around family connections and, of all things – hockey.  However his chosen plate appears to have run up against a complaint and some provincial legislation.  In effect religious privilege and sensitivities have created a threat to Mr. D’Alosio’s personal freedom of expression.  We have contacted members of the media to inquire whether Mr. D’Alosio, a self-described Catholic, is interested to explore this issue of freedom of expression with us.  In some coverage, he appears to want to avoid controversy – one of our questions is whether he should have to?
Avoiding controversy and offense can be understood to be a never-ending pursuit.  As Russell Pangborn commented to The Toronto Star,

When vaccinating license plates against using the number of the beast we have to pay attention to Wikipedia, which tells us, “In critical editions of the Greek text, such as the Novum Testamentum Graece, it is noted that 616 is a variant.” So all readers should keep a sharp eye out for any plates with VI1SIX or any combination showing that number and register their complaints.

My dad was an atheist and got a nice note from the most hated woman in America – Madilyn Murray O’Hair. To honour that I was thinking of applying for “NO GOD” on my plate. To get this passed the policy of no religious references it would have to be something like “90 60D.” With nine representing my “N” and six standing in for a “G.”

Of course if they are really good in the license department, a more complicated code of letters will have to be used. One letter before or after the real letters would produce OP HPE or MN FNC.

I only hope my driveway is not within sight of the person who complained about Daniel D’Aloisio’s plate, because they would eventually crack my code and turn me in.

As a political institution, the Ontario government should understand that there are some people who seek a kind of thrill and satisfaction from being offended and outraged and will do their best to figure out even the most abstract or obscure code to satisfy that thrill. As Warren Dalton from the same Toronto Star letters indicated, some people will  stand on their heads if only it means they can claim to be offended.   As with jurisdictions where blasphemy laws remain fierce (e.g. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan),  there’s also a probability that whomever complained  about D’Alosio’s plates doesn’t really care what he has on his licence plates.  Blasphemy laws are typically used by people to settle petty interpersonal and business grudges.  It seems just as likely to have been the case with Mr. D’Alosio.  Between the people who actively want to be offended and the people who will feign offense in order to satisfy some other  purpose… seems that any obscure code or random

If CFIC doesn’t attempt to address this type of freedom of expression issue in Canada, who will?  If CFIC isn’t in a position to create an ironically-named fundraising campaign…who is?
CFIC is currently gathering information relevant to this legislation and this situation. According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, personalized vehicle licence plates will not be allowed which are determined objectionable based on:
  • sexual messaging or meaning
  • sexual and eliminatory functions
  • abusive, vulgar, derogatory, obscene or profane language
  • known offensive slang in any language, text-messaging language etc.
  • religious meaning or messaging
  • only the use of religious titles that are considered formal designations of persons within the religion are permitted
  • reference to the use of or sale of legal or illegal drugs
  • effects of drugs or alcohol
  • alcohol-related words, including brands
  • political opinion, slurs, affiliation or organizations are prohibited except non-profit advocacy groups/trade organizations
  • negative or derogatory message or meaning with respect to government
  • falsely suggesting association with a public institution and/or law enforcement
  • reference to well-known figures or names
  • badge numbers of police officers
  • messages or meanings that could be associated with violence, as well as promoting discrimination or bias against individuals
  • illegal or criminal activity of any kind
  • Messages that express contempt, ridicule or superiority of race, religion, ethnic origin, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, physical characteristics, disability or political affiliation.
  • plate selections that are deemed to lack clarity or would be difficult to read. This also includes combinations with:
    • no more than 4 identical characters in sequence
    • interchangeable letters/numbers are not allowed (i.e. S/5, A/4, G/6, Q/O)
      • for example, if a plate has been issued with an “S” in its combination and an identical plate request is submitted substituting the “S” with a “5”, that plate will not be approved
  • Any combination of graphics and characters that together could be determined to be objectionable under the above criteria or violate the contract with a Graphic Partner.
  • infringement of intellectual property rights such as trademarks
  • the characters on a plate must not infringe on any third party intellectual property rights such as trademarks. It is your responsibility to check that the characters on the plate do not infringe upon any intellectual property rights
It appears that even personalized motor vehicle plates remain the property of the province and it is government privilege to grant or revoke such plates as they deem appropriate.  In the case of Mr. D’Alosio, it appears that a single complaint in 15 years of using this vehicle plate has been deemed sufficient to deny him the freedom to express a family connection as he sees fit.
Of course this so-called “number of the beast” is well-known as a controversy magnet based on a 1980’s era song by British heavy metal band, Iron Maiden and for the rather bizarre “analysis” of product packaging of the Monster Energy Drink which circulated on the internet in 2014, among other pop-culture references.  The triple six number has achieved a campy cultural status and referencing the number is now a convenient and harmless numerical prank.   Avoiding or removing the number from the public is not different than refusing to assign the floor “13” (or for that matter “4” in China) in an apartment or office building.
One person’s superstition must not be allowed to supersede another person’s freedom of expression.  A fundraising goal of $66,666 should be no more significant than one of $77,777 or even $123, 456.  The fact that an arbitrary number combination – or even a personally meaningful combination as in the case of Mr. D’Alosio’s personalized plates – may be a perceived as offensive or problematic enough to justify complaints….. is perhaps also sufficient reason to use such numbers.
Some further reasons we need your help?
Education Events
like Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, Ben Goldacre, Aron Ra.  We’re always seeking speakers to educate and entertain!
Secular Asylum: In 2016, CFIC provided a secular answer to the need for secular asylum. When atheists, agnostics and secular humanists lives are at risk, as they have been in Bangladesh throughout 2015 and 2016….CFI Canada has stepped up to help and speak out. over the past 18 months, CFIC has responded to 45 appeals for help from at risk atheists.  We can do more. And we want to do more.
Secular Human Rights: In 2015 and 2016 – CFIC has consistently spoken out on regional and national secular human rights issues like physician-assisted death, Ottawa’s Hijab Day, Saskatchewan‘s Brad Wall’s Christmas Message, O! Canada and Canada’s blasphemy law – Criminal Code Section 296.  We have also responded to specific human rights cases involving 12-step programs, dress codes at Canadian citizenship ceremonies and other front-line issues when secular human rights issues are threatened.
Community Events like Café Skeptique, Book Clubs, Living Without Religion and Counter-apologetics in communities across Canada.
Pseudo-Science Opposition:  CFIC continues to ensure that we oppose deadly and dangerous pseudoscience – particularly where healthcare and healthcare claims are involved…such as vaccination, Wi-Fi radiation claims, murder of people with albinism or our inquiries into organizations such as BC’s College of Medical Intuition.
Campaign $66,666 is well along the path for 2016 with pledges and donations totalling more than $61,000 already in place.  Now we are asking you to make a tax-deductible gift !
All donations of $25 or more will entitle the donor to a  “Campaign 666” button…commemorating your help to make CFIC a real “secular beast” during our 10th anniversary year!