Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canada. Show all posts

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Did the Office of Religious Freedom Stand Up For Another "Mysterious Atheist?"

Well... maayyyyyybeeee.... Okay, I seriously doubt it.

So I just gave a listen to the CBC Sunday Edition panel discuss The Public God. You can find a good review of the discussion by Spencer Lucas, who attended the taping of the discussion over at the Canadian Atheist. I think everyone might be a little too hard on Gretta Vosper - she was outnumbered, but maybe I'm just a softy. I hold organizer Michael Enright responsible.

The Public God: Hour One & Two (MP3)

Well, I have many things to say about the discussion. Perhaps my biggest problem with it was not ever really being sure who was saying what. Such is radio.

Then there was this, which really got stuck in my craw. The discussion went to the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom - a cause strongly supported by panelist Janet Buckingham Epp but widely criticized by non-religious everywhere.

Sole atheist panelist Gretta Vosper brought up a point that I've been making for months now about the Office. Why are they not speaking out in support of atheists and agnostics who are being persecuted in the name of religion? They promised they would, well, sort of.

So, Vosper asked the question and I was surprised to hear this answer from Fr. de Souza (I think it was him).
Vosper: Did they say anything about Fazil Say, an atheist, world-renowned pianist who was imprisoned for ten months in Turkey for blogging something about anti-religion? Did they say anything about that? 
de Souza: They did. our office, the Canadian office, they did, yeah.
Now here's what I hear: 'Oh yeah. Sure. Of course they did. Could you stop slagging my beloved Office of Religious Freedom and can we move on to something else?'

This would be the second microscopic trace of support from the Office for atheists. This one follows another one; a second tiny ethereal wisp of something apparently just as immaterial as de Souza's god. It sort of got thrown in during similar circumstances, as a sort of dismissal in an awkward moment.

Andrew Bennett made it back in February.
Bennett maintains that freedom from religion is also a human right to be defended, and he has spoken out for an atheist blogger in Kazakhstan.
In my post about this, I theorised it may have been Aleksandr Kharlamov. 

That, like this, would be huge for our community if it were actually proven to be true.  If there was any public statement on by the Office or anywhere at all for that matter to back it up.

More quiet noncommittal rumours, but it's not like this Office sits idle doing nothing at all. It seems to release official statements defending religious clergy and communities in peril nearly weekly.

I'm not suggesting they stop doing this, but it would be nice to get a mention - a mention, a single mention.  They alway seem to keep these covert murmurings defending atheists behind closed doors. Is de Souza privy to top secret international affairs information?

Perhaps the Office really is playing for their (political) base; the conservative Christian right. That too was a charge leveled in the course of this panel discussion.

So I'm asking Fr. Raymond de Souza to please provide the references for his statement so I, the CFI and fellow atheists and secularists can begin to celebrate this good work of the Office of Religious Freedom. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ontario Public Catholic School Board May Have to Start Following The Rules

Oh Ontario, I would like like to make a confession and ask for your forgiveness.

Years of living in Québec have perhaps given me a bit of a superiority complex. You see, I've been guilty lately of thinking that only my cinq-à-sept wine- and beer-soaked, cigarette-smoking, pothole-filled Belle Province could truly have colourful and heated debates about secularism and education. Well, things appear to be on the change and heating up in Ontario now. And after the recent PQ implosion I'm happy to watch from the outside.

(I'm not too upset about Quebec playing second fiddle for now. At least we're still king of martial lawprotests and riots here in Canada - except the Vancouver thing. Things are never boring around here.)

So, enough about my province, what's going on in Ontario?

A judge just ruled that a child didn't have to attend religious courses, go on religious retreats or attend Catholic Mass at an Ontario Catholic school. We're talking about the victory of Oliver Erazo who's had a hell of a time trying to get the Catholic school in his area to obey earthly laws.

Catholic mass exemption for students may 'become an issue'

Wait, this might sound a little silly. Let me clear things up.

The Catholic School Board in Ontario is publicly funded. I hope that makes things a little more clear, because it seems like during the first few audio clips on this page I found myself screaming this out loud.

It's interesting that the CBC interviewer was basically saying "isn't it ridiculous that this father wanted to opt his son out of Catholic courses at a Catholic school?" The crucial source of funding for the school seemed absent from the discussion until Oliver Erazo's lawyer brought it up in the interview. It's like the fact that Catholic schools are public schools - plus Catholic indoctrination - is some sort of dirty little secret that is kept somewhat under wraps in this province.

Even the language betrays the truth. The reporter was keen to draw a distinction between Catholic schools and Public Schools. This is not unlike the deceptive language here in Quebec of "private" Catholic schools (which still receive per student subsidies of up to 70%) vs the secular public school system.

We're all funding Catholic schools! Shhh... it's a secret!

Now here's what I find most interesting about this whole thing. Apparently the big issue now has to do with parents who are suddenly aware that they can opt their children out of religious indoctrination and ritual at Catholic public schools; it's been the law since the eighties. So the fear seems to be that people may begin realizing that Catholic schools with complete religious opt-out options are really not much different than the existing secular public school system.

I suppose the most reasonable thing to do then would be to abolish such a redundant system and make the whole thing a single secular Public system. Because a public Catholic system is simply not representative of the Ontario public. The only public school system that can ever hope to properly serve the public is a secular one.

Meanwhile, the Catholic school system can become a private one - which, other than the money, is really what the would prefer, anyway. This would align reality with the untrue narrative that seems to be promoted in the media of Catholic vs. Public. They'd be able to teach Catholicism too and anyone who would prefer to opt out could go to the nearest real public school.

The interviewer also asks about parents who may be Catholic themselves who wish to take their kids out of Catholic courses and activities at Catholic schools. This, of course, is the Catholic Church's problem - and it is hilarious.

In the end, the Catholic Church has had its free lunch for many decades in Ontario. It cannot have its cracker and eat it too.

(Why does the page feature a picture of the crucifix in the Québec Assemblée nationale?)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

"The Public God" Forum Tonight In Toronto

So Michael Enright is at it again. You might remember him by his hysterical screed advising atheists to stop whining or by the dull conversation he had with Bishop Oulton which only got interesting when the two stopped conversing and people in the audience asked them direct questions.

Well, now he's back and he wants to talk about The Public God - tonight.
On Tuesday, April 8th, The Sunday Edition will host a forum titled The Public God. This promises to be a provocative conversation about the role of faith in government, in public policies and in our culture.   
Host Michael Enright will guide the discussion with a panel of distinguished guests; then he will invite questions and comments from the audience. The forum will air on The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One on April 13th.
Interesting isn't it how the panel seems a tiny bit lopsided.  And two of the panelists: Janet Epp Buckingham and Raymond de Souza are contributors to the Cardus right wing Christian think tank which, in my opinion, is all about affecting public policy in the name of Christianity.

However, there is indeed one non-believer. Rev. Gretta Vosper - who is an atheist and has appeared on the Freedom From Religion Foundation radio program Freethought Radio.

Even so, I wonder if it might have been better to find someone who is not a minister of a church! Why not add someone who is an atheist and completely outside the entire structure of church into this discussion?

Anyway, if you're in the area why not drop in? It's free.

Tuesday, April 8th at 7 p.m.
Doors open at 6:30

Fleck Atrium, Rotman School of Management
The University of Toronto, 105 St. George Street

Monday, 7 April 2014

It's Election Day In Quebec

Assemblée nationale du Québec (source)
After an unending winter full of mudslinging nauseating politics, the election is finally here. It looks like Pauline Marois's Parti Québecois may not win after being so far ahead over the past few months. Indeed, I have heard they called the election early specifically so they could pull out ahead of their minority into majority territory.

Canadian readers might have detected a distinct quiet on this blog about the Secular Charter (much much much more properly the Charter of Quebec Values) given I'm living in Quebec and my initial cautious enthusiasm about the bill in the beginning.

To be honest, it's been a combination of being too close to home to think about and an acute confusion - a sort of sickening dissonance - surrounding my position concerning the Charter. I would like to support it and I do mostly but it has some flaws that seem fatal to me. It's failings seem unforgivable to me and for me it has lost its redemption.

Ever since I discovered that the crucifix would remain in the National Assembly and that government workers would be allowed to wear non ostentatious symbols of their faith -- like the small crosses that Christians already wear -- I began to smell a rat. It seemed to me like the law targeted some religious groups unfairly - les minorités. Why not forbid all religious symbols? No... really... why not?

So here's what makes me sick to my stomach. I agree with the majority of what's in the Bill and I sympathize with feminist groups in the province who are pushing for it. But I cannot understand why such a bill would not revoke tax exemption from religious institutions. Think of the impact this would have on our ailing economy revenue-wise?

I guess my question is: why go into a shooting match over what people are wearing? Why spend our capital on wardrobe when we could be shooting at the biggest religious intrusion in the province: the Catholic Church?

On principle, I agree that religious symbols have no place on government workers while they are performing government funded work.  But this must mean all symbols and any size.  How can I see the government as anything less than hypocritical? How can religious minorities ever hope to take this in good faith?

And why strip the private religious expression of some when government buildings in towns across Quebec - even courthouses - have statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary which are obvious government endorsements? Why can't we all agree to begin with this?

Yes, wardrobe - I feel that this fly in the soup, no matter how small, is poison to this Bill. In the end, it is a tragedy that it's the religions themselves that attach such importance to pieces of cloth. I certainly do not see them as important. However, perhaps like Voltaire, I see fairness as important and this Charter's demarcations concerning visible religious symbols are conveniently arbitrary.

Now, I am a fan of the French laïcité, don't get me wrong. But this Charter fails this test. I would champion a full ban on all religious paraphernalia - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc. but I cannot defend this half-way approach that defends our National cultural heritage. 

It's even possible that some religious secularists (yes they do exist) could possibly come on board with such a proposal but the PQ have burned this bridge.

Finally, I must ask what the perceived threat is of people's chosen wardrobe? How does this stack up with religious symbols adorning government buildings; churches that pay no taxes; clergy that get their lodging tax-exempted; publicly-funded private Catholic schools that refuse to teach basic ethics courses in a non-biased way? Are we being thrown scraps here?

This morning I was working at a cafe - a perk of being in the information technology field - and a man of Middle Eastern descent sat down at a table near an older white gentleman. The next thing I heard, the older man yelled "Les Arabes sont des animaux!", picked up his newspaper and left. Yes, that really happened. Although the Charter is 95% in line with my own beliefs, it's the strategic alignment of the remaining 5% that connects me with this incident in my mind somehow. I could be wrong, but it nags me.

So I don't mean to upset anyone. You are all welcome to support or oppose this Bill and I will not respect you any less. It has many good points. The most of it is sweet but there is bitterness in it which I personally am unable to wash from my mouth.

Canadians, Make Tax-Deductible Donations to Kasese Humanist School Through Humanist Canada!

Humanist Canada logo (left) and Kasese Humanist Primary School logo (right).

A special thanks to Director of Humanist Canada Kevin Saldanha for writing about the Kasese Humanist Primary School in the Spring edition of their newsletter!

My vain side would also like to thank him for the mention of both me and this blog's fundraiser to build new classrooms at the school.

But the real big news is that Humanist Canada have pledged to help with the construction of the Main Hall. The idea is to raise $5,000 in this effort.
We have pledged to help raise funds towards the costs associated with the main school hall, a basic requirement of the Ministry of Education for a permanent school. The HC board of directors recently made changes to our website that enables us to accept donations for this cause. We encourage you to participate in this effort by making your donation to the Kasese School through the donation page on the website.
Here's where you, fellow Canadians, can donate!

Humanist Canada Online Donation Form

In the Where would you like your donation directed? section choose Ugandan Kasese School.

This is big news! It means that for the first time Canadians can donate to the school and get a tax receipt for deduction.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

"Jumpin' Jesus" It's Spring and We're Buried In Snow!

I have been alerted that I should be grateful that although it is April 5th, it's still 4°C outside with strong cold winds and what the weather people now call wintry mix (snow and slush) coming down at a 45° angle. I mean, at least I didn't wake up to this:

St John's Newfoundland woke up April 1st to 40+ cm of snow. That's no joke. People couldn't get out of their doors! 

Oh and I love the Newfoundland accent! I lived in New Brunswick for seven years so I makes me pine for my childhood days living next to the St John river - which would come up and visit us every second or third spring!

So, I guess I can live with my situation here in Montréal a little longer.

Friday, 4 April 2014

"Pope Day" Mass Celebrated With Politicians In Ontario Legislature Building

The Pope before he was Pope shaving outside. Because there's nothing odd about that.
Oh drat! I missed Pope Day in Ontario! It was April 2nd and I had sworn to myself that although I am in Quebec I would have at least worn a silly hat or reminded someone of all of the child molestation that was covered up.

Collins reminds MPPs of Catholic schools' 'gift' to Ontario

Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins has to remind people in Ontario that the Catholic schools are a gift because quite a few people have begun to question exactly what the point is of having a Catholic public school system riding alongside several others rather than a single secular public school system.

If you're repulsed at the thought of government pandering to churches then declaring a day to celebrate the man who became Pope is bad enough, but inviting clergy over into the provincial legislature is even worse.
TORONTO - On the first-ever Pope John Paul II Day in Ontario, Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins celebrated the first-ever Roman Catholic Mass at Queen’s Park in the building’s 154-year history. 
The 7:30 a.m. Mass in the legislature’s dining room was attended by politicians of all three parties along with Catholic teachers and school board trustees there to lobby them. 
In his brief homily, Collins reminded his small flock Catholic schools are “a gift to all the province,” while also praising politicians for their dedication.
I suspect that this is technically not a problem because it's taking place inside the legislature dining room but I'll say my part anyway.

I can remember some defenders of the day claiming that it wasn't a celebration of Catholicism. Oh no, it was a celebration of Karol Wojtyła - the shaving pre-Pope in the picture above. What a crock! It was nothing more than turning the knob and leaving the door ajar so the priests could come strutting in with their hats, robes, goblets and hosts.
“We do this every couple of years just to remind them,” she said.
The message to anyone who doesn't want the Church to be in bed with Government in Ontario is that they've been in bed together for a long time. The deed was first done way back with the Constitution and by now they're at the light the cigarettes and have the existential discussion phase of the 1960s French movie.  

Pope Day? Just one more proof that Catholic meddling in government in Ontario is here to stay.

Ontario's present day school system had its roots in the 19th century, when Ontarians could generally be classified as either Catholic or Protestant and segregation was seen as an convenient means to address the often acrimonious Anglo-Irish, French-English, and Catholic-Protestant divisions that marked the society of the day.  Constitutional provisions notwithstanding, religiously segregated school systems like Ontario's have now been eliminated in Quebec (1997), Newfoundland and Labrador (1998), and Manitoba (1890). 
Ontario is now the only province that funds the religious schools of the Catholic faith exclusively, a situation that led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to censure Canada for religious discrimination in 1999 and again in 2005.
Ontario. A province that may very well need to be dragged away from the Catholic Church into this century.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Richard Carrier vs. Zeba Cook Debate This Weekend!

I'm not sure how many people from or around Ottawa read this blog. Just in case there are some, I thought I'd remind you that there will be an excellent debate this Saturday between two atheists about whether or not Jesus was a real person.

I had previously announced it, but here's the info again!
Did a man named Jesus live in Palestine 2000 years ago? Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University thinks so, but historian and philosopher Richard Carrier disagrees. 
If I lived in Ottawa, I'd go.

Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth?

Centrepointe Chamber
101 Centrepointe Dr
Ottawa, ON K2G 0B5

Saturday, 5 April 2014 from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM (EDT)

Tickets available over at Eventbrite.

And here's the Facebook Event page.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Catholic School Goes to Supreme Court Because It Can't Teach A Religion Course Without Bias

Remember Paul Donovan, Principal of Loyola High School in Montreal? He is okay with teaching the provincially mandated religion and ethics course, so long as it's from a Catholic perspective.
We are in agreement with those goals. We just want to teach it from a Catholic point of view. Quebec wants us to keep any explanation out of why people believe what they believe. You are supposed to say this is what they believe and that’s it. The government requires that when you’re dealing with other religions that the teacher in the classroom completely disassociates himself from any religious perspective or religious value. So we can never say, ‘As Catholics, we see this…’
Well, the Supreme Court has agreed to take the case. Here's a story about this from the National Post.

Montreal Catholic school fighting for the right to teach ethics and religious culture in its own Jesuit style
Eight years after the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously rejected Quebec’s ban on Sikh kirpan daggers in the classroom, another major test of academic religious freedom comes to Canada’s top court Monday, as a private Catholic boys high school in Montreal fights for the right to teach ethics and religious culture in its own Jesuit style.
Here's the deal. I don't like the way this whole thing is being framed. It's wrong on at least a couple of levels.

First off, what's so wrong with exposing the students to an unbiased un-dogmatized course where competing religions are presented fairly as they present themselves? Is it possible, just for an hour or so in the day, to let the children take off their rose-coloured Catholic glasses and explore the claims of other religions and ethical systems? Or is this too dangerous?

I also fail to see why the ban on Sikh kirpan daggers in the classroom has anything to do with academic religious freedom. Also, since when do institutions have rights like individuals? Actually, since when do religions have rights like individuals? Should we not be talking about human rights here rather than religious rights?

But don't the parents have the right to teach their children their religion? Of course! At church. At home. In the street. Even at school outside of this one class.

No problem, but why am I paying around 70% of the tuition of these students so they can have reality distorted through a Catholic prism before being imprinted into their young minds? Is this not state-sanctioned religious indoctrination? It certainly seems that way - especially if they refuse to teach provincially mandated courses.

When a lawyer for the school complained that the course forced teachers to take an ethically neutral position - neither discrediting competing non-Catholic views nor promoting Catholic views - the Attorney General responded:
Loyola would be free to teach Catholicism from a Catholic point of view at other times, Boucher said. But for 250 hours during the high-school years, Loyola would be required to adopt a neutrality stance to teach the ERC; otherwise it could be fully Catholic, he argued.
Why can't they hire someone from the outside then? Hell, hire an atheist to do it if that's what's necessary.

But the more I think about this, the more I see this is fundamentally messed up. It seems to me like religious institutions have their fingers in too many pies.

Here's what I mean.

I think one step better would be to allow Loyola to avoid the course so long as they do not receive any government funding whatsoever. Then, at least, they wouldn't be teaching religion on my dime.

However, how will these students be properly exposed to other forms of ethics and religion? How can we be sure they'll be properly educated? Would the government need to set up a sort of State-sanctioned Sunday School? It all seems so backwards to me.

Perhaps, religious indoctrination and Catholic education should stay in churches.  Children would learn all mandatory courses including this required ethics and religion course alongside their mandatory Physics and Biology (without religious bias) in state-funded or subsidized schools - private or public. Meanwhile, parents would be completely free to send their children to any religious institution for indoctrination or instruct their children in religion themselves. Wouldn't that be better?

Is this too close to Plato's Republic?

Well, for now I would be thrilled to see private schools like Loyola lose government subsidies if they wish to carry on like this. Then at least the taxpayers won't be paying for the teaching of Catholicism. Perhaps then the Church itself could pitch in a little money to help offset the costs - I've heard they're frightfully wealthy.

Full disclosure: My son is Autistic and so is in a private school that specializes in helping him with learning delays. Because this school is not foisting religion upon him (or us), I have no problem with the school being subsidized.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Canadian Senator and Three MPs Used Taxpayer Money For Trip to Washington "Prayer Breakfast"

Senator from Toronto and Pentacostal Pastor Don Meredith (source)
How's anyone supposed to get a decent breakfast here in Canada; what with all this bacon, potatoes and fresh maple syrup all over the place? There just isn't enough prayer or evangelical Tea Party politicians or Barack Obamas like there probably is down south in D.C.

Well, actually we do have a God-filled breakfast up here in Canada, but we don't have Barack Obama, I guess.

So what's a god-fearing, sexual-orientation-is-just-a-choice, Senator supposed to do when his own party tells him he cannot expense a trip to the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to the public coffers? Ignore them! Because as if he can ever get fired. He's in the senate. He'll just get dropped off a few committees or something.

Canadian senator’s travel expense claim for prayer meeting in Washington under scrutiny
Sen. Don Meredith, a pastor from Toronto, spent five days in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering of some 3,000 international politicians and diplomats that included U.S. President Barack Obama and members of the United States Congress.
Senate sources say Conservative whip Sen. Beth Marshall didn’t approve the trip, yet Meredith still went.
Yes, he's also Pastor. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised with him expensing business class airline tickets to taxpayers so he can schmooze.

Along with the business class tickets, he expensed $1,294 on hotel, taxis and meals.

Then there are three MPs who went ahead and expensed the trip as well.
Three MPs went on the same trip as Meredith, and charged the House of Commons for flights, hotels and meals. Conservative MPs Steven Fletcher and Harold Albrecht went to the prayer breakfast, along with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Albrecht’s office confirmed he expensed more than $1,000 for the three-day trip, while May’s office said she expensed $980 for an economy, round-trip flight, and two days of per diems for food and taxis, but didn’t expense a hotel as she stayed with a friend.
I admire their attempts - unlike the Senator - to economize. Yet, I am still not a big fan of them spending my money to attend a breakfast that the FFRF have denounced year after year as a gross violation of state-church separation.

The story goes on to say that this is an excellent schmooze fest for politicians who want access to the president and other US leaders. As a secularist, I don't quite know what's worse: them expensing this trip to a prayer breakfast on my dime or the fact that this prayer breakfast is obviously the place to be for networking in Washington.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Canada's Anti-Gay Evangelicals And Their International Effect

I've heard it said on the Freethinking Island podcast and some of my Caribbean friends have echoed it: Jamaica is the most anti-gay of all the islands. You can get literally killed if you're found out to be gay on that island.

So I found it to be an unfortunate convergence of topics I've written about recently on this blog when this article popped into my Google email filters.

Canada’s role in spreading homophobia worldwide
I suspect Canadians may feel a little smug, thinking that the global homophobic paranoia is being driven primarily by American fundamentalists such as Scott Lively. However, the following news story reminded me of Canada’s role in spreading anti-gay misinformation and hate worldwide.
You know what? Mea culpa. I've written rather accusatorially about the American evangelical influence on Uganda that more or less created their horrendous anti-gay law. I guess it really is an idea that we just don't have those kinds up here in Canada. 

I should have known better. Over the last couple of years, I have been writing about Christian evangelicals like Janet Epp Buckingham.

She's been affecting Canadian policy to push a fundamentalist Christian agenda. She's been doing this internationally by strongly supporting the Office of Religious Freedom.  At home, she's trying to set up a Christian Law School in British Columbia that forbids homosexuals students to be in relationships.

So I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that she had a part in the strong Jamaican anti-gay laws, but it still did.
Canadians were also instrumental in ensuring that Jamaica’s 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms was deliberately framed to exclude rights for homosexuals. In 2006, Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, traveled to Jamaica and made a presentation to the Jamaican Parliament as well as held meetings with conservative lawyers. During these sessions she highlighted the Canadian experience with human rights recognition of LGBT people and said she was “concerned” about Jamaica’s proposed Charter becoming as inclusive and tolerant as Canada’s.
You can find a news story about her 2006 talk here.

The story also talks about Canadian Douglas Allen and his role in making the lives of gays and lesbians a little more difficult outside of Canada.  Presumably this is because most Canadians have evolved ethically enough to stop listening to him and Buckingham.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

"And Now For Something Completely Different": Two Atheists Debate The Historical Jesus.

Two friendly atheists talking about Jesus. Zeba Crook (left) and Richard Carrier (right).

Last week, I got an email from my friend Marlowe over at CFI Ottawa about a fascinating upcoming debate between two atheists: one believes Jesus existed, the other doesn't.

So, in one corner we have atheist Richard Carrier, who believes Jesus is a mythical character not based on any single real historical person. In the other corner we have atheist Zeba Crook, who apparently believes there is compelling evidence for a historical Jesus.  Zeba is a researcher in the very new field of Secular Biblical Criticism.

The really unique part is that usually this sort of debate is between a Christian and an atheist and this is not the case here. Marlowe explained the rationale in her email.
We're also trying to put the discussion on very even ground. So, for example, both speakers are atheists so it'll really be a discussion of the evidence, rather than beliefs. 
I would imagine that since neither presumably has any strong spiritual attachment to this Jesus figure, the discussion could very well be much more objective than earlier debates I've seen. I mean, neither likely feels the urgency of spreading the Gospel message to save souls! Perhaps we'll get more actual evidence and less testimony.

So if you find yourself near Ottawa on April 5th, why not take in what looks to be a very interesting debate? It only costs $15, with $5 off for CFI members!

Here are some links to more information!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Westjet Releases Video Salute to Women in Aviation Shortly After Jerk Passenger Left Sexist Note For Woman Pilot

Although I'm sure it's mostly a coincidence - since the video was released during Women In Aviation Week - the Canadian airline Westjet released this video showcasing some of the many women who hold important positions in their company.

You'll also see pilot Carey Steacy at the end of the video encouraging more women to join the Canadian aviation industry.
Hi, I'm captain Carey Stacey. I've been a pilot for seventeen years. We need more women in aviation. I hope you'll come join us. It's a great place to land.
You'll probably remember that Carey was the pilot who got the pathetic note on a napkin left at the back of her chair by a certain David. He chose to back up his sexist words with a verse from the universal-jerk-move-backer-upper, the Bible: "The cockpit of an airliner is no place for a woman."

Well, it's nice to see Westjet celebrating the contribution women pilots and other professional - going high up in the company - make in support of Women in Aviation week.  In the description of the video, they include links to other organizations that promote women in the aviation industry (read: equality!).

Or was it a complete coincidence? Take a look at the napkin they feature in the video's still shot below!

 Way to go, Westjet!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

UFO Alert In Canada!

How an alien invasion would look in Canada. (source)
Peoples of ... Ontario and Manitoba! Bend your knee in respect for your new cosmic masters! Your Prime Minister - a cyborg - will no longer be necessary to us! We will now become your supreme overlords!

Or something.

Did you hear that UFO sightings are at the second highest rate in Canada in the past 2 years?

UFO sightings soar to new heights in Canada
There were 1,180 UFO sightings reported in 2013, or about three each day, according to the Canadian UFO Survey, an annual survey released Tuesday by Winnipeg-based UFOlogy Research of Manitoba. 
It is the second-highest number recorded in Canada in the past 25 years. The peak year was 2012, when almost 2,000 reports were recorded.
Okay, so the article itself doesn't mention anything about aliens. I admit the picture above is misleading, but it's no more misleading than the picture of the flying saucer in the CBC article above. Let's face it, although UFO technically means nothing more than a flying object that's unidentified, most people associate it with buggy-eyed aliens in extra-terrestrial space ships.

UFOlogy Research director Chris Rutkowski suggests that the economic downturn may have prompted people to look up into the sky for some kind of divine guidance rather than staring down at the earth like I do most days on the way to work. Maybe they have more time on their hands.

He has a few theories:
  1. More UFOs are present and physically observable by witnesses
  2. More secret or classified military exercises and overflights are occurring over populated areas
  3. More people are taking the time to observe their surroundings
  4. And more people are able to report their sightings with easier access to the Internet and portable technology.
Maybe it's the messenger here. I don't know if it's just the reporter having a poor grip on what UFO actually stands for.  I mean, number one is pretty much a given right?  Because whether the sightings are space aliens, military exercises, space alien military exercises, space alien military frisbees or broken cloaking devices, these are all unidentified flying objects.

Number 3 is nice, I guess. Perhaps they are less employed and have more time? It sounds rather pleasant really.

Many of them are apparently reported by airline pilots and other professional people. It's possible they were just saying they saw something - not the alien thing that most people will probably get out of this. It would have been nice if the author of the piece specified that UFO doesn't mean death-ray-toting space machines.

Anyway, number 4 goes without saying. I just got my first smartphone last year. But wouldn't you expect better pictures by now if everyone is wandering around all the time with high resolution video cameras in their pockets?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Jewish Cult Lev Tahor Members Flee Canada With Their Children

Remember the Ultra Orthodox Jewish cult Lev Tahor? They're the ones who follow a rabbi who was kicked out of the US for kidnapping a kid. So he got himself into Quebec and moved into an isolated community.

Well, a judge ruled that the cult members needed to give up 13 children to Quebec Child Protection. There were serious signs of systematic abuse and the children were not being properly educated or cared for. So, under threat of teaching their children secular subjects, they skipped town and fled to Ontario.

Recently, the Ontario judge ruled that they had to honour the Quebec ruling but gave them 30 days to challenge. Well, they used that time to illegally leave Canada. Yep, they took off just before their court date and took their kids with them.

The news just broke last night and things are developing fast. Here's the latest somewhat muddled report.

Late airport arrival costly for Lev Tahor members trying to flee Canada
The members of the controversial Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish group who tried to flee Canada this week would have made a clean break but for the fact that some showed up late at Pearson International Airport, an official says.
My understanding here, which is a little fuzzy, is that two Lev Tahor families had attempted to flee Canada bound for Guatemala. They were taking at least 12 of the 13 children who were supposed to be surrendered to Child Protection for foster care (read why this was the case here).

However, nine members of one family arrived at the Toronto airport late. They missed their initial flight  and were forced to take a flight to Trinidad & Tobago. I guess by the time they arrived, local Caribbean authorities had be notified by Canadian authorities and they had their passports seized and effectively they are not going anywhere for now.
By contravening a court order, the fleeing Lev Tahor members have given Canadian officials more power to act upon them, Mr. Baraby said. "They are making themselves liable to criminal proceedings." 
Following news of the two families' departure, Chatham-Kent Children's Services obtained an emergency court order allowing law-enforcement officers to stop them. 
Both Trinidad and Guatemala signed the 1980 Hague Convention which obliges them to return the children if they are found to be wrongfully removed from Canada and this is apparently decided in the court of their home country - Canada. So I expect them to be coming back to Toronto unless their parents decide to do another, even more daring, runner.

It doesn't look like either country is sharing where the families are located - at least to the media. I hope they've let Canadian authorities know.

My wife told me last night that she has concerns that this group may be a suicide risk. In fact, when the group was still in Quebec, Child Protection also had concerns that they might implement a suicide pact if pushed too far. I feel the same way. It's imperative that authorities bring these children to safety lest something truly awful happen if the parents feel completely cornered.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

CBC Documentary On Lev Tahor Cult Uncovers Even More Possible Illegal Activity.

Lev Tahor Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans and Shai Fhima (source)
Just one week after ultra-orthodox Jewish cult Lev Tahor was covered by Global's 16x9, the CBC aired a Fifth Estate documentary about it yesterday. It wasn't so flattering. Actually it brought up serious possible criminal wrongdoings by the Rabbi... well, besides than kidnapping a young boy from Brooklyn and hiding him for two years, that is!

LINK TO VIDEO PAGE: Rabbi of the Pure Hearts: Inside Lev Tahor

(I don't believe the video is embeddable and it could only be available to people within Canada.)

This is the cult that Child Protection in Quebec charged with child abuse after Canada just let their leader, a convicted child kidnapper, into the country as a refugee! In response to Child Protection, Lev Tahor members claimed their religious freedoms were being trampled in Quebec because they were being forced to teach their children secular curricula (i.e. facts).

So, the group snatched up their kids and took off in the middle of the night for Ontario; away from the godless secular Quebec to the land of religious freedom.

Well not long later, an Ontario judge ruled that the original Quebec ruling that the children needed to be surrendered to authorities.

This latest exposé questions the legality of the rabbi's immigration to Canada. He was kicked out of the US because he kidnapped Shai Fhima and hid him away for some unknown reason for two years. Then he was magically able to convince the Immigration Board that he was somehow threatened in Israel.

It's looking more and more like one of his key witnessed lied about being an Israeli secret agent - he actually works for the rabbi - and another now claims he was paid to make up a story in the rabbi's defence.

A story based on the CBC documentary above lays it out.

Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans' refugee case questioned
The fifth estate investigates refugee claim of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans
At his refugee hearing in 2003 he submitted a video of his kidnapping victim, Fhima, saying Helbrans’ conviction was a misunderstanding and that he wanted to clear the rabbi’s name.    
Fhima has recently told the fifth estate what he said in that video was a lie.  He says that Lev Tahor paid him $5,000 to make the recording, in a deal arranged by the community’s spokesman, Goldman. He also said that Helbrans really did kidnap him.
Essentially, this boy who the rabbi kidnapped -- and served jail time for this in the US -- came back to the rabbi's immigration hearing to help the rabbi get into Canada. Now it's coming to light that the good rabbi may have paid him $5,000 for his troubles.

Friday, 28 February 2014

I welcome an end to eulogies at Catholic funeral masses.

Notre Dame (Our Lady) Basilica in Ottawa, Canada (source)
It must be a sign I'm getting older, because the funeral frequency has increased in my family and circle of friends.

I can remember the first (Anglican) funeral I went to in Barbados. They take their religion pretty strong down there and so the service was mostly the pastor talking about death and how THE atheist gets it all wrong. Most of the service seemed to be nothing more than a way to guilt family members and friends who do not attend regular service back into the fold.

There was only one part of that ceremony that seemed to bring any comfort to me or others and that was the eulogy.

More recently, there were stories and, dare I say funny tales of remembrance at both my grandparents' funerals as well. They, of course, were Roman Catholic.  I just learned yesterday that the Church actually forbids eulogies at their funeral masses. Luckily, both services were held in Pembroke near Ottawa before the officials cracked down on this deviation.

Archbishop decrees an end to eulogies at Ottawa-area Catholic funerals
“Contrary to popular belief,” reads a February church decree, “eulogies or words of remembrance are not an official part of Catholic funeral rites. 
“In the Christian funeral, we gather not to praise the deceased, but to pray for them.”
Way to drain any last shred of usefulness from the service! Now that the person is dead, about the most useless thing one could do is pray for them. Why not help loved ones grieve and heal? Why burden them with the extra tragic idea that their lost friend, son or lover is burning somewhere in purgatory?

It's because suffering is the Catholic Church's thing. Or so I have come to believe looking at it from the outside.

I can remember as a boy being asked by the priest what was the mass? I rattled off something which I had most likely heard from some post-Vatican II homily; that it was a celebration of God's glory or somesuch. To which I got a scoff and a reply, "The mass is not a celebration, it is a sacrifice. It is a suffering."

As a boy, I can remember three hour long Tridentine (Latin) masses in stuffy chapels or rooms. I can remember the kneeling, for hours and I would agree - it was all about the pain.

Anyway, the man whose nostrils and belly are featured so prominently in the photo from the article above is Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. I can only imagine he's already tackled other more pressing issues. Now he's settling the urgent matter of people injecting their own positive memories of the deceased into the ceremony - the all important magical rite.

And it seems like Ottawa and Pembroke have been lapsed for some time now. I wonder how this has hurt the souls of my grandmother and grandfather? How could the Church allow such a thing to happen to them? Or, if it did not impede their entry, why not let the relatives say their words?

The answer seems to be that such spontaneous and natural displays of emotion are simply not proper decorum for the church ceremony.
Fr. Bosco Wong is the rector of St. Patrick’s Basilica, one of Ottawa’s largest, oldest Catholic churches. 
Officiating over about 30 funerals a year, he has long counselled mourners to keep their eulogies to non-church settings. He has heard “horror stories” of eulogies that go on for 45 minutes, speakers who nervously babble or lose their thread or tell anecdotes that are trivial or not suitable in a Christian setting. 
As an example, he cited an instance where he attended the funeral home service of a young man who had died in a motorcycle accident. After a group of mourners had stepped forward to deliver memorial speeches, “the six of them clustered around the casket and cried uncontrollably,” he recalled.
Such trivial things like sharing stories to bond and heal after the death of a loved one have no place in a Christian setting. People crying - of all things! - for the loss of their loved one is just downright uncomfortable and slows down the ceremony. There is, afterall, a lot of praying to do, mindless responses to utter,  genuflections, standing, sitting etc.

The church - in an act of charity - decided to make a compromise. One page of text read by one person, to be read on a separate lectern than the Scriptures; perhaps so their delicate pages will not be sullied with the trivial mundane, often secular, stories of mere people.

Well, I think that the best solution to this problem is to take any pretense of human compassion out completely from the ceremony. Keep it to the letter exactly. It will keep it on schedule and make sure we get the appropriate number of bell rings at the right time. Those who feel compelled to go to the ceremony will get whatever it is they get out of this.

Meanwhile, another service will be held somewhere else. People can come in and offer their condolences, tell stories about the deceased, comfort each other. And no need to stick around if you feel too uncomfortable or if you didn't know the person enough to feel huge emotion.

Oh yes, that's called the visitation. So, you know what? I agree with the good archbishop! Let's take the eulogy out of the funeral ceremony altogether and let people remember the life and process the death of a loved one in another ceremony outside the church, the human way.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Trinity Western Law School: Setting The Tone For Discrimination

At the time of writing this post, in the United States, seventeen states have already legalized same-sex marriage. Things are changing faster than anyone could imagine with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DOMA). Internationally, it seems like another country legalizes same-sex marriage every other week.

Here in Canada, we enjoy legal same-sex marriage in all of our provinces and territories. We were actually the fourth country to legalize it, which makes me very proud to be a Canadian.

University of Ottawa law student Stéphane Erickson wrote an excellent opinion piece in the Globe & Mail about how the upcoming Trinity Western law school is in the wrong for discriminating against students who are in relationships with partners of the same sex.

Trinity Western law school has no right to judge its gay students

But all legal jargon aside; let’s call a spade a spade. This is wrong. It’s plain wrong. Denying access to education – above all legal education – based on one’s sexual orientation or lifestyle choices is wrong. Whether it’s a private institution or a public institution, it remains wrong. It’s wrong because it is hateful. It conveys the message that religion can indeed be used as shield, as a cloak, to discriminate, to judge and to perpetuate vile and harmful ideas – be it against women, ethnicities, sexual minorities, or other contributors to society that have been historically and systematically forced to silence, to shame, to the periphery.
Erickson has a good if not tragic point; he is himself a gay Roman Catholic. The Vatican has a huge problem with homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

His questions are good ones. How can a single law school respect both secular laws and their bronze age mythology at the same time? How can they serve two masters?

At the end of his piece, he asks this poignant question.
I therefore ask this of Canada’s soon-to-be law school: If a person is gay and loves another person of the same sex, and seeks to further his or her understanding of the law, notably in the areas of religious freedoms, and has good will, on which authority do you stand to judge him or her?
My answer is a simple one. They base it on their book, naturally. How could they do otherwise?

This new institution is for young students who ultimately wish to learn about the LAW. This is more than the petty laws of humans; those which have helped bring about some measure of equality for men who love men and women who love women. These young minds will learn how to fold and bend human temporal laws to serve their ultimate religious law, to serve their mission.

I think this will be a school which enslaves the law of the land to the verses of a book which would ultimately have gays and lesbians regulated back to their historical position of persecution.

Erickson deftly expresses concerns that underlie my objections to the school and no doubt the objections of many others.
The obvious questions follow: How is a law school, which does not recognize the legitimacy of civil unions, same-sex marriage, and non-traditional family structures, going to ensure an accurate and sincere legal education? How is the Charter going to be taught with respect to women’s rights, LGBT rights, and other issues pertaining to sections 15 and 7? Moreover, and maybe most importantly, how is the school going to ensure that students feel safe in an environment morally bound by religious doctrine and skewed interpretations of sacred texts? All these questions have been asked, with no – or very few – answers from the University.
I think the answer is apparent. They have no real intention of doing this. This is why they require their own separate school. This is why they have cloistered themselves away. Society is growing increasingly suspicious and intolerant of their attitudes towards LGBT rights.

Canadian society and its laws have become a hostile place full of scorn and ridicule for those who do not approve of the increasing public acceptance of LGBT people.  They cannot tolerate LGBT people being in relationships with those they love, marrying, having or adopting children -- living their lives and treated like human beings.

The condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle as a kind of sickness by the religious seems more and more ridiculous and vile with each passing day. As multiple sexual orientations and gender identities become ever more normalized in a more broadly inclusive society, it is these people who are left in the dust. Frankly, they start looking like the religious who were on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.

I believe the creators of this new law school don't like the direction things are going. Maybe they will try to raise an army of lawyers to swing the pendulum backwards. One can only hope they fail.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Take This Church... Please... $1.

Sackville United Church (source)

When my wife and I travelled to Ireland and Germany on our honeymoon, we checked out the beautiful churches. I'll admit it, I love the way they look and I think they ought to be saved and repurposed for something more useful in the future.

Historic Sackville church put up for sale
The Sackville United Church congregation voted to sell the 130-year-old downtown church after deciding it could not afford to renovating the aging building.
Now the $1 price tag probably has something to do with the cost to properly demolish the building and dispose of the rubble. It's not cheap. I had a part of my house replaced and it's going to run over $1000 to get rid of this small bit of rubble. Nevermind the cost of labour.

Anyway, this community group is going to try to raise enough money to keep the church together long enough... well... to figure something else out. We'll see how that goes.

So, feel like starting up your own Sunday Assembly or Atheist Church? Perhaps you happen to either be or know someone with the resources to move the church somewhere else?  Here's the MLS listing.

Just remember the building itself needs a few repairs and might not make the trip in one piece.
The structure is starting to show its age with cracked walls and pillars. The building also needs a new roof and windows.
When all of the renovations are tallied up, the church estimates the repair bill would be roughly $350,000.
 That's a fair bit of change.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Canada's Next Cardinal Vows to Tackle Tsunami of Secularization

Gerald Lacroix (source)
Really important and interesting news, everyone! Arch Bishop Gerald Lacroix has been Cardinalized by Pope Francis.

Why is this exciting news for a secularist lefty like me? No, not because Lacroix is a Quebecer like me. It's because he thinks secularism is important too!

Canada's next cardinal, a missionary against secularism
Archbishop Lacroix’ time in Quebec City, the provincial capital, has been marked by an increasing “closed secularism” in which the government actively secularizes society and pushes religion “out of the public square altogether,” according to a Quebecois Catholic school administrator.
I've heard this public square thing all over the place. I wonder what it means to people like Lacroix. I sincerely do.

Because to me it means a public space where ideas can be exchanged, criticised, mocked, dismissed. The most important part is the first one, there, exchanged. I don't think it means trying to legislate against women being able to terminate their pregnancies, or preventing gay people from getting married, or keeping the corpses of women alive as incubators for horribly deformed non-viable fetuses against their family's will, or buying up all the hospitals so they can deny certain legal procedures to people based on their religion etc. etc. 

Anyway, I'm not certain who this school administrator is, but I am pleased to see an increasingly secular Quebec society. As this French Catholic priest would agree, secularism is the best thing possible for everyone; religious or non-religious.

Well, Lacroix is not happy with secularism and he's taken a missionary's position against it (as should all good Catholics).  He's upset that 83% of Quebecers consider themselves Catholic and yet secularism has been an increasingly popular position in this province since the Quiet Revolution when the population decided that maybe they don't need to be lorded over by the Church.
Archbishop Lacroix has called it a “tsunami of secularization,” and has made it his mission to evangelize the Quebecois.
Well, I say, bring it. Can we start with talking about removing the tax exempt status for church properties and deductions for clergy residences? God knows, the money could go to good use to fix infrastructure.