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

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pattison Outdoor Rejects Secular Bus Signs In Winnipeg

You wanna put up a sign? Ya gotta talk to Jimmy. (source)
Okay, here's the story so far. Some time ago, private citizen Dr Richard Thain signed a contract with sign company Pattison Outdoor for six ads to run on fifty buses in Winnipeg. On September 23rd -- apparently after a great deal of hemming and hawing -- Pattison turned his ads down. They're not being too clear about exactly why the ads are being rejected.

Pattison has a history of not liking ads by secular and atheist organizations.

According to this press release by Secular Ontario:
A private citizen in Ontario, Dr Richard Thain, a member of Secular Ontario and a supporter of Civil Rights in Public Education, placed an order with Pattison Outdoor Advertising for the creation of six different ads to run on fifty buses in Winnipeg in order to raise public awareness of a human rights issue in Ontario and Alberta. The timing of the ads was intended to coincide with the launch of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

The ads focus on the publicly-funded Catholic school system in Ontario. They express the opinion that Ontario should establish a single publicly-funded school system with French and English boards, open to all, and abolish public funding of a separate system which gives one religious faith group preferential treatment over all other citizens.
This effort to abolish publicly funded religious school boards in Ontario has got a lot of support from this blogger in the past.

I reached out to Richard via email last night so I could get an idea about the exact wording of these ads along with a clearer backstory.
I signed a contract with Pattison Outdoor Advertising (POA) to rent space on fifty Winnipeg buses for four weeks and a second contract for the "creative" which meant the POA design team would help me with the artwork, layout, font selection, graphics, and even creative writing & ad slogans, if desired, etc.  This is service they provide in the "Production Contract" (both the "creative" and then the manufacture of the 30" x 139"styrene posters which go on one side of the buses).

The texts for the ads were submitted to Pattison Outdoor with the instruction they were not to be altered or edited and that I was taking responsibility for the wording; they were just doing the artwork. 
Richard tells me that the Pattison account exec wanted him to send in a statement that he would be responsible for the wording of the ads and Richard complied with this request.
When the artwork was completed and the ads sent for production, the ads got bogged down in some sort of review process. The president of POA did not tell me what words or phrase(s) he thought violated Ad Council guidelines and asked me to rewrite them and resubmit. I refused. 
Pattison also expressed concerns about using the verb to Google (all-caps) at the bottom of each ad.
GOOGLE: CIVIL RIGHTS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION
They asked if Richard had written permission from Google to use the word. Richard tried to explain to them that the word Google is now a common verb in English (above is verb conjugated in the imperative.) He explained that he wasn't referring to the company but rather the word google has been listed as a verb in the Oxford Dictionary since 2006. You can indeed find it listed at Merriam Webster's online dictionary.

Richard agreed to drop Google and replace it with the generic verb Search -- even though we all know everyone who searches will inevitably be googling anyway. This was still not good enough for Pattison.

I can only present the proposed text from the six ads. This is because the graphics were created by Pattison's creative team.  Richard did provide me with a short description of them and based on that, I made this very simple graphic, but I've never actually seen them myself.



There was also a stock photo of a child and a highlighted group of words: Equality, Inclusion, Dignity, Respect.

So here's the text that was rejected:

Ad 1.  
THIS IS A HUMAN RIGHTS DISGRACE!
One third of Ontario's publicly funded teaching positions (Roman Catholic schools) are essentially closed to two thirds of the population, the non-Catholics.

Ad 2.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CANADA!
UN Human Rights Committee finds Canada guilty of religious discrimination in Ontario...twice! (1999, 2005)
Note that Ad 2 was going to be modified to read: SHAME ON  CANADA! In 1999 the UN Human Rights Committee found Canada guilty of religious discrimination.  Canada is still guilty. However, things didn't progress far enough for this to happen.

You can read more about this UN ruling over at the CBC. The United Nations ruled that Ontario ought to either extend public funding to all religious schools of all religions or stop funding Catholic schools. Obviously the latter makes more sense.

Ad 3.
The public funding of religious schools in Ontario and Alberta is an international human rights embarrassment, a financial disaster and a moral disgrace.
Ad 4.  
END HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ONTARIO AND ALBERTA NOW.
Ad 5.
END THE DISGRACEFUL HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ONTARIO AND ALBERTA NOW!
Religiously segregated school systems have been eliminated in Manitoba (1890), Quebec (1997) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1998).
Ad 6.
ELIMINATE PUBLIC FUNDING FOR ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN ONTARIO NOW!
"...with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent." -- Pope Paul VI Dec 7, 1965
So, back to the press release. Apparently, the wording was considered inappropriate by Pattison Outdoor, but they didn't go into detail about exactly what was objectionable about the phrases -- except for the reference to Google which Thain agreed to drop.
Mr Randy Otto, president of Pattison Outdoor officially informed Thain's lawyer, Dan Mayo on September 23, 2014 that they have decided not to accept the ads.

"We would point out to you that the terms and conditions of our agreement with Dr Thain, which he acknowledged and agreed to abide when he signed our media contract, gives Pattison Outdoor Advertising the sole right to refuse to run creative 'which in our opinion' violates Canadian Advertising Foundation guidelines."

Pattison Outdoor considers 'this matter closed.'

Otto did not identify which words or phrases Pattison Outdoor considers to be in violation of `The Canadian Ad Standards.' Thain's lawyer says the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards is a private-sector set of rules which must comply with the Canadian Constitution and Human Rights Act.
Richard Thain is sticking to his guns and is refusing to change is words -- especially since he's not being told which words need to change. However, it's a matter of principle and he maintains it's his right to free expression. Besides, there are no words here that are obviously obscene! They are referring to a UN ruling!

Thain points out in a quote on the press release:
"It is ironic that at the same time as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is opening in Winnipeg, Pattison Outdoor is denying my right to free expression," Richard Thain pointed out. "This right is enshrined in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
It is, indeed. Furthermore, the sole owner and head of Jim Pattison Group (which includes Pattison Outdoor), Jim Pattison, has a history of picking and choosing the sort of material that gets posted on his signs. It often needs to comply with his fundamentalist Christian and conservative point of view. He's fine with putting up anti-choice and climate change denial posters but has a problem with Greenpeace. Last December, he rejected some completely innocuous banners by CFI -- just... because... God.

This would be fine and all, if Pattison Outdoors didn't have a virtual monopoly on banners. At least this is how things were in Vancouver. I'm uncertain how things are in Winnipeg and would be interested to find out.

The press release ends with the following seven groups who support Thain in this endeavor. You can add me to that list.
The following people and groups share a concern regarding the discriminatory public funding of religious schools and agree that it is time to establish a single, secular publicly-funded school system with French and English boards

Leonard Baak: OneSchoolSystem.org (613) 805 0940 leonard@baak.ca

Renton Patterson: Civil Rights in Public Education www.CRIPEweb.org (613) 735 5069 publiced@bell.net

Malcolm Buchanan: a past President of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and former General Secretary of the OSSTF (289) 439 0157 macbuchanan@rogers.com

Luke Fevin: APUPIL (Albertan Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning) (780) 700 4007 luke.fevin@gmail.com www.facebook.com/groups/APUPIL

Patrick Morrow: Winnipeg MN Humanist Atheists Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) 204 612 0601 mbhumanistsatheists@gmail.com mbhumanistsatheists.ca

Eric Adriaans: Toronto ON, Centre for Inquiry Canada (226) 374 0612 ned@cficanada.ca www.cficanada.ca

Eric Thomas: Humanist Canada, President (613) 242 5060 egthomas@live.com www.humanistcanada.ca
Note (2014-10-01 7:30am):This post was originally made this morning around 2am. Since then, Richard Thain has corected a few minor points which do not alter the original meaning. However, if you look at this post through an aggregator such as Feedly, you are likely to run into the original post.

Also check out this article over at the Ottawa Citizen.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Very First Non-Conference!

What's with all these cool events happening in Toronto these days? Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about the new Sunday Assembly happening in la Ville-Reine and now I find out that a conference will take place there featuring a whole bunch of really smart people -- many have been closely involved with posts I've made in the past. Is it possible Toronto could be becoming as hip as Montreal?

It seems unimaginable, and yet the facts are plain to see. The upcoming Non Conference is a 'conference for non-believers.'

Check out this instructive video! It reminds me a little about a situational comedy about 'nothing' which turned out to be about absolutely everything.


The conference is organized by Spencer Lucas, past Director of CFI Sudbury described the some of the motivation behind the conference to me.
This conference is a venue to foster an ongoing conversation about secular and atheist issues that affect us all locally.
I designed this conference from the talk up. In other words I sought out the topics that are affecting us today such as funding Catholic schools and physicians opting out of providing care for their patients and then found the people best suited to talk about it. 
The headliner will be Nate Phelps, who escaped from the horror that is the Westboro Baptist Church. I blogged about a powerful talk he gave when he visited Montreal a couple of years ago. He'll be talking about The Harm of Religion at this conference, a topic he's well suited for.

Katie Gibbs will also speak at the conference.  I blogged about her last year when she organized 17 protests across the country against this conservative government's unprecedented muzzling of scientists. Her talk will be Science and Democracy, which will show the link between unfettered science and a functioning democracy.

Andrea Houston is the journalist who broke the original story about the Ontario Catholic School Board not allowing the formation of student Gay Straight Alliances (GSA). I first read about her while blogging about student Leanne Iskander who was awarded Young Humanist of the Year at the Humanist Canada Conference held in Montreal a couple of years ago.

I'll admit that I haven't heard of nor blogged about Jack Pasht, Doug Cowan or Arthur Schafer but given the calibre of the other speakers, I'll be looking them up now!

There will also be a panel discussion about The State of Islamophobia.
Is the accusation of Islamophobia, used by many liberals, moderates and Muslim apologists, harmful, in that it may provide cover for fundamentalists and terrorists, and insulate Islam from open criticism?
This will include Faisal Al Mutar, Ali A. Rizvi, and Alishba Zarmeen.  I've written about Islamophobia in the past (one, two) and would be interested to see another perspective on this.

Well, you can see that I wouldn't mind going down to this conference! It sounds very interesting and it's only on a single Saturday, so it's not a huge time commitment like other larger conferences.

Again, it takes place November 1st in Toronto.
The Non-Conference is the only Canadian conference east of the Fraser River that is specifically geared for non-believers, non-theists, the “nones”, atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, materialists, rationalists, secularists, pantheists, skeptics, empiricists, naturalists, friendly theists...well, you get the idea.

The day will start at 11:00 am sharp in the heart of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Though not affiliated to the university, this conference will be discussing stimulating subjects. The ideas presented will be torn from today's headlines. Many of our speakers have written the articles we (in the atheist community) have been sharing through social media.
Check out more details at The Non-Conference! Also check out the Facebook Page!

You can also read a guest post by organizer Spencer Lucas over at Canadian Atheist describing the conference.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sunday Assembly Comes to Toronto


A couple of days ago, I posted a short very informal interview with Shonagh McCrindle, one of the organizers of the new Sunday Assembly Ottawa group. This was after the big announcement that Sunday Assembly would add 33 new groups across the planet this Sunday the 28th!

At the time, I mentioned that I also reached out to Sunday Assembly Toronto. Well, organizer Keshra Hamalainen was nice enough to get back to me today!

Who are you? When did you decide to open a Sunday Assembly in your area? What is your religious background in a few words?
My name is Keshra Hamalainen and along with my husband Jani Hamalainen we are the organizers for Sunday Assembly Toronto. We decided to open a Sunday Assembly in Toronto around February of this year. After reading an article in Mashable about Sunday Assembly we thought it was necessary to have one in Toronto! Basically, SA Toronto started with 5 founding organizers that got the ball rolling. We met together at a local pub after getting in touch with the main Sunday Assembly in London who then put us in contact with one another. We usually have around 15 to 20 people who come to the meetings consistently over the summer. We both come from religious backgrounds, and I came from a very religious family and “coming out” as atheist was definitely difficult for both of us.

Are there any things the Sunday Assembly will do to make it more "Canadian"? Services? Language? Etc.?
Future goals is to grow the members attendance to over 100! Sunday Assembly is about getting together as human beings to celebrate life and uplift one another. I’m not sure making it more “Canadian” is a goal, as the Sunday Assembly welcomes all people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Right now, services are only available in English.

Are there any plans to involve in the community? Like charity or volunteering?
Part of the Sunday Assembly charter is to Help Often. That means we plan on continuing our presence within the Toronto community. We have participated in the City of Toronto clean-up day, we have done a school supply donation drive, and for our global launch we are doing a food drive to help those in need (especially with Thanksgiving around the corner). We will definitely continue to do these good deeds because that’s what being a helping and caring human being is all about.

Like poutine? Favourite author and why?
Love poutine, who doesn’t lol?! Although, Jani and I commit to a healthy organic lifestyle so poutine eating isn’t at the top of our list.

Anything else you would like to say?
Come on out to a Sunday Assembly meeting near you! Make new friends, meet new people and inspire others to do good!
Thanks so much, Keshra! Looking forward to visiting an event next time I'm in Toronto!

Check out the Sunday Assembly Toronto homepage! You should also check out the Sunday Assembly Toronto Facebook Page.

CSA Releases Video Promoting Effort To End City Council Prayers


Remember our favourite mayor, Jean Tremblay, and his prayer before city assembly case that's on its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada this fall? Remember how the Canadian Secular Alliance was granted leave to intervene and present to the court during this case?

When I wrote about this, I stressed how important this case is -- that's why the CSA wants to get involved with this case in Quebec. This case could very well become a precedent for the whole country.
You might also remember that he insists on holding Christian (read: Catholic) prayer at his city council meetings. First, he lost, then he won and now he's being brought to the Canadian Supreme Court by the Quebec Secular Movement. Because this prayer case will be heard by the Supreme Court, it could very well set precedent across the country for years to come. It could either be a landmark moment in Canada's history where it takes one step closer to being a truly secular nation (like Quebec... sorry, couldn't resist) -- or it could be a further entrenchment of age old religious privilege.
Well, the CSA has made a short documentary which includes interviews with some prominent Canadian secularists who have fought or are fighting in court to remove state sponsored prayer. Included in this list is Canadian Atheist's Veronica Abbass.

Like Sara Lin Wilde, over at Friendly AtheistI noticed it was a little odd that we have all Ontario secularists in this documentary. Like her I wonder if it has to do with a lack of reach or perhaps a language barrier -- as there is a fairly strong movement laïque here in Quebec. It would be nice to get an interview with the plaintiffs Christian Joncas or Alain Simoneau and I may try to get in touch with them but perhaps it's best they keep mum until the case? Is my French good enough?

Update 2014-10-01: I spoke to Veronica Abbass, one of the plaintiffs. She gave me some feedback about why there were only Ontario stories. It's simply because there was an actual ruling against the Lord's prayer being recited in municipal meetings. So this gave people an actual leg up to challenge councils who pray the Lord's Prayer. This is not the case in Quebec.

Anyway, all that said, it's nice to see this informative video come out! If you're Canadian then it's an obligatory watch.


Remember, you can donate to the cause at the CSA fundraiser page!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Calgary (Catholic) Public Schools Sent Scary Anti-HPV-Vaccine Letter To Parents

Gardasil anti-HPV vaccine (aka. sexytime inducer) (source).
So, for five years, the publicly funded Calgary Catholic School Board refused to let their girls get vaccinated against HPV. Then, back in November 2012 they finally caved and allowed it. Now they want to extend it to boys as well. Well, the Catholic bishops are just not happy, not one bit.

Debate over HPV vaccine flares up in Alberta after Catholic leaders warn shots encourage pre-marital sex

Alberta is now  going to begin vaccinating boys as well as girls -- because boys can get cancer from HPV too and they can be carriers that infect girls. You think this would be a good thing. Oh no, think again.
The emotional battle over HPV vaccination in Alberta has flared up again, after Calgary’s Catholic school board directed parents to a letter from Church leaders that warns the shots could encourage pre-marital sex.
A little background. If there's one thing Catholic bishops are absolutely obsessed with, it's sexytime. In an article from October, 2013 -- nearly a year on after the board reversed its stand on the vaccine after much resistance -- Bishop Fred Henry  had this gem:
Bishop Fred Henry said society should try to curb sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like the cancer-causing human papillomavirus by encouraging abstinence and monogamy, not by using medicine to “palliate our vices.”
This stance seems so utterly revolting to me that I must take a step back and do a little analysis. Basically, I read it a little like this.

The good bishop is getting no sexytime at all -- at least as far as I know. So, he's not directly affected by any of this and I have no clue how anyone could consider him an authority either. I could only postulate he could be a little frustrated, but that's none of my business.

Anyway, some people could be getting sexytime. It's a shame many are underage, but this is a completely different problem -- the sexytime is happening in reality.

Now, they might be tempted to use condoms. Condoms are, of course, a Catholic no-no. They get in the way of the proper Godly punishment outcome of sexytime which is getting knocked up. God thwarting is bad! However, if the teens should not use condoms then there is the additional circumvention of God's proper punishment outcome of getting infected with HPV and eventually God-sanctioned cancer. Now how were the kids supposed to properly learn their lesson if they don't get cancer? I mean, is anyone thinking about God here? Hello!

How are these children supposed to properly suffer and atone for their transgressions against the Almighty?

Maybe I'm wrong, but this is the sort of message I read from the good bishops. This is a real disease and people are really getting sick from it. Why wouldn't the nice bishops want the children to get a medicine so they wouldn't get sick?

Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. The bishops are saying they're just concerned that these kids could be having immoral out-of-wedlock sex. They believe that giving the children vaccine will make them even more horny and reckless than they already are. No, really! They actually believe this.

Here's a copy of the letter that was sent out this month.
The decision to permit your daughter or son to receive this inoculation rests solely with you as parents/ guardians. AHS provides you with medical information about the Gardasil HPV vaccine so informed decisions can be made from a health perspective. Some very important moral and spiritual considerations have been articulated about how this fits within our Catholic faith. On our website you will find a letter from the Catholic Bishops of Alberta at Alberta_Bishops_letter.pdf which can also help guide you in your decision-making process. 
The above-referred-to Bishops letter is from 2008 and essentially says that if your kid gets this vaccination they'll think it's all fine and dandy to go out and sex it up big time.
Secondly, although school-based immunization delivery systems generally result in high
numbers of students completing immunization, a school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses "protection." 

This societal message also implies that young people are not capable of making
decisions for themselves or they are too young to make good decisions. We think more
highly of our youth and would prefer to equip them for proper decision-making.
Have these bishops ever been Catholic teens? Only if you can first get over the guilt instilled into you over years of indoctrination, you might find yourself in a situation where sexual intercourse is a possibility.

Have these bishops ever been teens? When you're fooling around stuff can happen. You know, when stuff is already underway it can sometimes be rather difficult to think with your "in-skull brain" about whether or not you've got a condom (not allowed) or have been properly vaccinated (not allowed) before the stuff continues and "in-pants brain" is leading the show. Protection failing or not being properly used or not used at all is how girls end up pregnant and at the abortion clinic! People make mistakes! Not just people, kid-people! That's what this whole goddamn 'sin' thing is all about, isn't it? Why is this so hard to understand? Or is this all about letting God mete out punishment unimpeded? Moar Catholic babeeze? It really makes me wonder.

As if getting an injection will determine whether or not a couple of teens hook up. Will this curb their hormonal urges? Please! Need common sense!

Well, here's what some (obviously materialist godless non-Catholic) scientists have to say:
However, a U.S. study that reviewed medical records of nearly 1,400 girls showed HPV shots does not increase sexual activity, said Juliet Guichon, spokeswoman and founder with HPV Canada, a group of doctors, health scientists and concerned citizens.
Furthermore, the very same Juliet Guichon, who's friend died of cervical cancer, had this other sensible thing to say.
The Calgary board should disseminate only science-based health information and is misleading parents by pointing them to the Church critique, complained Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary bioethicist who has long advocated for the vaccine.

“This letter encourages fear, and undermines a public-health program that’s designed to help children avoid cancer,” she charged.
She also said this very true thing:
“What’s sad is that educated people don’t distinguish double-blind, randomized clinical trials and gossip. There’s a huge difference,” said Guichon, whose friend died of cervical cancer, leaving behind two young children. “If they want good information they can look at Health Canada, the Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecology, the Canadian Cancer Society, or if they want to go abroad they can look at the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), in the UK, there’s the National Health Service. There’s many, many good sites for information.”
Feeling better? Here's what an actual scientist had to say.
As well as raising the promiscuity issue, the letter suggests the public-health community is divided on the vaccine’s benefits, a statement one leading scientist said on Friday was “hogwash.”

“We’re going to have to go back to square one and start the fight all over again,” said Eduardo Franco, a McGill University cancer epidemiologist and one of the world’s top experts on links between the human papillomavirus and cancer. “Too bad.”
Ahhh, yes that's better, thank you.

And then...
A spokeswoman for the board, however, said the district only wanted to expose parents to different viewpoints.

“We’re trying to balance the spiritual perspective and the health perspective and the parents’ perspective,” said Tania Younker, the district’s director of communications. “The bishop does guide us in our spiritual decision making. So we are respectful of the opinion he has. And we’re also very respectful of the health information.”
Mrrmfmfffffkkfmfffmff...

Since 2012, the number uptakes of the vaccine has gone from 24.5% to 61% with girls (I've seen as high as 75% elsewhere). Apparently, cancer rates related to HPV are still on the rise and vaccination is the best way to fight it. So I say, okay, bishops, you guys keep saying this and we'll let parents keep ignoring you to be pro-life of their children. We'll see who ends up on the right side of history.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sunday Assembly Comes to Ottawa

Sunday Assembly Ottawa organizer Shonagh McCrindle and co-organizer Peter McLean
Good news! Sunday Assembly is coming to Canada -- well, Ottawa and Toronto, but it's a start! I read all about this over at Hemant Mehta's blog but that was a broad post where these two new Canadian assemblies were merely mentioned within a list of 33 new groups across the globe.

So I reached out to both SA Ottawa and SA Toronto, a very short impromptu set of questions. I just got word back from Ottawa organizer, Shonagh McCrindle!

Who are you?  When did you decide to open a Sunday Assembly in your area? What is your religious background in a few words?
I am Shonagh McCrindle. I have no religious background to say. I am un-baptised from a Catholic-Protestant lineage. I went to Catholic private girls school in Hull.

I decided to get people fired up about Sunday Assembly because community engagement is at the core of my very being. I think people are best when they are helping or spending time with others. I wanted to share my passion for life without subscribing to a God that I cannot believe in. I also love the community that church brings together and I find those without a church community are missing out on so many opportunities to interact and meet new like-minded people. 
Are there any things the Sunday Assembly will do to make it more "Canadian"? Services? Language? Etc.?
I plan on MCing the first SA in both French and English, à la canadienne. I also think, whoever is speaking will obviously make it more Canadian, depending on where they are from (Canada being so multicultural I hope to draw on that diversity to make each session more interesting). Each person's story is unique and I hope to eventually capture these stories in the form of monthly Sunday Assemblies. 
Are there any plans to involve in the community? Like charity or volunteering?
Community is my middle name. I will be heading a civic engagement subcommittee. I hope to draw more people into the community through volunteerism or via occasional days of service.
Like poutine? Favourite author and why?
I love poutine! (vice I know... je suis, enfin, quand même un québécoise). My favourite author, might be Alexandra Fuller. She is raw and revealing of faults all while being hilarious and touching. Beautiful writer. Don't let's go to the dogs tonight is an excellent read!
Shonagh was nice enough to invite me down for the launch but unfortunately, I already have commitments that weekend. I'll be sure to drop down soon to cover a Sunday Assembly service though! I've been promised photos of the event, which I'll probably pass on in a future post.

Remember, this Sunday Assembly is launching in Ottawa on the 28th of September, 11am. You must reserve your spot over at Eventbrite -- how else will they know how much tea and cakes will be required?

Also, check out the event's Facebook page and the Assembly's page as well!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Another Family Terminates Child's Leukemia Treatment Begins Traditional Medicine

Eleven year old Jada Johnson and her mother Wahsontiio (Deneen) Hill (source).
Back in May, I wrote about 10 year old Makayla Sault. After seeing the toll chemotherapy was taking on their girl, her pastor parents decided to grant Makayla her wish to terminate conventional medical treatment. They instead opted to put her on traditional native medicine only. Although doctors have warned that without chemo her prognosis is dire with near zero chance of survival, Children's Aid allowed her to go off her treatment. It's a sad state of affairs.

Well now this is happening again in the very same community -- (Native American kids seem to have elevated risk). Eleven year old Jada Johnson initially agreed to chemo to treat her acute lymphoblastic leukemia but after twelve days her and her family decided to terminate the treatment. The story is repeating itself.

Jada Johnson, 11, refuses chemotherapy, may be forced back into treatment

Her mother Wahsontiio (Deneen) Hill wrote that the treatment ravaged her body and spirit. And knowing the side effects of chemo, weighed heavily on my mind.

Doctors at McMaster Children's Hospital -- much like the did with Makayla -- diagnosed Jada in August and gave her six months to live if she did not undergo chemotherapy. They are now pressing charges along with the Children's Aid Society to force Jada back into medical treatment.
The family says they initially thought that decision was supported by authorities. However, in a message on Facebook, her mother Wahsontiio (Deneen) Hill said on Friday that McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. and CAS are going to court to try to force her daughter into protective services and back into chemotherapy.
Another article in Two Row Times describes what seems to be a fairly common point of view in this region about the effectiveness of traditional medicine.
Within the Six Nations/New Credit communities the rate of cancer survivorship in after utilizing an holisitc indigenous method of treatment for is high. However because it is considered traditional knowledge, practitioners choose not to put their patients through analysis and judgement by an external scientific review – one that is founded on studies that scrutinize data to establish proof.

This is in contrast to the indigenous perspective which has known thousands of years of experiential proof and knowledge via oral history.
So considerate of them for the patients to forgo any objective scientific review in order to establish meaningful evidence of its efficacy (sarcasm). Where do I even begin with this? It's tragic. The above encapsulates the root of this entire problem.

The article even mentions the legal issues involved with forcing a First Nations child off the reserve -- even if it's for required life saving medical treatment.
If the court makes that decision, it would violate Articles 10 & 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; that indigenous people cannot be forcibly removed from their lands without free and prior consent, and the right to use traditional medicines and health care practices without discrimination.
I can understand this. First Nations people have had their culture nearly destroyed -- over the course of nearly a century, thousands of children were taken away from their families and stuffed into residential schools. There was widespread abuse of which we're just now learning the full extent. Still, should these girls not receive treatment that has been shown to be effective rather than unscientific, unproven traditional treatments? I don't believe parents have the right to deny life-saving treatment of their children.

Instead of proven medical treatment, Jada's family is looking into the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, which looks like Whole Foods meets a New Age shop meets a resort to me.  I'm only guessing that this will be the backdrop for traditional Native American medicine? Are they travelling down there? I wonder if there could be issues crossing the border given the current situation?

This is so sad. I can understand why they would like to stop chemo. I cannot even imagine how horrible it would be to watch my own son endure this -- especially with severe reactions. However, a girl's life is on the line here and right now chemo is the only scientifically proven method to deal with cancers like this. If traditional medicine practitioners would put their treatments through scientific review and they are proven effective than I would be all for them.

I don't even have a problem with traditional medicine being used alongside science-based medicine.

According to the article, the other girl, Makayla Sault is still doing well without chemo. I'm happy for her and her family. I honestly believe that this will also be the case for Jada Johnson -- that she also will be allowed to stop chemo and they will both appear well for awhile. I wish it could be another way, but this is reality and science is based in reality.

I'm not sure how to express this delicately, but science- and evidence-based medicine has set a grim limit on the lives of these girls using tested methodology. This is not spirituality it is cold hard reality. Pulling a child out of necessary treatment like this is a kind of death sentence and I really must see it as a form of child abuse.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Pastor From Anti-LGBT Church Becomes Alberta's Minister of Education

Christian Pastor and Alberta Minister of Education Gordon Dirks. (source)
So Gordon Dirks is changing jobs but he'll still be Minister Dirks. Up until a few days ago he was a pastor over at the Centre Street Church in Calgary but then he got appointed -- not elected -- to become the Minister of Education in Alberta.

The Centre Street Church published their Statement of Theological Principles and Ministry Practices from 2011 online. Here's what the church officially believes.

p. 18
We believe that God in His love for humanity intends marriage as a life-long covenant
between a man and a woman for their own well-being and the well-being of children, and for the benefit of the whole human race.

God instituted marriage as a sacred and honourable institution (Heb. 13:4), for the
blessing of companionship (Gen. 2:18), and as a continuation of the divine work of
creation in the history of the human race (Gen. 4:1). Marriage is a physical union
(1 Cor. 6:16). God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long union (Gen. 2:24;
Ex. 20:14) between a male and a female who are each living in the physical gender in which they were born (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:18, 20-25; Ps. 139:13-16; Mark 10:7-9). Marriage is constituted first in mutual covenant and is a solemn, binding agreement entered into before God and others (Mal. 2:14). The marriage covenant is intended only to be broken by the death of either the husband or the wife. God views the breaking of this earthly covenant very seriously (2 Sam. 12; Mal. 2:16). While divorce is always contrary to God’s intentions, divorce and remarriage are permitted where the marriage covenant has been violated by adultery (Matt. 5:31) or desertion (1 Cor. 7:15). Separation is permitted where necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the members of the family.

God calls His followers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21) and to “...live a life of love, just as Christ loves us.” (Eph. 5:2) It is in this context of mutual submission and love that God calls wives to submit to their husbands and
husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:22-33).

You know, submit is not really the same as love. 

Anyway, people have been getting a little concerned about that. If we read into this then perhaps Dirks is against marriage equality. Who knows? There's more, though. LGBT activist Olav Rokne points out, the church also has an all too sad and predictable view sexuality.

p. 19
We believe that God created men and women in His own image and pronounced them good. “...male and female He created them...And God saw all that He had made and it was very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31) Human sexuality is therefore a beautiful part of God’s creation. All human activity, including the expression of sexuality, should honour God (Eph. 5:2; 1 Cor. 6:13b, 18-20). Followers of Jesus Christ are to live lives of purity, including sexuality purity. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality...For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess. 4:3-7)

We affirm that God is honoured by the mutually intimate physical expression of sexuality when this expression occurs between a man and a woman within a monogamous marriage. However, because of sin, all human nature, including human sexuality, is subject to abuse and misuse. God is dishonoured by: sexual obsession, intimate physical expression of sexuality outside of marriage and sexual activity between persons of the same sex, between an adult and child, between close relatives, or between a person and an animal (Phil. 4:8; Eph. 5:3-5; Rom. 1:25-27; Lev. 18:6, 20, 22-23; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

God’s desire is to bring healing and wholeness to all aspects of our broken lives, including dishonourable human sexuality. Sexual sins, like all other sins, can be forgiven by God through Jesus Christ upon confession and repentance (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:8-10; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 6:11-14).
So much for transgender and transexual people. Gays and lesbians are lumped right in with pedophiles, incestuous relatives and those who indulge in bestiality. This church apparently sees LGBT people as being very perverse and broken like just like these other groups. Not exactly the sort of view I would like to see the Minister of Education to have.

No doubt this -- along with being in the opposition party -- lead the NDP education critic Deron Bilous to question why Gordon Dirks was appointed to the office in the first place.
NDP education critic Deron Bilous said it speaks volumes that Prentice appointed Dirks to the post when he could have chosen one of more than four million other Albertans.

“I think Mr. Prentice has made a very foolish mistake on his first day on the job, and we’re calling for Mr. Prentice to rescind his appointment of Gordon Dirks as education minister,” Bilous said. “If he was serious on action, on ensuring human rights are protected and that we continue to fight for equality in our schools and in our society, then why did he appoint Gordon Dirks as the minister of education?
Look, maybe Dirks doesn't believe all this stuff. Perhaps he just worked at the church for a gig, you know? I went digging for his own views and found a few utterances in this Leader Post article where they did the same.
Most sermons are full of anecdotes, discussions of biblical texts and typically end with a prayer of commitment. The sermons occasionally mention “sexual immorality,” but rarely go into specifics.

“Listen up, he said, I take sexual immorality seriously,” Dirks paraphrases Jesus in a Nov. 2012 sermon on the book of Revelation.

In an August 2013 sermon entitled “people of the way,” Dirks urges followers to imitate the early Christians who “began protecting the weak and vulnerable.” They built an “amazing culture of compassion” that erased cultural, racial and social boundaries and “practised sexual purity.”
Right, it's pretty unclear. Unlike school board trustee candidate Candace Maxymowich, who unabashedly let everyone know her Creationist, anti-choice, pro-abstinence-only sex education views, Dirks has played it pretty close to the vest.

Dirks is well aware that people are nervous about his church's strict and retrograde views. He's already met with LGBT activist Kris Wells.
Kris Wells, the director for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, got a call around supper time Monday night inviting him to a meeting in the premier’s office Tuesday morning.

Wells met for an hour with Education Minister Gordon Dirks, Premier Jim Prentice, newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel and their staff to discuss a range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues.
The Leader Post tried to contact Dirks for more information on his views. They hadn't gotten any response at the time of the article's writing. Perhaps in response to the concern, Mr Dirks tweeted the following.
In fact, unlike his church, Dirks says his record is clear on LGBT issues.
“My record in this province and in this country is quite clear,” Prentice said. “In that respect, I was one of the very first people in this country to support same-sex marriage. That happened over 10 years ago. And I intend to carry on my personal views about protecting and standing up for the rights of all Albertans, and as premier of Alberta that includes the LGBT community.”
Wells is willing to give him a chance but he expects action.

Columnist Licia Corbella, who has written before about how she wished atheists would stop ramming their minority religion down the throats of the majority, has pointed out in a recent opinion piece that the concern about Dirks' Christian point of view is sheer anti-Christian bigotry. I'll admit it, it's possible there could be some of this going on. However, on the other hand, it is not at all bigoted to be concerned about someone who's church -- at which he pastors! -- holds very bigoted views about LGBT people. There are many churches to choose from and Dirks chose this one.

Speaking of which, Corbella says that Dirks only held executive administrative roles with both the Canadian Bible College and Rocky Mountain College, private Christian universities. Yes, and he was a pastor at a church which held some pretty interesting views on LGBT issues!

She goes on to describe how happy we should all be with Christianity for having founded Public education. Yeah, anyway.

Something perhaps more useful she points out is Dirks' extensive experience within the school board.
Dirks, 67, is perhaps best known in Calgary for being a trustee with the Calgary Board of Education from 1999 to 2010, and being the CBE’s chair four times during those years. He is widely considered the best and most competent board chair in memory and came in at a time of great turbulence, which he helped smooth over with his diplomacy, competency and calmness.
This sounds like someone who may well be qualified for the job.

I would be curious to see what sorts of views Dirks has about evolution and sex education as well. Who knows?

Well, until someone knows, I guess I'm fine with letting Dirks demonstrate himself. I would wager that the vast majority of Canadian politicians are moderate to devout Christian. Many of them are likely fine secularists. Then of course, some of them are dangerously fundamentalist -- take a look at the Conservative party.

I'm highly suspicious but until he does something sucky, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, Gordon Dirks, don't let what your church tells influence your politics. We'll be watching you.

And then there's this...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

"Still Small Voices" -- Religious Ecstacy Fades Leaving Uncomfortable Truth

By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have a confession to make, I have made a terrible mistake. Back in July, author Carolyn Hippolite sent me a final draft of her new book, Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born-Again Atheist after I agreed to review it here on my blog. I was at the time on my way to Chicago to attend the Humanism at Work conference so the plan was I would get a whole lot of time on the plane to read it and then write a review... sometime.

I found the premise of her book so compelling that I put aside several other book review requests I had lying on my desk, neglected and cursing me. Eagerly, I dove right in. That's the problem though, the mistake I always make. I read half the book and realized I had been too engrossed in her story to take any proper notes for a review! So there it sat, incomplete with everyday life banging on the doors and I had no words to put to paper.

All this to say: Sorry, Carolyn!

So I now give you an eagle's eye view from the book's middle. This is not a collection of dry axioms and philosophical arguments. It is truly a testimony -- a very human story about one woman's love, revulsion and eventual escape from religion. It shows how religion can taste so very different depending on the nature of its grip on the heart and mind of the taster.

These are the sort of hush private words you hear from friends and family in confidence around the kitchen table or in the cafe over a brew. Dissecting Pascal's wager may feed the mind, but there are aspects to Carolyn's experiences that might fix better to the ground where our feet are. It's every day and is more likely to resonate in both our skull and chest.

I reopened the book today to where I left off, chapter four, and found yet another gem. Carolyn had returned to religion -- to the strictest most fervent evangelical Catholicism -- and, unlike most Catholics, was reading the Bible regularly. It was her first time reading Judges 11:29-40, where Jephthah promised God the life of whomever should walk through his door first in return for military success. His daughter ran through the door first. So he gave her two months to run around the hills weeping with her friends before she got the chop. Naturally, like any moral human being, Carolyn was utterly shocked and repulsed that God could endorse such a thing.

(pp. 79-81) Emphasis my own.
It was the first time I had read that passage. I was stunned. I was disgusted. I felt numb. I did not even attempt to understand it. I did not try to rationalize or spiritualize it. I did not try to decipher whether it was history or mythology. I accepted it and allowed the horrendousness fact of it to penetrate every cell in my body. I sat in the church in silence. I read no more. I said no prayers. I waited for the mass to start and participated normally allowing the shock that I had experienced in what I had scheduled as a time of spiritual and moral uplift to dissipate. I did not make any plans to ask a member of the clergy to explain it. I did not seek to read anything about it. After all, what could anyone say? It could not be excised from Bible. It could not be made morally acceptable through creative hermeneutics. It was irredeemable.

For whatever reason, that this was sufficient reason to doubt the inspiration of the Bible and my religious commitment never occurred to me. By this time, not being a Christian had become unthinkable. I simply made an unconscious choice to live with it. I suppose this is how we come to live in the self-deluded hypocrisy where we claim to believe in the Bible while never actually using it for our morality except on the occasions when the Bible is actually offering real moral truths. It becomes obvious at some point that there are things in the Bible that are morally abhorrent. Yet, if you have become convinced that being a Christian is God’s will, not being a Christian becomes unthinkable. Perhaps, like me, you had religious experiences that you believe to be authentic and denying that Christianity is real would be tantamount to accepting the fact that at least at some point you were delusional. Plus, you’ve told everyone enthusiastically that being a Christian is the greatest of all good. You revolved your whole life around this conviction. To change your mind at this point is highly inconvenient as well as embarrassing and so you don’t even allow the possibility to arise in your conscious mind. But here you are faced with very good evidence, enough to admit that you had made a huge ideological mistake because you had not done sufficient thinking or research. But you’re not ready to admit that. It’s too shameful so you pretend nothing has happened.

In my case, the damning evidence had the same emotional impact on me that my religious conversion had. Just as I had experienced ecstasy during my conversion experience and a few times after, I experienced a revulsion of equal magnitude that morning. When I read that story, I felt like I was there. It was very real. I felt the horror of what I would feel if I saw a man sacrifice his daughter because he had made a vow to God. Nonetheless, I did not allow that negative emotion to transform my ideology in the way that that positive emotion had. I neither concluded that the Bible was not the holy word of God nor did I conclude that it was morally acceptable to sacrifice virgin daughters because one made a vow to God. In retrospect, it now seems to me that I just went on living as if Judges 11 did not exist. I knew it was real but I seem to have chosen not to process it. Perhaps, I feared the result of processing it, but I was wholly unconscious of this fear. 
In just three emotion-filled paragraphs, Carolyn has well encapsulated the core defense mechanism of the religion meme (if you believe in memes, that is). It explains why, after hours of rational argument and solid refutations of religious claims, the religious person can continue to believe. It explains how people can read the atrocities committed in the Bible and still believe that God is an all-caring Being. It's really an emotional attachment that leads to self-delusion -- like an all-forgiving parent but in reverse.

The writing can be as clear as day on the wall, but until someone is in the right headspace to change their philosophy, reality will be warped to fit familiar and comforting beliefs -- beliefs that might answer big important troubling questions which can be like gaping sucking pits demanding to be filled.

I hope I have learned my lesson and plan to blog a couple of more times about Still Small Voices as I finish it off; small manageable chunks. It's a thoughtful and compelling story about a struggle that millions are likely having. I recommend you give it a read and leave your comments.

Check out Carolyn's website or follow her on Twitter.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

New Brunswick Law Society Rejects Anti-LGBT Law School


So fundamentalist Christian Trinity Western University Law School has run into yet another snag in its mission to be accredited with the provincial Law Societies -- so their graduates can actually practice law. The school has a strict Christian-based covenant barring their students from having any same-sex relationships. On this campus, only man-woman love is allowed -- as God intended it, of course.

Well, the Law Societies of Ontario, Nova Scotia have already rejected the school, which has prompted a legal challenge in the courts. Saskatchewan initially accepted the school but has since put this on hold along with Manitoba. Unsurprisingly to some, Alberta came right out and accepted it.

Well now the Law Society of New Brunswick has rejected Trinity Western Law School -- so add yet another province to the big court battles, I guess.

New Brunswick Law Society votes against accrediting Trinity Western

The society originally voted to honour the graduates but a special vote was held today after New Brunswick lawyers opposed the school and submitted a petition with 229 signatures.
The meeting was organized under the society's rules after it received a petition with more than 200 names opposing a decision in June by its governing council to recognize future graduates of Trinity Western University.
Here's the official release statement from a NB Law Society page devoted to this subject.
On Saturday, September 13, 2014, at a Special General Meeting, members of the Law Society of New Brunswick passed a resolution by a vote of 137 to 30 directing Council not to approve Trinity Western University’s Law school as a faculty of law.
That's a strong resolution. It seems that this review might have also triggered opposition to the new law school in the province of Prince Edward Island as well.
Charlottetown lawyer Daphne Dumont is concerned that Trinity Western University requires all its students to sign a pledge to only engage in sex within a heterosexual marriage.

"The Canadian Bar Association is saying that's not a good model to train lawyers," Dumont told CBC News, "one of the curriculum elements being the operation of the Charter of Rights in Canada, where we have said that gay marriage is to be accepted."
Her basic argument is that this is a law school that's effectively violating the Canadian Charter of Rights by discriminating against LGTB people (or anyone who has sex outside of marriage). Now the school has used religious freedom to effectively circumvent the Charter.
The university faced a similar challenge a few years ago when it started a teachers education program. Trinity Western argued it should be allowed because of religious freedom under the charter.
This will all likely be decided once and for all by the Supreme Court. I'm fairly certain that Trinity Western will win using a religious freedom argument. I'm also fairly certain that most lawyers in these Law Societies are well aware of this. I honestly think this is a protest against the retrograde attitudes the school has vis a vis LGTB equality. These lawyers have progressed into the 21st century and left this school behind.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Unsealed Lev Tahor Search Warrant Documents Describe Alleged Crimes

Lev Tahor children struggle to even comprehend English questions of documentary maker. (source)
More news about the uber-Orthodox Jewish cult Lev Tahor. Just yesterday, some heavily redacted search warrant documents were released shedding more light on some of the alleged abuse and other illegal goings on within the group.

Lev Tahor: Unsealed search warrants allege forged documents, human trafficking

The allegations are coming to us now from an ITO which seems to be a collection of written testimony which can be used by law enforcement to obtain a search warrant.
None of the allegations against Lev Tahor in the document, called an Information to Obtain (ITO), has been tested in court.

An ITO is written testimony laying out allegations and reasons investigators believe a judge should grant a search warrant.
(If you're unfamiliar with the cult, go check out the excellent 16x9 encore presentation Lev Tahor at the link above or check out some of my own posts - one, two, three, four.)

Here's a sampling of some of the allegations against this group.
The ITO contains declarations from five complainants – much still heavily redacted. Portions published detail testimony alleging children were forced to consume a green powder mixed with water, taken from their families against the will of their parents and told that “black angels” would find them and burn them in hell.
In previously redacted testimony, Adam Brudzevski, who was a Lev Tahor member for two years, alleges he was forced to beat children with a hanger in the community’s synagogue.
He also told investigators he was forced to forge documents for the Ministry of Education, that children were not going to school, that children were taken away as a punishment to parents who didn’t follow the sect’s rules and that Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Helbrans, gave members precise instructions to visit doctors and obtain specific medications. 
He also told investigators that people were trapped in the community synagogue during prayers – the doors were locked and windows screwed shut.
Verbal abuse, physical abuse and fraud. Much of the group seems to have successfully escaped to Guatemala -- so a lot of this could very well be too late.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Vancouver's Mysterious Satan Statue Erection

Satan's status is anatomically correct. (source)
Perhaps in homage to the proposed best Satan statue ever that the Satanic Temple over in Oklahoma wanted to put up, a rogue satanic art installation just magically appeared out of nowhere in Vancouver.

City crews remove satan statue erected alongside busy Vancouver roadway

Erected is the best word to describe this rather priapic statue of Mr Bad Boy himself. Check the photo gallery in the link above. Lucifer is in no need of Viagra.
A rogue art installation in Vancouver had commuters doing a devilish double-take for a few hours today. It was erected – so to speak – sometime overnight – and as Jeremy Hunka reports, the now-removed statue had more than a few people “turning red.” 
Someone just plunked it onto the existing platform in the middle of the park upon which a statue of Christopher Columbus had stood until it was taken down around 10 years ago.


The large red statue, complete with horns and a tail, is anatomically “complete.”
That's an understatement, I think. Some would call it well endowed. The big mystery here, which at least one person brought up in the video, is who put all this work into a statue only to leave it in the park. I mean, someone seems to be rather talented.

It seems some people were offended. I'm not entirely sure why, precisely. Erections are something males get from an early age. However, the statue wasn't commissioned by the city and so it had to go regardless of whether it's offensive or not.

City crews took it down yesterday afternoon. It's a shame they busted it up too. I wouldn't have it in my house, personally, but it looks like the sort of thing that would do well at Coney Island or some sort of equivalently eclectic place in Vancouver.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Montreal Family Faces Female Circumcision If Deported

Fuh-Cham family do not wish to return to Cameroon where the women and girls will be forced to undergo female circumcision. (source)
Readers of this blog will know that I oppose circumcision -- male or female -- when there is no consent. This means any baby penis slicing is right out of the question for me. Well, imagine a country where women get their genitials mutilated so they'll be faithful wives. Cameroon is one such place -- traditional religio-cultural beliefs seem to be the culprit. In other words, nothing that's even remotely based on evidence-based science.
"Some people believe that if you do not do that to a young growing up girl, she might grow up to become promiscuous, some believe that she might grow up not to have children, and some believe that she might not be respected," said Fannso. "It is the fear of those traditional beliefs that make people of those societies begin to do that practice of female genital mutilation."
Now imagine that you're a couple freshly married in a small village in Cameroon -- but you do not subscribe to these old beliefs. You have both converted to Catholicism. Now if you're Hilary Fuh-Cam, your father is a sub-chief in your village, you are informed that your wife and daughter must have their genitals cut -- a forced operation. The right thing to do is to get out and bring your family with you. 

Hilary Fam-Cham and his wife fled to Canada and have been living right here in Montreal since 2007, long enough to have two more children -- a girl and boy. Now it looks like the government has not yet approved their refugee status and so in a month they will be deported back to Cameroon and mother and her two daughters will be circumcised. This is a pretty serious situation.


Mother, Yvette Fuh-Cham fears for her life.
“My main fear was losing my life,” said Yvette Fuh-Cham.

“I remember seeing my sister-in-law circumcised, the pain she had to go through. Just believing that’s going to be done to you, you have to leave, you have to hide.”
In case you don't think this is gruesome, how about a little image from the Voice of America story I posted a link to above, to set some context:
It was 5:00 am when I arrived at the Nkolbisson neighborhood in Yaounde, where a lady popularly known as Ma Julie secretly does female circumcision. She already has a nine-year-old girl brought by her mother to be circumcised.

"My mother brought me here for treatment," said the girl.

Ma Julie does not want me to come closer to her traditional operating area, but I can see two pairs of scissors and razorblades in a dish three meters away. She told VOA she does not use the blades on her clients in the afternoon when temperatures are high because it can lead to excessive bleeding.
Get the picture? Feeling a little ill and disgusted?



The family has tried on three occasions to get the right to stay. If you listen to the video interview on the site, you'll see that on one such attempt the immigration judge wished to see Hilary's father's death certificate. Hilary explained that in such a small village in Cameroon they do not have death certificates. Cultural differences like these are hindering their attempts and the Canadian government is not being at all understanding, it would seem. I also guess that his native village officials are not too likely to be cooperative of forthcoming with supporting documents to aid his efforts to never return. You know, they might want their hereditary sub-chief back now that his dad's passed away. Just a guess.

So far, the family's church, Saint Jean Brebeuf Catholic in Lasalle -- a mere 10 minute walk from my old apartment -- is trying to help them out. They've signed a petition to the Federal Government but have yet to get any response.

So I emailed the church Pastor, Fr. Gerry Martineau and the church Secretary, Wendy de Souza. I asked if there is a petition we could sign somewhere or how we can help. I even suggested they make a petition over at change.org for people to sign. They responded minutes later.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us Sean.

Below please find the press release that went out via our MP’s office on the RSS feed.

As well here are all links to the communication sites that have been set up.

Website: http://www.supportfuh-chamfamily.ca/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-the-Fuh-Cham-Family/1519357378282072

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FuhChamFamily

Email: fuhchamfamily@gmail.com

Re: change.org, we have been considering this option seriously and if agreed, will inform you via the social media.

Again, thank you for doing what you can to get the word out about this family’s plight.
-Wendy de Souza, secretary
So there you have it. Please consider writing your support and spreading the word about this.

Oh, and the family already has some political support. Wendy is referring to this press release from the office of  New Democrat MP Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard).
DEPORTATION OF FUH-CHAM FAMILY: HÉLÈNE LEBLANC CALLS ON MINISTER BLANEY TO INTERVENE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 9th, 2014 - 9:29am
LASALLE –New Democrat MP Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard) is urging Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to show compassion and prevent the deportation of the Fuh-Cham family to Cameroon.

“We’ve been following the Fuh-Cham family for years now,” said LeBlanc. “The deportation is scheduled for October 9th and we refuse to see such a well-integrated family leave our community.”

Having arrived in Canada in 2007 for humanitarian reasons, Mr. Hilary Fuh-Cham and his wife quickly became integrated within the LaSalle—Émard community by creating and managing a church choir and the Cameroon Goodwill Association. The couple fears being persecuted for religious reasons and Mr. Fuh-Cham is worried that his wife and two young daughters will be forced to undergo genital mutilation if they return to their village of origin.

“They are upstanding citizens who are heavily involved in the community,” added the MP. “I am pleading with Minister Blaney to show some compassion and sympathy, and to take action to avoid a tragedy.”

A gathering in support of the family will be taking place at noon on Sunday, September 14th at the St. John Brébeuf Parish in Lasalle.
dd
 -30-

For more information, please contact:

David Patry, Quebec Media Director:
514-238-8240 or david.patry@parl.gc.ca
In my e-mail to the church parishioners, I pointed out that although I rarely see eye-to-eye with them -- running an atheist blog and all! -- I do believe we can be allies in this cause to save a family from being victimized by these horrible forced circumcisions. Forced female genital mutilation on this poor woman and these little children -- surely we can find some common ground there!

Although no more motivation is needed, I expect to find strong opposition to this practice with us folks in the atheist skeptic community who recognize this as being nothing more than based in traditional belief --- aka: based on nothing more than superstition.

(Note 2014-09-11: I've made a second post containing an email from the parish on behalf of Hilary containing more details about their situation.)

Monday, 8 September 2014

(VIDEO) Toronto School Board Trustee Reserves The Right Not To Believe In Trans People

Toronto School Board Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos appears to be attempting to run away from Global News reporter. (source)
Wow, I've been writing all about school trustees lately. More to the point, some of the interesting and rather controversial political views of one in Winnipeg.

Well, here's another school trustee over at the Toronto school board (secular public), one Sam Sotiropoulos, who chooses not to believe that transgender people exist... maybe? Or that they're not just all suffering from some kind of mental illness... maybe? Well, one thing's for sure, he's made several comments about Toronto Gay Pride being potentially full of nude pedophiles.

I think this most awkward video ever will explain things. If you want more then check out the Global News story all about all of his amazing tweets and comments about the gays over the past years.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

New Monthly Science & Humanist Film & Discussion Group In Montréal


Like science? Like watching documentaries outer space hosted by not-bad-looking guys with British accents? Want to hang out for awhile with other Humanists and atheists? If you're going to be in Montreal September 27th, why not drop by Cine-Planet? No really, tell me why this is not a good idea!

I think it's a great idea and I plan to attend, but I'll need to remember to make my reservation. All of these get togethers require reservations. So, I'll give more information about that below.

The Planetary Society, Humanist Canada and the Humanist Association of Quebec are jointly setting up a monthly cine-club at the Centre humanist de Montréal. The screenings will be in English and will deal with science and Humanist issues. All the screenings will be followed with refreshments and discussion.

Michel Virard, President of Humanist Association of Quebec and representative of Humanist Canada in Quebec, described the purpose of these events to me over Facebook like this.
It's a chance to, both, meet like-minded people in a friendly environment and to enjoy the very best documentary films available today at the Bibliothèque humaniste du Québec which is the sole permanent library in Quebec with a selection of films and books relating strictly to humanism, scepticism and science.
You know what? I must have been living under a rock because I didn't even know these resources existed until now! I guess I really ought to get out more. So, expect some more information about this in the future -- unless everyone else out there knows about it and I'm the only one who doesn't. That has happened before, I'm sorry to say.

Anyway, here's some information about the first screening that Michel was nice enough to share with me.
Wonders of the solar system (BBC 2010)

In the first three episode of the series, Professor Brian Cox takes us in an intellectual and aesthetic adventure unlike any other. Not only will you enjoy absolutely stunning pictures such as I have never seen before, even so I am an addict of the NASA, JPL and ESA web sites, but Cox has the knack to teach you simple physics while you absorb the full impact of those pictures.

To anyone who may question the wisdom of space exploration programs while considering other priorities, Cox provides unimpeachable answers because what we know now from the scientific exploration of the solar system of the last, say, forty years, may very well help to save our Earthling's skin soon and not necessarily in a far away future.

• understanding the Sun is simply vital and the first episode shows us the extend of the empire of the Sun as well as its incredibly important action on all Earthlings through the atmospheric cycles it controls;

• with the Saturn rings and moons, Cox demonstrates brilliantly that our newly acquired knowledge of the functioning of the Saturn's rings shed surprising light on how the Solar system itself came into being. His explanation of the moon resonance effect on a disk of matter is simply masterly;

• the third episode deals with the presence or absence of atmospheres on celestial bodies and how a rather simple set of parameters defines the destiny of planet atmospheres.

Stunning pictures punctuate a visit to the have and have not of our solar system. The evolution of atmospheres is of paramount importance but Cox goes beyond the obvious and reveals the surprising connexions between our planet and several of her sisters.

Buckle your seat belt and be ready to take off. This is the Grand Tour you have been waiting for.

Where: Centre humaniste du Québec, 1225 boulevard St-Joseph Est, Montréal.

When: 2014, September 27th screening starts at 2:00pm. Duration 3h03 followed by discussion (we will have refreshments, sold at cost). The doors will open at 1:30 pm Language: English with French subtitles

Cost sharing: 5$ members of the Planetary Society or AHQ or Humanist-Canada. 10$ non-members.

Reservation is mandatory and shall be done by email at mvirard@gmail.com
This event is co-organised by The Planetary Society (Montreal Group), The Quebec Humanist Association and Humanist Canada, (Montreal Group).
Again, if you wish to attend, don't just show up unannounced. Please email Michel Virard at mvirard@gmail.com to make your reservation!

I'll be in attendance unless my babysitter fails to show up. So, I'd be thrilled to meet you all there!