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

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Please Stop Littering My Environment With Your Religious Tracts

I've really been a bad blogger lately. I'm sorry, this whole life thing is really doing a number on my post frequency. Don't worry though, I'll likely drive the new friends I met away with all my whacky obnoxious ways. Oh yes I will! Just watch me!

To make up for all this neglect of you, my dozens(?) of readers, I did a good deed this morning! My son - whom I've been bonding with regularly lately - and I were walking through the woods at the back of our local library.

(For the young readers: Libraries are sort of like ITunes or Spotify but you need to physically show up somewhere and half the time the item you're looking for has been physically misplaced so you've wasted your time. Think of this as a kind of 404 Not Found but IRL.)

Anyway, I found some litter on the ground that some inconsiderate person just left around ruining an otherwise idyllic spot.

This would be the French version of the Jack Chick Bible tract, A Love Story. I suppose it might have been useful as mildly amusing literature if there weren't a library standing right next to it with thousands of books in it. I mean, the library also has washrooms with toilet paper too. So what's the point of this litter anyway?

I took the offending piece of litter inside and dealt with it.

That's better. The woods are spick and span behind my library and I shall continue to do my civic duty to ensure it remains this way. I go every week to the library these days, so I shall patrol the area.

Meanwhile, I ran into this at the subway station near my house.

Right on top of one of the neglected pay phones on the side of the subway station. Everyone had a phone in this station, so this went nearly completely unnoticed. I wonder who their target audience might be?

Well, this litter went into the recycling box as well. Just doing my part to keep our city clean.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Quebec Muslim Groups Also Concerned About Bill 59

Well this is interesting. Remember that new anti-hate-speech Bill 59 that I wrote about a few days ago? My main concern was that a proper definition of hate speech was nowhere to be found in the bill and was left completely up to the Quebec Human Rights commission.

It turns out that several Muslim groups in Quebec also have problems with the bill for the very same reason I do. They are concerned about this definition being left arbitrarily up to some commission.
For Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, the law has its merits. He said the bill can turn out to be positive for Quebec’s society, but it’s not completely clear.

“We are looking for some clarifications of definitions. What exactly is hate speech? We would really like for this to be clarified,” he said.
What's notable about this is that the bill is intended to protect Muslim groups - yet at least three prominent groups have serious problems with it. Listening to them is like hearing myself with my own problems with the bill as a secularist. I guess bad policy can unite us all.
But Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal feels the bill isn't necessary.

“There's no need for a new regulation, especially if we're not using the old one. We already have the right tools in the criminal code,” he said.

And while the anti-hate speech bill is partly an effort to fight Islamophobia, Elmenyawi fears it could end up unfairly targeting the Muslim community.

“A lot is left for the discretion of a civil servant in an administrative process that can destroy somebody's life,” he said.
Precisely. On the one hand, it can destroy the life of some anti-democracy fundamentalist Muslim cleric in Montreal who's got problems with atheists voting or gay people. On the other, it can stigmatize an atheist blogger like me. We should all be allowed to speak our minds so others have a reasonable idea what's going on between our ears and can open the gates of criticism and ridicule if necessary.

If you ask me, I think this bill is nothing more than an attempt to gain political points. Still, it's taking something which already works pretty well - even according to the minority it's primarily supposed to protect - and muddying it up with potentially dangerous consequences for free speech in Quebec.

(Image source)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ontario Woodworking Company Closes Company After Staff Join Union, Because: BIBLE!

Leon's the expressive one on the left.
Hey, did you know Jesus was a carpenter? Yes, he was! Jesus was many things, but the one thing he never did was join an evil trade union! That would have been against the Bible.

In very very rural Ontario, there is this tiny place called Devlin. Living there is an apparently soft spoken man, Leon Gingrich, who ran a small woodworking company, Gingrich Woodcraft, which made custom drawers and things for people.

One day, his 25 employees decided to form a union - decidedly unbiblical behaviour! Poor Leon had no recourse other than shut the entire factory. It wasn't because he was threatened as a capitalist by his labour force organizing itself. Oh no! Not at all! It's just because it goes against his deeply held religious beliefs, and who can argue with that?
Gingrich Woodcraft said in a statement that, as Christian business owners, their personal beliefs do not allow them freedom to work with a labour union.

The company stated, "We are required by scripture to 'live peaceably with all men,' and not to use force to gain what we want or for what is required to succeed."

Earlier this month, 25 workers at the plant voted 69 per cent in favour of joining Unifor, the largest private-sector union in the country.

Less than a week later, workers were told the plant would be shut down.
You see? His hands are really tied. He's not using force, he's just firing 25 people because they formed a union, that's all. Right, I don't really get it, but RELIGION! There, that's a good reason.

Understandably, the union is a bit upset about this. Especially since Leon was apparently very cooperative with them right up to the vote - which is... well... sort of a bit psychotic, but that's just my personal opinion on this.
"All I can tell you is this: This is against the law," said Unifor national representative Stephen Boon. "You cannot threaten or intimidate workers and take action directly aimed at unionization, and that's what this employer has done."
In addition:
Boon pointed out Gingrich participated in the union voting process at every step along the way. He accused the owner of intimidating workers under the guise of religious beliefs because Gingrich didn't get the union vote result that he wanted.
So it looks like legal action may be taken. They've lodged a complain with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell is offering support for the families of the 25 employees - the community will take a substantial financial hit for this.

Stephen Boon, national representative for the union points out that the company's actions are not what many would consider meek or mild.
"You've thrown 25 employees out of work and left their families in a precarious situation in terms of earnings and making mortgage payments. You've contravened the constitution, the Labour Relations Act, you've left suppliers in a precarious situation because orders are in transit, orders are half-complete. If this isn't aggresiveness, I don't know what is.

"To take the position that you want a peaceful relationship between men, the employer's actions are far from that."
Yeah but... isn't this just his religious freedom?

Okay, so while you try to figure out Leon's reasoning, why not watch this nifty interview with him? I think you'll thank me for it. Leon's gaze is mesmerizing.

*Some additional information was added shortly after first publishing.

(Image source)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Powerful VICE Quebec Interview With Ensaf Haidar

Ensaf Haidar. Fridays are the day of public flogging in Saudi Arabia.
VICE Quebec has released an amazing, informative and powerful interview with Ensaf Haidar jailed Saudi secular blogger Raif Badawi, who is fighting to get her husband out of prison from her new home in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Give this a watch, it will answer any questions you have concerning the situation.

It also goes into the foul hypocrisy of Canada and other nations in one breath condemning Saudi's obvious blatant violations of human rights while in another happily taking billions of riyals for arms deals. She handles the question regarding this with great grace.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Quebec's Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill Is Cause For Concern

I run an atheist, perhaps even anti-theist blog, which would certainly be shut down in a country like Saudi Arabia or Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, they equate atheists with terrorists, while in Egypt atheism is considered a kind of extremism against Islam by authorities.

The Quebec government has tabled Bill 59An Act to enact the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence and to amend various legislative provisions to better protect individuals. This sounds okay, but it's worrisome, because what can constitute hate speech is rather vague.
The Act provides for the prohibition of hate speech and speech inciting violence that are engaged in or disseminated publicly and that target a group of people sharing a common characteristic identified as prohibited grounds for discrimination under section 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms. Acting in such a manner as to cause such types of speech to be engaged in or disseminated is also prohibited. The Act introduces a procedure for reporting such speech to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse which includes measures for protecting people who report it, and grants the Commission new powers, including powers of investigation. The Commission is allowed to apply for a court order requiring such speech to cease. New responsibilities are therefore assigned to the Human Rights Tribunal, including the responsibility for determining whether a person has engaged in or disseminated such speech or acted in such a manner as to cause such acts to be committed and, if applicable, to determine the amount of the monetary penalties applicable. If the Tribunal concludes that a person has contravened those prohibitions, the person’s name is entered, for the time determined by the Tribunal, on a list kept by the Commission and available on the Internet. In addition, the Charter of human rights and freedoms is amended to introduce the prohibition against engaging in or disseminating such speech targeting an individual, thus rendering the reporting procedure under the Charter applicable.
In a previous post, I defined hate speech like this:
Now he's getting more flak because he went on television and said some stuff... energetically... well, sort of like someone targeting a specific a-religious minority. You know, it sort of sounded a little bit like a direct call to suppression of and/or violence towards a minority. I guess you might actually call it hate speech, if you're into that sort of thing.
Notice I tend to lean more on the side of inciting violence. I find it worrisome that the bill mentions both separately. I also find it worrisome that similar sorts of prohibition seem to be used in countries like Bangladesh to silence atheist bloggers - because their words apparently incite hate and violence.

There is already a law against hate speech here in Canada. Bill 59 adds extra teeth to this law. I would be able to make a clear decision about whether or not I'm for this law if someone could properly define hate speech for me. I've been looking around the stories concerning Bill 59 and I haven't really seen anything that lays out what hate speech is. It seems to be left to the discretion of the Quebec human rights commission.
But Bill 59 — “to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence” — would introduce a procedure for reporting hate speech to the Quebec human rights commission and would grant the commission new powers, including the power to investigate.
Essentially, the commission can act on a private complaint and themselves determine whether or not something constitutes hate speech.
But the legislation also faced a lot of criticism, notably for failing to define what “hate speech” is, and leaving it up to the human rights commission to decide how much proof it needs to sanction someone.

Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Voltaire could all be found to have incited violence and hatred, said Grey. Should they have been censored?

He and Latour argued that the Bill was dangerous and invasive. It allowed for anonymous complainants and a public list of those found guilty — forever available online.
In fact, the National Post makes an even more disturbing point:
Bill 59, on which consultations are to start next week, is far more worrisome. Bill 59 assigns new powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech, as well as a variety of other provisions meant to protect against extremism, by censoring speech that promotes “fear of the other.” Ominously, the bill would allow the QHRC to pursue websites that in its estimation describe and denounce Islamism.

The bill takes its inspiration from recommendations made public by the QHRC in November 2014. Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, explained that he planned to use the requested powers to sue those critical of certain ideas, “people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.”
This is very much not a good thing and it's very much like the situation in some countries I do not wish to live in.
Frémont is an unabashed legal activist, who sees the QHRC’s mandate as “provoking a social change” and “making the law.” (“You will make the law with difficult cases, risky cases,” he said at a March conference at the Université de Montréal.) In support of such stringent censorship he cites resolutions adopted by UN bodies. But the only UN body pressing for this measure is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an Islamist consortium that equates criticism of Islam with hate speech. The OIC’s member nations have nothing to teach any democratic society in the way of “inclusion,” “openness” and “living together,” all justifications for Bill 59 made by Premier Couillard.
I don't know how much of this concern is immediately legitimate, because I've actually agreed with Jacques Fremont when he came down hard on child welfare concerning the Lev Tahor case not long ago. Still, this illustrates an important point. Do we want to leave such an important definition to a commission? This is plenty of power to silence freedom of speech, in the interest of social harmony (like in Singapore) given to a small group.

Lots of minority groups realize that if such a commission is to have such power to determine what's hate and what's not, they had better get on the group or at least help define the parameters.
Some groups are upset that they were not invited to speak at the National Assembly during the hearings. Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he was alarmed because the current list fails to illustrate the diversity of Quebec.

“It is missing all of the groups,” Majzoub said. “They are Quebecers at the end of the day, but we don’t hear from them at all.”

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says his organization has launched a special request to be heard. He is concerned that the hearings fail to include minorities who are often the targets of hate speech.
I hope groups like CFI Canada and Atheist Freethinkers also manage to get into this discussion, since I worry that their own websites might someday be shut down by an over-zealous commission.

I'm very worried indeed.

In the end, I want to make it clear that I do not condone violence or discrimination against any minority group - whether they be religious or atheist or any other protected class. It's a good idea on paper, but how can we properly implement such a thing without interfering with people's right to expression? In a civil society, everyone needs the right to criticize the ideas and beliefs of everyone else - this is how a democracy works.

(Image source)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Drink Lots of Coffee: I Must Pay Attention to Boring Canadian Politics

Over the decades there have been politicians who were compelling, thrilling, charismatic, inspiring, motivating, electrifying.  With their passion to make the world a better place, they could draw people in and with their words alone they sometimes mobilized mighty social movements for change.

Then you have modern day Canadian (career) politicians. They are none of these things. Unless you're talking about the recent spate of evolution deniers, I get about as excited about the current Canadian political environment as I might for watered down cabbage soup and stinky-sock flavoured tea for Sunday lunch over at the Legion Hall.

Stephen Harper, for instance is about as interesting as wood rot - which is why he's so goddamn dangerous. He paralyzes me with his lackluster personality just before eating out my brain, raping the environment, muzzling the scientists and destroying the world.

Still, it would be interesting to know where my local politicians really stand on anything at all secular issues. Veronica Abbass over at Canadian Atheist has collected some great questions for the people running in your riding. Even if they don't answer any of them, I recommend you send them their way anyway - just to let them know they're being watched by constituents who care.

I'll send these off to my politicians via e-mail and/or snail mail to see what happens. I'll update you guys if I get any response.

Meanwhile, here are some of these which resonate with me.
Do you support repealing Section 296 of the Criminal Code which makes “blasphemy” a crime?

Do you support repealing paragraph 319(3)(b) of the Hate Propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code because it exempts religious discourse from prosecution, thus granting a dangerous privilege to religions, permitting them to make hateful statements with impunity?

Do you support closing Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom?

Do you think that theology faculties should be banned in all public universities and that no taxpayer funding should be provided to support any sectarian religious instruction?

Do you accept the theory of evolution by natural selection as fact using the scientific definition of theory?
I would add questions like this:
Do you believe that churches and other religious organizations should pay their fair share of property taxes?

Do you believe that pastors and clergy should pay normal taxes on their lodging like other Canadians?
Go check out the complete list and, please, for the sake of my child, overcome your paralyzing boredom and cynicism and get involved. If you try, I will try too.

(Image source)

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Another Devil Statue Appears In Vancouver!

Almost one year ago, an anatomically correct Statue the Devil mysteriously appeared in a Vancouver park. Unlike the insanity going on in Detroit right now, most people loved old horny Mr. Pitchfork and  many were upset when he was hauled off by city workers.

Well, it now appears that a fairly anatomically representative demoness, with a strikingly similar appearance, has appeared in Vancouver.  Some are calling her Satan's Wife, but I think that's sort an assumption which may play into certain outdated patriarchal ideas. She could be his wife, girlfriend, mistress or any other female demon. One thing's for sure though, she's female.

Also, if you look closely, you'll see she's got a bump. We know what she's been up to, but with whom?
However, the truly evil ones - the city! - tore down this piece of art too!
On Thursday, the statue was found on top of Gene Cafe at the Main and Kingsway intersection. This devil — naked once again — appeared to be female with one hand in the air and the other to its pregnant belly.

However, this pregnant devil lady no longer reigns over Mount Pleasant. The City was, as usual, quick to bring it down and had it removed Thursday night. Georgia Straight contributor Michael Mann was quick to snap photos and post them on Twitter before the statue was removed.
Just like the original statue of erect-penis Satan last year, nobody has claimed responsibility for horny knocked-up very-black-nippled demoness statue either.

Here's hoping for more such demons in the future in Vancouver!

(Top image source)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Canadian Atheist Is Being Actively Cyber Attacked

You may have noticed that Canadian Atheist has been up and down the past month or so. I've been getting Wordpress configuration screens.

Veronica Abbass posted yesterday that someone or some group is actively cyber attacking the site.
Canadian Atheist is under attack from proxy servers around the world. The attacks are attempts to login as a User/writer by trying random user names until the server shuts down traffic due to too many failed login attempts. It is hard to tell if it is a DDS attack or real attempts to login.
The blog has taken measures to protect itself, including country blocking. If you find yourself blocked and you're not the sort of miserable human being who does these malicious things, read what you can do to get unblocked.

It's a shame that some people cannot cope in a civilized manner when they run into views they don't agree with.

(Image source)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Acceptance of Evolution On The Rise in Western Canada

There's an interesting write up by Mario Canseco over at the Vancouver Observer about the ever-declining belief in creationism in Alberta and British Columbia.
The notion that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years is endorsed by just 17 per cent of British Columbians. The proportion of creationists climbs to 27 per cent among people who reside in the North and the Southern Interior, but drops to 16 per cent in Metro Vancouver and nine per cent in Vancouver Island (where Lunney’s soon-to-be-extinct riding is located).

Across the province, only one-in-four residents (26%) think creationism —the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation — should be part of the school curriculum in British Columbia. Once again, the numbers jump in the North and the Southern Interior (36 per cent want to see creationism taught in schools), but remain low in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
All this comes from Insights West's Survey on Evolution and Creationism in British Columbia and Alberta.
Results are based on an online study conducted from May 7 to May 9, 2015, among 814 adult British Columbians, and an online study conducted from May 1 to May 3, 2015, among 801 adult Albertans.
Here's a screenshot from the study results, summarizing the numbers.

It's about what I expected.
Going back to this year’s Insights West poll, age provides an added layer of analysis, and a window into what the research may show a decade from now. Almost two thirds of residents aged 18 to 34 in both British Columbia and Alberta (64%) believe that Adam and Eve should stay away from the classroom. It is also important to note that the proportion of residents who think creationism should “definitely” be taught in schools is particularly low: just 16 per cent in Alberta and 12 per cent in British Columbia. 
This is good news, coming from the province which produced the likes of James Lunney.

(image source)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Airline Passenger (With Uterus) Refuses Last Minute Seat Switch to Satisfy Orthodox Jewish Man's "Deeply Held Religious Beliefs"

Christine Flynn, 31, uterus-equipped, groggily sat down on a New Jersey to Toronto morning flight. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walked up to her row and she greeted him with a smile - I hear humans do that. He then proceeded to repeat the word "change" to the penis-bearing people around her. He ignored her, the uterus human.
"He came down the aisle, he didn't actually look at me … or make eye contact. He turned to the gentleman across the aisle and said, 'Change.'"
He himself didn't ask her to move seats. That would be against his deeply held religious beliefs. Instead, he managed to get a flight attendant - who also presumably has a penis - to ask Christine to scooch her woman bits away from him. And the flight attendant did just that.
"I said, 'This man is refusing to sit next to me because I am a woman.' At that point, another man behind ... offered to switch with me and the airline attendant said, 'Would you be willing to move? and I said, 'Absolutely not. This is ridiculous,'" she said. "I was without words."
I'm fairly certain that if someone were asked to move because they were gay or black, this would be a bigger deal. However, it seems like religious freedom trumps sex and gender. I guess women are at the bottom of the totem pole.

An airline representative stated that last minute seating change requests seldom happen for religious reasons, yet it seems as if the frequency is increasing.
According to an April 9 article in the New York Times, conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and female passengers on flights are becoming more common, with several flights from New York to Israel being delayed or disrupted over the past year.
Listen to this amazing interview where Christine kicks ass.

In the above interview, she must deal with an interviewer who seems rather uninterested with the obscene level of entitlement going on. Here a passenger feels like he can force people to switch seats at the last moment just so he will not need to sit next to someone with the same reproductive system configuration as around half the planet's population.
"Leaving it to the last minute and expecting me to move is appalling. He's expecting me to fall in to that archetypical feminine role and acquiesce." 
Yet, in this interview at least, the blame seems to be implied rather squarely on Flynn - who is clearly not the one causing these ridiculous complications. Could you imagine the games a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews could make people play on a plane- all in the name of religious accommodation?

Jerry Coyne fills us in on just that.

Flynn would like an apology from the airline (reasonable). She would also like the airline to make a plan to deal with this in the future (reasonable).
"I'd like an apology," Flynn said. "There really should be a policy around this. If people are going to get on flights and demand that they sit next to someone of the same sex, there should be an area where they can go. I should not have to move because someone has a problem with my uterus."
There are, of course, several ways Porter can accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jews - should they feel motivated. Flynn suggested a box to fill in on the ticket. Here's a few:
  1. Like any special needs request, passengers who have problems sitting next to 50% of the population should make this known during the booking process. Either the airline ensures that such fliers are "paired up" appropriately on the flight - or else an extra seat may need to be purchased. There should be a surcharge on that passenger's ticket for the extra administrative work, so I don't need to pay for this nonsense.
  2. Passenger should check at the gate to ensure they still have their vagina-free-zone. If not, then perhaps the airline can offer another flight on standby.
  3. Groups of passengers who have problems mixing with other humans should consider chartering their own flights.
  4. Perhaps Porter could begin distributing plastic bags like this.

(Image source, source) (story via Canadian Atheist)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Canadian Atheist Blog Is Down

You probably noticed that Canadian Atheist has been down since yesterday. I've been in contact with Veronica Abbass and she tells me that this is being worked on.

The blog seems to be a frequent target. I hope it comes back soon and wondering if there are some very stable or secure WordPress providers out there who could possibly offer a safe haven?

(Image source)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

176 Med Students Write Letter Rejecting Inquiry Into Anti-Vax Health Course

Last week, I posted about how the University of Toronto conducted an internal review of the quantum-physics-filled and anti-vaccine pseudo-scientific Alternative Health: Practice and Theory course being offered by the wife of the Dean at their Scarborough campus.
Noting that other courses in the program offer extensive scientific information regarding immunization, Vice-President Goel concluded that the sessional instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced; it presented material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry.
In fact, the course was really popular with students.
The student evaluations from 2014 reveal that students do understand the purpose of the course and appreciated the opportunity to critically think about these alternative modalities. The course is rated very positively by the students who took it 2014. Many students commented that they felt that the topics covered in the course should be introduced into the curriculum in earlier years. There were no complaints from the students in 2014 regarding the content of the course, and I am not aware of any student complaints so far in 2015.  
I wonder if a similar course would have been received as well by these students if it were created and reviewed by actual Med students along with the University of Toronto Medical Society Executive Council rather than the Department of Anthropology? Because it seems like people who actually understand these topics aren't all that satisfied with the Vice-President's lame ass investigation.

Nearly 200 medical students at he university have sent an open letter to President Meric Gertler demanding that - for the sake of human lives and the worth of the paper their future degrees will be printed on -  this course be properly investigated and measures be put in place so ridiculous courses like this do not spring up in the future... regardless of who may be married to whom.
One of our concerns is that the instructor for this course lacked the scientific expertise to teach and develop a health-related course, especially without significant oversight from faculty members with training in the topics addressed in this course, such as vaccination. This instructor, a trained homeopath, had previously been a subject of media attention due to statements made on the topic of childhood vaccination, where she implied that vaccinations could be linked to autism, and stated (on camera) that measles, one of the illnesses children are vaccinated for, was “not a dangerous disease.” These statements are without evidence, and in direct opposition to the vast amount of research that has been done on these topics.

Another major concern of ours is the conclusion expressed by Vice-President Goel regarding the content of the course, specifically that “…the instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced…”. The very notion that anti-vaccination views could be considered a part of a ‘balanced approach’ to teaching about the science of vaccines is completely false. The overwhelming scientific consensus, supported by mountains of robust evidence, concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and save lives. Suggesting that anti-vaccine views are a part of a balanced approach to the science is to perpetuate a manufactured controversy; it serves to suggest to patients, and the public at large, that a scientific debate is ongoing, when in reality no such controversy actually exists within the institutions of science and medicine. By legitimizing the existence of this ‘false balance’, we do the public a great disservice by misrepresenting the established safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Listen, an Anthropology class is quite within their right to study the social factors involved with anti-vaccine paranoia and culture, but they should not be presenting the writings of Andrew Wakefield as being anywhere near the same level of credibility as real scientific findings.

Since the university has completely bungled up this investigation and is now an international laughing stock. An independent review must be brought in.
We therefore request a thorough, independent investigation into the entirety of the course, as well as the institutional culture that potentially fostered shortcomings to high quality education. This should be done with representatives from the biomedical sciences to address questions of scientific accuracy. This investigation should focus on and specifically detail claims made by the lecturer referring to vaccination, homeopathy, and quantum physics. The results of this investigation should be made directly available to the public, and be sent to all current or former students who took the course.
Furthermore, they are suggesting standards so that this insanity doesn't happen in the future.
In order to better inform the public about health topics, so that they can make well-informed choices, standards to ensure the validity of scientific claims made in all courses in the university – not just those within scientific faculties – should be developed. This is not meant to stifle new and upcoming research or creative thought. Rather, it is meant to support it, such that there is clear understanding of all the evidence currently available, allowing us to progress with reasonable debate and research with the same supporting knowledge.
These students should be commended. It's a shame that students need to be fact checking their schools. This happened at Queens as well. It seems to me like universities must be valuing other things over genuine pursuit of knowledge.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

In Case You Don't Know What #CPCJesus Hashtag is...

You may still be wondering, as I was yesterday evening, why the tag #CPCJesus (Canadian Conservative Party Jesus) started trending strongly in Canada yesterday.

It's because a Conservative MP Wai Young decided to liken her party to Jesus while promoting bill C-51 (roughly like the Patriot Actat a church.
"Jesus served. He saved, but he acted as well," Young told Harvest City Church saying the Conservative Party had acted "in the same vein" by passing the new anti-terror legislation,Bill C-51.
She also claims that CSIS knew there was a bomb in Air India Flight 182, but couldn't share this information with the RCMP because there was no law like... bill C-51!
"CSIS knew or heard that there was a bomb on board this plane," she said. "But because of the strict laws that government departments have, they cannot share information between departments.… Because they couldn't share that information with the RCMP, the RCMP could not act to take that bomb off that plane. Today, with C-51, they will be able to share that information."
Kind of like Sarah Palin, Young also proudly boasts that she doesn't really read newspapers either - because the press are all malicious wrong people.
"I do not read the newspapers anymore, because most of the facts in there are not factual," Young told the congregation.

"One of the key tenets of being a journalist is that you are supposed to be reporting the facts," she said.
There's nothing worse than journalists who report facts which are not factual. If only we could dispose of facts and only report facty facts, we'd be fine.

The weird cult-like nature of this statement, prompted many excellent posts online. Many of these were written with Biblical references.

Now, there is some question as to whether or not Young was violating Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rules for church (non-profit) involvement with politics.
The Harvest City Church is registered as a non-profit organization with the Canada Revenue Agency. According to CRA rules, non-profit groups are prohibited from taking part in partisan political activities. A partisan political activity, according to the CRA’s regulations, is one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.

The CRA spells this rule out in one of the prohibited scenarios posted on its website, titled “Inviting competing election candidates to speak at separate events.” The CRA says because a “charity is not giving an equal opportunity for candidates seeking the same office to speak, it is possible to infer that the charity is indirectly supporting a particular candidate for public office and is therefore engaged in a prohibited partisan political activity.”
It's getting more and more interesting all the time.

(Image source: @perfidiousPM)

Monday, 13 July 2015

Newfoundland Public School Will Not Display Bible Verse

The old school building. Photo © Adam Randell at The Northern Pen (source) and used with permission.
Edit 2015-07-28: Reader Shawn the Humanist (@ShawnHumanist) has pointed out that the link to the article has changed. I've updated it below, accordingly. Shawn has also found an actual interview with the man who put the verse onto the wall. Apparently, he is no fan of religion, but figured the verse should be up for historical reasons.
“Religion is as far from me as the east star is from the west,” he said. “It was on the previous school and I thought that it was appropriate to put it back on the new one.”

Saint Anthony is a small town near the northern tip of Newfoundland. Last week, there was some controversy there because the public school board is not so keen on plastering a Bible verse on the new school that's being constructed.
It has been established that the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has no plans of transferring the bible verse – "All thy children shall be taught of the lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." – to the new school; a verse that has been placed on town schools since the early 1900s.
Apparently the sign came originally from a school built by Sir Wilfred Grenfell in 1900 and later moved to St. Anthony's Elementary School in the 1970s. Some city councillors expected the verse to be moved to the newly constructed White Hills Academy, but the publicly funded school district wisely chose to not do it.

The Mayor still expressed some surprise that anyone would consider a Bible verse instructing us to teach children about god and donated to what was likely a Christian school by a Christian missionary like Grenfell as religious.
However, Mayor Ern Simms said that isn't the case, and council was told by the school district that any plaque at the new school would have to be non-religious.

"I didn't look at that as being religious, and a lot of people didn't and still don't," he said.

"I look at it as something that Grenfell always worked with — he worked with everyone. He worked with all people as a doctor and apparently he was partly missionary as well, and he worked with everybody in that area."
In a small town like Saint Anthony, I suppose this might not seem too apparent. It's nice that the school board is proactively taking steps to be secular without waiting for a complaint.
 “Since it was first placed, children from every religion in the world have gone to St. Anthony Elementary, and there has never, ever, been a complaint from anybody about it,” said Simms.
The city council will seek input from local residents before making a final decision. Up to now, the school has done good and I hope the city council will honour this decision in the name of state-church separation.

Some have suggested that the sign be donated to the local Grenfell Historical Society, which seems eminently reasonable.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Video & Reaction to Christopher DiCarlo & Conrad Black: 'The Decline of Christianity'

Conrad Black and Faith Goldy.
In April, I posted about a live taping of The Zoomer. The program appears to be my television nightmare and is hosted by Conrad Black and Faith Goldy.
THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY? Hosts Conrad Black and Faith Goldy explore the fate of Christianity in the wake of diminishing congregations and persecution in the Middle East.
I witnessed the episode and it was, on the whole, dreadful. It was only my sheer determination to get through it alive and report it back to you, dear readers, which prevented me from throttling myself. Black seemed to use it as his own platform for trashing atheism - I guess he wants to expand his print attack into other media.

Thankfully, the program did have a single atheist, Christopher DiCarlo, who valiantly worked to counter an otherwise completely religious panel. Also, the co-host who believed that religion is under attack, and Black who even brought on Dr John Lennox - to talk trash about atheism with - at the end of the show.

You can watch the embedded video below or go to the site. You can skip ahead to 23 minutes, if you prefer.

I emailed DiCarlo after watching the program and asked him his opinion about his treatment on the show, the (little) time allocated to him given the topic, and how he felt about having John Lennox on at the end of the program.
Lord Black is Catholic. I'm not sure what kind of Christian Faith Goldy is. But the entire show, from Moses Znaimer to the audience, are predominantly faith-based.

Even one of the ways the show was pitched i.e. is Christianity in decline because of Muslim persecution, demonstrates a victim perspective.

Conrad is very emotional. I think this is partially due to the fact that the numbers don't lie. Organized religions in the West are in decline. Catholicism's only hope is to pitch their views to developing nations and other parts of the world that are still hanging on due to generational or familial ties -- hence, the reason Pope Francis is from Argentina. I thought is was a bit disrespectful to me for Black to show clips of his interview with Lennox and NOT state that just a few days earlier, I had a lengthy dialogue with Lennox:

I was also surprised that John Lennox did not mention our discussion either. I have gone out of my way to refuse to debate but accept the invitation for dialogue. And I even went so far as to suggest that he and I take opposing sides -- in the interest of fairness -- so we can better understand why we might have such diametrically opposed world views. But no theist has ever accepted my proposal.
DiCarlo also mentioned that he really felt like the token non-believer thrown into the mix. However, he did receive some good feedback from some of the attendees in the audience.

I have similar thoughts. Although, I wonder how much value appearance on these programs actually brings. Whereas, I can understand why David Silverman goes onto Fox News - to bring publicity - I wonder how much this program is actually watched. Then again... I wonder how many people read this blog!

That said, I'll end this post with the dialogue between DiCarlo and Lennox. I haven't watched it yet, but it's likely to be much more worthwhile.

(image source)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Why Did Child Welfare Agencies Pussy-Foot Around With The Lev Tahor Case?

The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, Lev Tahor, fled Quebec back in 2013 because the province was trying to get them to allow their children a balanced education where they learned more than Yiddish and the Talmud. They went to Ontario for awhile, but then eventually fled mostly to Guatemala.

They were about to have their children taken away for not only violating their rights to a useful education but also real physical and mental abuse. We're talking about pee filled beds, forced taking of prescription drugs, forced under age marriages and extreme corporal abuse.

Well, a report was just released, concluding that child welfare agencies did a lousy job of protecting the well-being of the children.

The Montreal Gazette writes:
Camil Picard, the vice-president of youth issues for the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, said the delays in this case were “incomprehensible,” considering the fact it took 17 months for youth protection officials to move to seize the children after the problem was first identified.

It also took school board officials 15 months to take action to get proper schooling for the children in the community. The children were receiving a strictly religious education, and spoke neither English nor French. Picard said children have the right to receive a proper education, and if they don’t get that, youth officials must intervene.

“In this situation, it’s clear that the (parties) systematically failed in their role to protect the children, including health services, the education department and youth protection,” Picard said.
You can read about the extreme foot dragging over at CTVLaPresse and Radio Canada. It's awful.

Here's something I find a little nauseating though. It has to do with how certain, mostly English (Rest of Canada) news agencies report about religion, in particular. I'm sorry to report that I've seen it time and time again - a sort of freakish deference to religion exhibited by the anglo media.

The French stories I read all contain a reference by the commission's president, Jacques Frémont alluding to why the agencies may have been really soft on this cult. So soft and cautious, so as not to offend religious sensibilities that the very lives of the children were put into peril.

CTV is the only story I found in English to carry Fremont's comments on religion:
Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, said Thursday it appears “other considerations,” not the best interests of the children who were the subject of the hearings, played a role in the way the youth protection, school officials, social services and even the police handled the interventions with the community.
What were these other considerations?
Some of the issues the report highlighted include that youth protection and school officials spoke to community leaders instead of the parents, and school officials gave community leaders 15-months to comply to the law requiring children attend school. Lev Tahor children were homeschooled.

“Freedom of religion cannot – in any circumstances – be used as a pretext for abuse and neglect. It is therefore essential that, from now on, all organizations intervening in this type of environment better understand public interests involved and favour, in all cases, the protection of children's rights," he said.
This statement was missing from the Gazette and the CBC report, while always present in some form in the French sources I read. I wasn't the only one to notice this:

This article leaves out a key statement from the report:

« La liberté de religion ne peut en aucun cas constituer un prétexte pour la maltraitance ou la négligence. »

In English: "Freedom of religion can never constitute a pretext to abuse or neglect."

Why this omission?
How very curious, indeed! I wonder why the CBC and Gazette both missed this?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Sherbrooke Makes Raif Badawi Honourary Citizen

Wife of Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar, with Sherbrooke Mayor Bernard Sévigny at Sherbrooke City Hall. (source)
Today, in front of Sherbrooke city hall, mayor Bernard Sévigny declared that Sherbrooke is Raif. Raif Badawi, jailed Saudi blogger and husband of Ensaf Haidar, was declared an honourary citizen of Sherbrooke in absentia only weeks after he was granted fast track Canadian citizenship (immigration selection certificate) by Quebec.

LaPresse Sherbooke Tribune writes:
Les deux banderoles, qui couvrent une partie de la façade de l'hôtel de ville, seront installées en permanence dans l'espoir que M. Badawi soit libéré. La première porte la mention « Sherbrooke est Raif », alors que la seconde indique « Raif Badawi citoyen de Sherbrooke ».

« Les membres du conseil municipal sont profondément touchés par le sort qui est réservé au Saoudien Raif Badawi. Sa condamnation a amené tous les Sherbrookois, tous les Canadiens et les citoyens de plusieurs nations à se lever et à revendiquer le droit à la liberté d'expression, pilier inéluctable de la démocratie », a commencé Bernard Sévigny.
The two banners, which cover part of the facade of city hall, will be installed permanently in hope that Mr Badawi will be liberated. The first declares that "Sherbrooke is Raif", while the second proclaims "Raif Badawi, citizen of Sherbrooke."
"The members of city council are profoundly touched by the Saudi Raif Badawi's predicament. His sentencing has led all residents of Sherbrooke, all Canadians and the citizens of many nations to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression -- a fundamental pillar of democracy," said Bernard Sévigny.
There will be a vigil tomorrow at 12:30pm. This will be the 27th such weekly protest held before the city hall in Sherbrooke, where Ensaif Haidar has been welcomed with open arms by the community.
Les deux banderoles arborant le visage du blogueur saoudien se sont alors déroulées d'un coup, un symbole émouvant qui a beaucoup ému la conjointe de Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar. Les yeux humides et la voix étranglée par l'émotion, elle a remercié tous ceux qui posent un geste pour son conjoint. « Merci pour Raif. Je pense que c'est important pour Raif. Ça lui donne du courage et de l'espoir. Je suis très, très contente. C'est très important et très touchant. »
The two banners portraying the face of the Saudi blogger were unfurled simultaneously, a powerful symbol which greatly moved the wife of Raif Badawi, Ensaf haidar. Eyes wet with tears, and voice quivering with emotion, she thanked all those who made this gesture for her husband. "Thank you on behalf of Raif. I think this is important for Raif. This gives him courage and hope. I am very, very happy. This is very important and very touching."

Ridiculous U of T Anti-Vax Course Not Coming Back Next Semester

Good news! The University of Toronto is quietly dropping the antivaxxer, woo-full, quantum mechanics-filled Alternative Health: Practice and Theory from their next semester offering.
A University of Toronto spokesperson says a controversial course that taught anti-vaccination materials will not be taught this year.
I haven't seen any sign of the university actually acknowledging they were wrong for offering the course. If I would guess, I'd say that this is a PR motivated move.

Still, good to see. Things were getting bloody embarrassing there for awhile. This hasn't stopped my opinion of the university falling several levels, though.

I hope to never see my own alma mater, McGill, stoop to this level.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

University of Toronto Totally Cool With Homeopath Teaching Anti-Vax Alternative Medicine

Back in March, I wrote about how the University of Toronto in Scarborough has this Health course being offered by their Anthropology (?) department. The course was being taught by a homeopath, Beth Landau-Halpern, who also happens to be the wife of the Dean.

The description of her Alternative Health: Practice and Theory contains statements like this in the syllabus:
Alternative medicine (i.e. the wide range of modalities other than conventional western biomedicine), has gained unprecedented popularity among patients, and a nearly unprecedented backlash from the scientific and conventional medicine communities of late. Dissatisfaction with the results and quality of care patients get from mainstream medicine, how well they are (or aren’t) listened to, the astronomical cost of such medicine, increased suspicion of pharmaceutical safety, a generalized belief that natural is better, and, in some instances, a preference for culturally traditional medicinal practices, are some of the many factors that drive patients to seek alternative health care. At the same time, the “scientification” and “technicalization” of medicine seems to be widely accepted and is employed to assert the perceived fundamental superiority of a biomedical approach to disease; to further the financial incentive of the pharmaceutical industry which has an enormous stake in the scientific, drug-based approach to health; and to disparage “alternative” approaches as quackery and fraud. 
Also this:
We will delve into a quantum physics’ understanding of disease and alternative medicine to provide a scientific hypothesis of how these modalities may work. Quantum physics is a branch of physics that understands the interrelationship between matter and energy. This science offers clear explanations as to why homeopathic remedies with seemingly no chemical trace of the original substance are able to resolve chronic diseases, why acupuncture can offer patients enough pain relief to undergo surgery without anesthesia, why meditation alone can, in some instances, reduce the size of cancerous tumors. 
And this:
The course will also explore a few of the controversies impacting alternative health, with particular attention to the explosive issue around vaccine safety, homeopathic skeptics and their impact on the this well-respected modality, and the questionable emphasis on genetics and DNA to define and predict disease. Students will be encouraged to think critically and creatively in this course, exploring a world of health care that is poorly understood, but presents a compelling and appealing rationale for greater use and acceptance.
With stated course goals like this:
After taking this course, you should be able to:
  • Articulate a nuanced explanation of health, disease, and healing.
  • Understand the difference between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics and their corresponding impacts on biology.
  • Understand how environment and emotion impact biology and health, and articulate the limitations of genetics as destiny.
  • Question the priorities and approaches of mainstream western medicine through the lens of a more holistic approach to health.
  • Understand the connection between body, mind, energy, and spirit and how the interplay between these impact health and disease.
  • Understand the basic principles underlying some of the more established alternative health modalities.
  • Provide a critique of the role of private pharmaceutical companies on the provision of health care options.
  • Make intelligent choices for your own health provision.
  • Intelligently address the concerns of those afraid of alternative medicine or skeptical about its efficacy. 
So, after public outcry from actual real scientists, the University made a little investigation thingy and decided that there was nothing wrong with her approach at all -- it would just be nice if she used more properly sourced materials - e.g. not crap written by Andrew Wakefield and other alarmist conspiracy based nonsense she finds on Google.

Apparently, the review was made back in March, but was just released this week. The University is standing by the anti-vaxxer health studies course. Scientists and other rational people have not taken well to this nonsense.

I cannot understand why they are doing this, but it makes the University of Toronto look very very bad. Just yesterday, they even doubled down on their decision that a course like the above is just fine (with maybe a few improvements, like more academic sources and less bunk.)
Noting that other courses in the program offer extensive scientific information regarding immunization, Vice-President Goel concluded that the sessional instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced; it presented material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry.

Vice-President Goel nonetheless found that the course could be strengthened by greater engagement of academic colleagues from the Department of Anthropology and experts from the University’s health sciences faculties in developing and approving the course curriculum. The Health Studies Program at UTSC is relatively new, and at the time of the review, did not yet have its own program-specific curriculum committee in place.
Oh yes, it's always important to have balance. I'll be looking forward to Flat Earth material being taught in astronomy courses, baby-delivering storks theory in medicine, and discussion of the Illuminati and chemtrails in political science.

Jen Gunter, who is an actual doctor, writes eloquently about this whole insanity. Go check it out for more information.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Lawrence Krauss & Many More At Non-Conference 2015 In August!

Lawrence Krauss will be one of the speakers. (source)
Last year, I wrote about a brand spanking new conference for the nons - non believers which took place in Toronto. This was The Non Conference 2014.

Well, the conference is back this year!
Are you an atheist or care about ideas, policies and institutions that affect non-believers? Then The Non-Conference is for you!

The Non-Conference is Ontario's largest annual conference 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 Non-Conference got its start in Toronto in November last year and now we are back with NonCon2015 in Kitchener, August 22nd, 2015.

Join notable speakers from across Canada and the US for a day of discussion and debate on topics relevant to secularism, human rights, and free-thought in Canada.

I've known about this for awhile now, but have done a magnificent job of totally procrastinating and not posting anything about it. So here's a first post on this conference -- just in time for all of you to buy very reasonably priced tickets and get your non-believing butts down to the Kitchener this year - a not Toronto part of Ontario.

Here are my pathetic excuses for not attending. I am addicted to the Internet and blogging and I saw no reference to WiFi, which makes me twitchy. I am also a car-less, nomadic hippie type here in bohemian Montreal. Although the location looks natural and idyllic, I couldn't see it working by train or bus. Alack alas, Toronto was better suited and I supposed I should have attended last year. I wonder if there are many others in my situation?

All done with the excuses! Now let me tell you about the guest speakers!

Lawrence Krauss - This already should sell it.

Faisal Al Mutar - For someone who's been covering the atheist/skeptic struggles in the Middle East, this is fascinating! Watch his INR5 talk.

Ensaf Haidar - If you follow this blog, you'll know who Ensaf is! She's the strong and courageous human rights activist working to free her husband Raif Badawi from Saudi imprisonment.

Armin Navabi - The founder of Atheist Republic. I recently covered the insane reaction of Twitter Muslims to AR's Rainbow Kaba picture.

Sandy Donaldson - I'm ashamed to say I don't know much about Donaldson. He is starting up the Atheist Community of Toronto, though. If you're an atheist and live in Toronto, you'll want to track him down.

Doug Thomas - Doug is by far the most uber black belt level Humanist for miles and miles around. He blogs over at Canadian Secular Humanist.

Eric Thomas - Eric is not only a great guy, he's also prez of Humanist Canada

Carolyn Hyppolite - Author of the compelling Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born-Again Atheist. I've written about her here, here, and here.

Stephanie Guttormson - Member of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Master student group organizer. Awesome cross-country educator on transgender issues and skepticism.

Christine Shellska - Christine is super awesome and the prez of Atheist Alliance International. She's also a regular on the Legion of Reason.

David Rand - If you're into intelligent conversation about secularism, Quebec/Canada politics and atheism, then you're going to want to speak with David. In addition to being a really fun guy to have dinner with, he's also prez of the Libres penseurs athées -- Atheist Freethinkers right here in Montreal!

There you have it! Go take advantage of the (still very cheap) regular cost tickets until August 7th -- then they will become sought after procrastinator tickets.

Although I won't be able to make the conference, I have secured an agreement with a fellow blogger who will be attending to make short guest posts on this blog about the talks. So stay tuned in August for updates!

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