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

Monday, 26 January 2015

Secular Montreal & Its Big Bright Crucifix

Mount Royal cross lit purple in 2005. (source)
When I first arrived here in Montreal in 1993, I was impressed by just how secular the society seemed. On paper, this seems to be the case.

Then, with the 2014 Secular Charter downplaying the crucifix in the National Assembly, things began to go downhill. This was apparently for our highly endangered patrimoine historique -- we couldn't even move it into another room! (Although the Secular Charter 2.0 will apparently address this.)

I suppose all this could be excused, but then I learn that Quebec funds private Catholic schools, to the tune of around 70%! Does this make these schools 30% private? Is this secular business all for show here in Quebec? Because it seems like the government talks the talk for the mainly secular population while walking arm and arm with the Catholic Church.

So with all this, I learn that back in 2005, our secular city government decided to colour the Mount Royal cross purple because the Pope died -- just to show everyone in the city the deference still paid to the Catholic church.
In 1992, the incandescent lights were replaced with a high-tech fibre-optics lighting system that reduced the number of bulbs to 30 and increased the bulb life to three years. There would be no more bare-handed bulb changes. The new system allowed the cross to be lit in several colours, including purple, which occurred in 2005 when Pope John Paul II died. The cross remained purple until a new pope was elected. In 2009, the cross was taken down so an LED lighting system could be installed. The city of Montreal also improved access to the site. However, the cross is still off limits to the public and cameras and motion detectors alert authorities if someone climbs on the cross.
This isn't just preserving the cross as a piece of our Quebec heritage -- like the Parthenon in Athens -- this is active praise towards a religion.

I know this is not a really big deal.  It doesn't bother me any more than a single paper cut out of many, but it sort of makes me think twice before jumping all over the Ontarians for celebrating their Pope Day every April 2nd. In the end, it comes to the same thing.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Has John Baird Turned Over a New Leaf?

John Baird. By Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict) [OGL or CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird brought up his concern about the Raif Badawi floggings with Saudi prince Turki Al Faisal.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has raised concerns with a Saudi prince about the flogging sentence handed down to a blogger with family in Quebec.

A government official, speaking on condition they not be named, said Baird spoke about blogger Raif Badawi's case directly with Prince Turki Al Faisal, a member of the House of Saud.
This is good and I hope something comes of it. This same prince is expected to visit Ottawa next month and I hope Baird brings it up again if Badawi is still being held at that time. I do wonder how close our government has become with the Saudis and how this could be.

All this got me considering for a moment whether or not Baird might have turned a new leaf since he had announced in the past that he just didn't think that atheists were in any real significant danger across the world.

Although I'm happy Baird is now doing the right thing, I cannot say he's sticking up for atheists because Raif Badawi is a secular Muslim who is facing 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for simply standing up for free inquiry -- including atheists' right to free speech -- in Saudi Arabia. This is more than I think we can say about Baird, so far at least. I am, however, perfectly happy to stand corrected.

I've heard some confusion in the atheist community where people are saying Raif is himself an atheist -- I made this mistake myself. Although I do not think he personally has any problem with atheists -- he is a secular liberal, perhaps a living Voltaire, and ended up in the slammer for it -- Badawi is still not an atheist himself.
"Lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair told the BBC that Mr Badawi, a father of three, had confirmed in court that he was a Muslim but told the judge 'everyone has a choice to believe or not believe'."
I would Baird's action a step forward for atheists solely because it is a demonstration to Saudi Arabia that the world values secularism and the freedom of expression. However, this is not John Baird standing up for atheists. To the best of my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet.

Irrational Beliefs, Woo & Superstition: Another Child Dies

By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A publication ban has been lifted and the Toronto Star identified Sean and Maria Hosannah as having killed their toddler daughter through neglect. The article starts out with information about the ban itself, but I'm more interested in the original case, which I do not recall seeing in October.
The couple was convicted of manslaughter by failing to provide the necessaries of life by a jury in Brampton last October, but until now the names of the parents and the toddler who died could not be published due to a sweeping publication ban.
You'll see that this case resembles an incident in Calgary where Jennifer and Jeromie Clark starved their son to death while implementing a strict religiously motivated vegetarian diet. Well, it seems like history has repeated itself. The Hosannahs also implemented a strict vegetarian diet apparently believing this would be more nutritious for the child based off no evidence.
An autopsy concluded four months later that she died from complications of asthma and malnutrition. The trial heard she had a rare case of rickets blamed on a lack of Vitamin D, which had also caused two broken bones. She had not seen a doctor since March 2010 and had not received any vaccinations.
Maria testified that she was very, very, very, very, very concerned about her daughter. I believe her. I think she was so concerned as to be paranoid and this paranoia is rooted in superstition,   pseudoscience, a distrust of science, medicine and Big Pharma.
She said Matinah was born healthy, but believed her daughter was “experimented on” in hospital after her birth. She said Matinah was injected with antibiotics without Sean and Maria’s permission, “and they cause a lot of side effects, something that could cause, you know, a child’s death.

Matinah Kabirah Hosannah was born on Nov. 26, 2008, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto, and weighed 2.575 kg (5.9 pounds), according to an agreed statement of fact filed in court. She was given antibiotics and fed intravenously because her doctors were concerned she had low blood sugar and a possible infection. She was discharged on Nov. 30.

Maria spoke at length to police about her family’s diet. She said she only buys whole foods, and stays away from sugar. Most of the meals she cooks are vegetarian, she said, and typically include oats, brown rice, lentils and navy beans. She said she avoids fish “because of with mercury and stuff like that.”
This is a familiar story about parents who have bought into conspiracy ideas about vaccines, injections, fad diets, etc. This sort of non evidence-based thinking is quite prevalent in middle-class Canadian families -- more prominent on the West Coast, I would think. 

This event is made more tragic because the mother appears by all accounts to be well meaning. She is just misguided and undermined by her belief in so much woo -- she did her best but her lack of reality based beliefs worked against her and her child. This is the danger of faith -- whether it be in religion or alternative medicine, etc. If anyone asks what the harm is, this is it.

Naturally, the poor child wasn't vaccinated either.
Her family refuses vaccinations for religious reasons, she said, telling police she had converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism.
What can you do when your compass for reality has been completely broken and you've bought totally into an anti-vax, anti-antibiotics, whole foods narrative, which is so popular these days? What happens when you believe you must cook vegetarian for your baby but do not have enough knowledge to do this safely? You are drifting in open sea with no compass and no rudder; you've lost your footing in reality.
When asked at the end of the interview if she and her husband had provided the best possible environment for their daughter, including warmth, nutrition, education and love, she replied: “We did the best that we can.”
It's sad. It really does matter if your beliefs are true. Irrational and false beliefs can have fatal consequences.

The couple both face possible life sentences.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ontario Man Lodges Complaint With Human Rights Tribunal Against Public School Board

Monday evening, I started getting comments on an old post I did about Ontario resident, Rene Chouinard, winning his battle to get the Gideons the hell out of the District (Public!) School Board of Niagara (DSBN).
Rene needs to get a life and worry about bigger issues. He is trying to put teachers out of jobs at Eden High school. This is so crazy. Why can't he just worry about himself and leave others alone.
This comment, along with a couple of others, indicated there was something new afoot in the region and it likely involved the intentional promotion of more religion on public school grounds.

I turns out that Chouinard had lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHMT) concerning the DSBN's continued close ties with Protestant Christianity -- e.g. Habitat for Humanity and Eden High School. There was an initial hearing on Monday to establish whether or not Chouinard had standing to proceed further.
In November 2013, Rene Chouinard filed an Ontario Human Rights Code complaint arguing the board "continues to exhibit preferences for Protestant Christianity" at its facilities, to the exclusion of other creeds and religious beliefs.

He says the most obvious example of this is the Eden High School in St. Catharines and its Protestant ties.

The complaint adds the board has "continued to allow other missionary organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, to operate Christian mission activities within its programs."
Eden is a public high school in St. Catherines, but they are not part of the Catholic Public School Board, they're Protestant. To my knowledge, only the Catholics have been constitutionally grandfathered into being a real public school system in Ontario. Protestants were not so lucky, likely because: Catholic privilege. 

A simple glance at the About section on Eden's website talks about their Spiritual Life Centre:
In addition The Spiritual Life Centre provides a meaningful program to assist in the development and support of Eden’s students’ wellness and personal life journey through a rich array of life activities. The Spiritual Life Centre is privately funded through parent and community donations; it is funded separately from Eden High School.
You mean privately-funded just like the Gideons who handed out their Bibles and religious literature on campus as well? Wait a minute, that's the same thing except this is even worse. Nice try, DSBN.

Take a look at this Spiritual Life Centre. It looks like a church website.
Along with our history of excellent academics and athletics, Eden offers students access to amazing programs and experiences through our Spiritual Life Centre (SLC).

These include:
  • Daily Chapel - 180 chapels during the year
  • One on One Mentoring - 800 + hours
  • Grade Retreats - 768 hours of off-site adventure
  • Additional connections including small groups, worship teams, coaching and participation in class trips
  • Missions Trip options - five month discipleship track with Take Flight and summer trips with Gear Up and much more. The Spiritual Life Centre is truly what sets Eden apart! 
On the page, they stress again that this centre is funded entirely by private donations -- you know, like a church! How is this any different than letting Gideons set up a freaking church in the school, to say the least of letting them distribute Bibles?

Meanwhile, Habitat For Humanity is an overtly Christian organization, something I never knew before now.

Chouinard is seeking the following compensation from the DSBN:
He is seeking $50,000 in compensation from the DSBN to run a long-term media campaign promoting the validity of secular humanism.

His non-monetary remedy, among a number of demands, is to have Eden disbanded and either rebranded as a secular facility or closed.
These are reasonable requests, in my opinion. The Board either needs to treat humanist organizations in like manner as Christian organizations -- which is similar to the request to be able to distribute atheist literature back in the Gideons case -- or this school needs to be rebranded. Another option, in my opinion would be that it be removed from the DSBN and stop receiving public funds.

Specialist Weighs In: Makayla Died From Cancer Not Chemo

Makayla Sault, 10, reads her letter to her parents asking them to stop her chemotherapy treatment. (source)
Sadly, the parents of 11 year old Makayla Sault still maintain that it was the chemotherapy which ultimately lead to their daughter's death, not her leukemia and her withdrawal from any evidence-based treatment.
Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke.
Well, at least one oncologist is speaking out. However, they wish to remain anonymous because of the case's political sensitivity! Apparently this is where we're at here in Canada: defending science-based medicine has become perilous.
A Western Canadian pediatric oncologist, who asked not to be named because of the case’s “political sensitivity,” challenged that assertion, however.

There is one drug — asparaginase — the girl might have received that could have caused a stroke within a week or two of first receiving chemotherapy, the specialist said, but not months after the fact.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with the chemo,” asserted the university-based oncologist, while cautioning that he was not familiar with the details of her specific case. “It probably has everything to do with the leukemia coming back and causing her death, which is what it does when you don’t treat it.”

The cancer cells that accumulate in an untreated child’s blood make it more viscous, and more likely to cause clots that could lead to stroke, the physician said.

“It results in sludging of the blood,” he said. “I’m very saddened for this girl, and very saddened for her family … It’s tragic, and it was probably preventable.”
Meanwhile, in a Canadian Medical Association Journal article, Caring for Aboriginal patients requires trust and respect, not courtrooms, two doctors argue that withdrawing from effective medical treatment to opt for traditional or alternative medicine should be granted to First Nations families because: respecting culture.
“Doing so is not political correctness – it is patient-centred care,” the article said. “Aboriginal patients continue to feel unwelcome or unsafe in our medical institutions, in some cases being ignored or left to die.”
To which I would simply quote Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary bioethicist and lawyer:
But “this whole case suggests there is a different standard, that we’re not to care for aboriginal children the way we care for other children,” said Prof. Guichon. “People are simply shocked that a child died who could have lived … The trail she blazed was to her own death.’’

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Mother of First Nations Leukemia Patient Claims She Is Now Cancer-Free

Screen grab from video below of 11 year old First Nations girl who replaced chemotherapy with unproven alternative therapies.
Last night, I got a comment to one of my posts about the two First Nations girls with leukemia who were taken out of chemotherapy and brought down to a Florida massage centre for traditional and alternative medicine treatment.

(I'm not linking to that particular post because of a publication ban on the girl's name.)

The commenter linked to a January 16th update -- by Hippocrates graduate Jane Schweitzer -- announcing that the girl has been cured of her cancer. Here's the Google video version along with update text:

Such wonderful news...This family had to endure so much, the doctors said she would die if she did not have chemo, then they had the audacity to scoff at alternative medicine, then they had the audacity to try to take away this precious child from her family, then they made it a political issue, then the media started spreading lies to further their own agenda. Well people, this family did what it took to get Jada better including having to hide out in the USA for quite a period of time for fear of apprehension. Have the media checked in to see how she is doing? You can bet they would be all over this, if Jada's health was grave....but do you think they will report good news? The answer is abundantly clear, BIG PHARMA cannot make money off of natural medicine, so they will bury the info, or twist the info, and do whatever it takes to CONTROL you. Take your health into your own hands people.
I've been checking on their condition and I'm all over this. If Hippocrates Institute is truly capable of curing some forms of leukemia, I think we should all know.

 An article in Two Row Times has a little more background:
The 11 year old Kanienkeha’ka girl from Six Nations who was under threat to be removed from her territory and forced back into chemo has undergone testing which reveals she has no visible signs of cancer.

The child, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, went to an Ontario hospital earlier this week for a biopsy. Her family pursued the testing and received a call from doctors Thursday night giving preliminary results that showed both her bone marrow and spinal fluid to be free of cancer.
Specimens from the biopsy are being fully analyzed at another clinic in the United States for further analysis and the child will pursue the current indigenous medicine and alternative therapies protocol for another 2 years to ensure that she remains in remission.
I've never had any ill will for this child. I'm happy to hear the results of this test! If this is a spontaneous remission, then this is fantastic news! Hopefully, the cancer will continue to not be present with subsequent tests.

Even if this is spontaneous remission, the odds are some 1/100,000 for this, while the odds of positive outcome with chemo were over 85%. Chemo has been shown scientifically to work. This was still an irresponsible action that could have -- and may very well still -- lead to grave consequences.

I also have some questions about whether what little chemo she did get -- some 10 days, I believe -- might have also somehow contributed to her present condition.
On the other hand, for the past 100 years almost all cancer patients have been treated in one way or the other, such that the influence of treatment cannot always be excluded.
Whatever the situation, here's hoping the girl continues to be well.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Heated Interview On English Media With Secular Charter Creator Bernard Drainville

By Assembléetest (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
CBC Homerun's Sue Smith sounds downright hostile to me during an interview with Bernard Drainville about his newly-introduced Secular Charter 2.0. It seems like she was under the impression that the last election settled the issue and things did get heated

There was a lot of use of the term 'with all due respect'. I'll include the audio of the interview below this cut because the stupid CBC embedded player auto-plays.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Ottawa - Protest Today at Saudi Embassy: Stop Flogging Raif!

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Amnesty International Canada will be holding a protest today in support of jailed Saudi activist Raif Badawi. He was publicly flogged in front of a mosque last Friday for expressing his opinions peacefully on a website and he will be lashed for nineteen more weeks unless people get together and show the Saudi government that this is not how humans are supposed to behave.

Human rights activists in Ottawa will be holding a demonstration outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy, 201 Sussex Drive at 4 p.m, January 15th in protest of the flogging of Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi will receive his second public flogging this Friday after prayers in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah.

Further information can be found here:

If you can't join us please sign the petition and invite others!
CFI Canada has also received an invitation to join the rally.  Go read about this along with more information about petitions you can sign over at Canadian Atheist.


via Veronica Abbass at Canadian Atheist

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Quebec Secular Charter 2.0

Bernard Drainville. By US Embassy Canada [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It's alive! It's alive! Word is that the Parti Québecois MP Bernard Drainville is set to release a second Quebec Secular Charter (2.0) tomorrow. By all early accounts, this one appears to be more viable for eventual passage -- but then, I thought the same thing early on before he formally introduced 1.0.
Reports say this new proposal would exclude universities from any religious dress code.

It would also include a so-called “grandfather clause” to allow current government employees to continue wearing religious symbols.

Drainville said other aspects like the ban on religious symbols for public daycare and school employees will remain a key part of the plan.

"The subsidized private daycare centres are important and they always were," he said.

"Children do not have to be exposed to religious influence."

Drainville said he admits that the charter filed by the PQ should have been accompanied by integration measures.
He's backing this last item up by suggesting that immigrants be matched up with prospective mentor businesses who would presumably agree to train and hire them, helping ease integration issues.

Only the grandfather clause seems weasely to me: either allow them or do not allow them!

This sounds positive enough. We must take small steps. We'll see how the actual charter looks, tomorrow.

The timing is, of course, interesting given the recent Charlie Hebdo fundamentalist Islam-motivated murders. Bernard assures us this is a coincidence and that he's been working on this for much longer. I believe him.

Nice Mangos: World's Only Pakistani Sex-Blogger

By Asit K. Ghosh Thaumaturgist (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know that the only Pakistani sex blogger lives right here in Canada and that she's also an outspoken atheist? has an excellent little interview with Toronto-based Pakistani sex blogger Eiynah (aka @NiceMangos).  It covers what it's like to be an ex-Muslim sex-blogging Pakistani woman living in Canada and also touches on the French Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

Her blog, Nice Mangos, talks about Pakistani sexuality and a whole lot more about life as an ex-Muslim atheist woman.  Here's a couple of her notable responses from the interview itself.

Her opinion about why fundamentalists get so threatened by her:
I receive all kinds of unacceptable threats. Death threats, rape threats, threats of violence. I hear from people who say I’m a coward because I will not share my address with them, so they can ‘come get me’.

It doesn’t actually take much for a fundamentalist to be threatened by one’s thoughts. They probably don’t like that I am open about being an ex-Muslim, an atheist. The fact that I am an outspoken woman or that I promote a healthy sex-positive attitude. That I speak out for women’s rights in our culture, most recently it seems to be my children’s book My Chacha is Gay which has upset fundamentalists from all faiths. Homosexuality is not acceptable in most mainstream, organized religions. I urge people to move past that. To look at things with human rights and equality in mind.
What's the deal with Western liberals seemingly never being able to admit that religion is part of the problem of radical Islam?:
Honestly, I don’t know. I feel like cultural relativism plays a large part in that. For the far left, being politically correct and inclusive of ‘diversity’ has gotten to a point where they cannot even point out clear human rights violations – like the burqa, because they assume it is part of our culture. I don’t think it’s fair to assume that such misogyny is ‘part of a culture’. It should be called out, and Muslims should be held to the same moral standards as everyone else. It can actually be quite offensive to see that many liberals from other cultures think we’re not capable of being as moral and tolerant as others. If we are not held accountable, how will our communities evolve? (Read: Charlie Hebdo and the Paris Shooting: The terrorists did have a religion – it’s called Islam)
Finally she touches on what it's like being an feminist atheist in Pakistan:
I live in Canada, fortunately. This is a country where freethinking people thrive; religion doesn’t come up much in the public domain. Equality is something we strive for in Canada too, while not perfect – we are doing pretty well.  When I lived in Pakistan, I found it difficult to adjust – more difficult than growing up in Saudi Arabia actually. I don’t think I could live there with the conservative expectations most people have. Being an atheist in Pakistan has to be a very silent thing. You certainly cannot declare it publicly, because there could be grave consequences. Being a feminist in Pakistan is quite depressing, every step of the way you are reminded of the inequality between men and women.
There's much more in the interview, go check that out!

Also, check out Eiynah's blog, Nice Mangos!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Ottawa Imam Wants People Who Draw Stuff He Finds Offensive to Just Go to Jail, Okay?

Imtiaz Ahmed wants it to be a crime here in Canada to publish any sort of satirical cartoons that mock or make fun of religious leaders.
“Of course we defend freedom of speech, but it has to be balanced. There has to be a limit. There has to be a code of conduct,” Ahmed said.

“We believe that any kind of vulgar expression about any sacred person of any religion does not constitute the freedom of speech in any way at all."
Oh silly me! I forgot to mention that Imtiaz just so happens to be a religious leader himself! What a coincidence, right?
Ahmed said there should be limits placed on freedom of speech to prevent the publication of offensive material. He says that seems to be the case for events such as the Holocaust. Members of the public denounce those who say the Holocaust never happened.

“We don’t want the Jewish community to be hurt by these sentiments,” Ahmed says.
I don't see this analogy working because people who deny the Holocaust happened are clearly delusional given the mountains of evidence for it having happened. Furthermore, members of the public denouncing Holocaust deniers is not the same a putting into a place a law against these people.

Now what about if religious leaders happen to deny the Holocaust? Are we allowed to mock or denounce them? Do we need to have a State-issued decision chart for this? Please, Imam, I need to know how to think and what I'm allowed to say, mmmkay?

How is this any different than pseudo-divine North Korean dictators limiting free speech in precisely the same way? How about teens being arrested for mocking the president in Turkey? What about the Russians making it illegal to insult anyone's religious feelings?

According to Douglas Todd, the Ahmadiyya Muslims are a tiny and eccentric minority in the Muslim community, who do missionary work and proselytize through media exposure.
Even though Canada’s Ahmadiyya Muslims make up less than one per cent of the world’s Muslims (about 2.5 per cent of those in Canada), they are a missionary group that actively seeks new converts.

And they do much of their proslytizing through the mainstream media, which is currently looking for Muslims to interview about violence, peace and the ethics involved in the satirizing of religion.
I wonder what happens if a religious leader gets sick and tired of Ahmadiyya Muslim proslytizing all the time. What if they find themselves insulted and mocked by this small group distorting 'their' version of Islam?

I wish people would realize that as soon as we start limiting free speech to make one group happy, we are giving that group more rights than others -- whether it be one religious group over another or religious leaders over non-religious people. Nobody ever has the right not to be offended.

Friday, 9 January 2015

CFI Canada and Humanist Canada Call On Government to Strike Down Blasphemy Laws

Canada's Blasphemous Libel law in the Criminal Code.
In the wake of the Hebdo massacre in Paris and now with the vile thrashing of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, Humanist Canada and CFI Canada are calling on the Canadian government to strike Canada's own blasphemy laws off the books.
On Mr. Bennett’s advice, said Eric Adriaans, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, the two organizations will lobby the Department of Justice to remove the law. Mr. Bennett’s office did not respond to calls for comment.
It's Section 296 in Canada's Criminal Code:
296. (1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Question of fact
(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

R.S., c. C-34, s. 260.
So it really depends on what's meant by blasphemous libel. As a blogger, am I putting out my critiques of religion in good faith? What does this even mean when I have contempt for religion in general?

Apparently, this law hasn't been used since 1980, when there was an attempt to get The Life of Brian banned in Canada -- which is an excellent reason to strike this law! It failed in 1980, but why keep these laws on our books, and what happens if Canada drifts ever closer to being a Christian Nation or some form of theocracy?
“There are certain parts of the world where apostasy will get your head removed,” added Eric Thomas, President of Humanist Canada. “We don’t have that issue here but why would we even have this on our books?”
Check out the page on Blasphemous Libel over at the CFI for more information.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Canada Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Officially Condemns Saudi Treatment of Raif Badawi

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.
Just today, I ended my last post about how jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi will receive public lashings just for blogging stuff -- likely in a matter of hours now -- like this:
I've been very frustrated with our government's apparent blindness to the monstrous human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps they will not be able to ignore the problem now.
I most recently expressed this frustration and pessimism in a previous post about how CFI Canada and Humanist Canada met with Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) ambassador Andrew Bennett in December.
However, I cannot help but remain skeptical and disappointed in the Office. It still seems to me like they're hardly even trying. When it comes to people (not philosophies) being in peril for their lack of religious belief across this globe, it really seems to be that groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Atheist Alliance International, International Humanist and Ethical Union and the Center For Inquiry are superior human rights watchdogs and are more effective at engaging people over social media.
Well, it looks like they've finally done something they've never done before! They're finally denouncing Saudi Arabia's treatment of Raif!
Canada Denounces Flogging of Saudi Activist

January 8, 2015 - Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today issued the following statement:

“I am greatly concerned by reports that Saudi human rights activist Raif Badawi will tomorrow begin facing a punishment of 1,000 lashes, along with a 10-year prison sentence, for exercising his right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

“The public flogging outside a mosque in Jeddah each week for 20 weeks, with 50 lashes administered on each occasion, is a gross violation of human dignity, which I strongly denounce.

“Canada strongly upholds the fundamental freedoms of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of association, among other inalienable human rights, as a basis on which society is established, thrives and progresses.

“The punishment being administered to Mr. Badawi is inhumane and is unbecoming of a society which seeks to advance itself within the family of nations. Such advancement must be predicated on respect for freedom of religion and other fundamental human rights. May clemency and mercy be shown in this case.”
It seems like multiple human rights groups have had to climb mountains to get to this point. This part is unfortunate, but Andrew Bennett has gone a ways to redeem himself in my eyes. It's literally the last minute, but I suppose there could have been other efforts going on behind the scenes and now they're going public because those have gone nowhere -- well, I'd like to believe that at least.


GREAT work, Mr. Bennett!

I'm also thinking that CFI Canada and Humanist Canada may have had something to do with this as well. They clearly explained the issues to Bennett back in December.

If you would like to speak up for Badawi, I would strongly recommend you call the Saudi embassy of your country directly. Here are instructions about how to do this here in Canada (bottom).

You should also consult the Amnesty International page on Badawi for more information about how to help!

- Thanks to Canadian Atheist's Veronica Abbass for bringing this to my attention.

Unlike English Media, Quebec French Media Publish Hebdo Cartoon to Show Solidarity

Charlie Hebdo cartoon from 2006 was published uncensored in 11 major Quebec newspapers today. (source)
Canada's interesting English vs French cultural divide is popping up again in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris.
Quebec's major French-language newspapers have jointly published a Charlie Hebdo editorial cartoon featuring the Prophet Muhammad, in a show of solidarity with the satirical Paris newspaper where 12 people were killed on Wednesday.
The newspapers in question are Le Devoir, Le Journal de Montréal, Le Journal de Québec, 24 Heures, La Presse, Le Soleil, Le Quotidien, Le Droit, La Tribune, La Voix de l’Est, Le Nouveliste, and Métro.
In a joint statement published alongside the cartoon, the newspapers explained they wanted to honour the victims of the Paris shootings, some workers at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and show their support for the “fundamental principle of freedom of expression.”

“Attacking someone simply for their ideas and opinions is an unacceptable impediment to democracy,” the statement said.
A story over at Le Devoir points out that the cartoon was also published widely in Europe. The outlier seemed to be English media:
La majorité des chaînes de télévision américaines, dont CNN, Fox, NBC et MSNBC, ont décidé de ne pas montrer les dessins de Charlie Hebdo pouvant être « offensants » pour les musulmans, se contentant de les décrire à l’antenne. Un mémo interne de CNN à ce sujet a fuité dans la presse.

Idem pour le New York Times qui a expliqué qu’il ne « publie habituellement pas d’images intentionnellement créées pour heurter les sensibilités religieuses », estimant que leur description « donnerait aux lecteurs assez d’informations pour comprendre les événements d’aujourd’hui ».
The majority of American television networks, eg. CNN, Fox, NBC and MSNBC, decided to not show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons perhaps being offensive for Muslims, opting to describe them instead. One intermal CNN memo concerning this leaked to the press.

Likewise for the New York Times which explained that it was not in the 'habit of publishing images intentionally created to upset religious sensibilities', believing that their description 'would give to their viewers enough information to understand the day's events.'
Kind of reminds me of court cases I've heard about in Saudi Arabia where the lawyer cannot even describe what a blasphemer wrote or said, lest they blaspheme as well. It really does seem to be similar in nature.

As further proof that Quebec is more European while the rest of Canada is more British, Quebec's largest English language newspaper, The Gazette, decided also to not disturb religious sensibilities.
“It isn’t political correctness or cowardice. It’s based on a philosophy of respect towards the Muslim faith,” she told Mike Finnerty, host of the CBC morning show Daybreak, on Thursday.

Chodan added, however, that she supports her “colleagues in the francophone press who published the cartoon.”

“Of course, we also support Charlie Hebdo,” she said.
Oh, of course they support Charlie Hebdo and her colleagues in the francophone community who apparently do not respect the Muslim faith.

Two French media journalists are convinced this has to do with hyper political correctness in English-speaking countries, a cultural thing.
Denise Bombardier, a columnist for Journal de Montréal, said she’s proud of the province’s French-language newspapers.

“It says something about political correctness and about courage,” she told Daybreak.

“I’m sad that the Gazette refused to do this, because I think that this is the war of the 21st century, and if we don’t react the way we did in our newspapers this morning, and in many newspapers around the world and in Europe, then this war is lost.”

Another columnist, Patrick Lagacé, who writes for La Presse, said concern for political correctness is much stronger in English-speaking countries, such as Canada and the United States, compared to French-language media in Quebec or France.

"I think the anglo world, English Canadians, are prisoners to political correctness when they make some judgment calls like that in the media," he said.

Ottawa's Frank Magazine appears to be the only English exception to this rule.

The CBC also refused to run the cartoon so as to not offend Muslims. Here's a purported internal memo sent out to the CBC's journalists:

Meanwhile, the Quebec French equivalent to the CBC, Radio Canada, did publish the cartoon on the air and their website.

It's a difference I've noticed over the years -- perhaps secularism vs. laïcité. There is a sort of reverence for religion which exists in English Canada media along while keeping mostly mum about any sort of human rights abuses done in the name of religion. Meanwhile, French media in Quebec seems to be the precise opposite.

Raif Badawi to Receive Lashes Tomorrow

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Editor's Note 2015-01-08: Canada Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Officially Condemns Saudi Treatment of Raif Badawi 

Urgent news about imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi came today via his wife Ensaf Haidar, who is living now in Sherbrooke, Quebec. You can see the announcement on Facebook.

CFI Canada has confirmed this on their site as well:
January 8, 2015:  CFI Canada has received information from Ensaf Haidar that her husband, Raif Badawi, is expected to receive lashes on January 9.  Ms. Haidar informs CFIC that “the lashing order says Raif should be lashed severely”.  Raif Badawi was imprisoned for insulting islam by the Saudi government.

CFI Canada condemns the Saudi government for it’s barbaric and horrifying intention to torture Raif Badawi.   Kevin Smith, CFI Canada’s Chair said, ” It is terrible and horrifying that one day after the murders of people at Charlie Hebdo, a person will receive 1000 lashes for expressing his thoughts on a blog."
A couple of technicalities. I was before under the impression that the lashings had commenced already and that it would be delivered 50 lashes at a time over 20 weeks. It now appears that tomorrow will be the start date and he is due for 50 severe lashes for blogging! This is inexcusable.

If you would like to speak up for Badawi, I would strongly recommend you call the Saudi embassy of your country directly. Here are instructions about how to do this here in Canada (bottom).

You should also consult the Amnesty International page on Badawi for more information about how to help!

Here in Canada, we need to send a clear message to our government that they should denounce blasphemy laws across the world and strike down our own remaining blasphemy laws! CFI Canada is calling on our government to do this -- more on this in a future post.
CFIC urges Canadians to express their outrage and condemnation to the Government of Canada.  Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of CFI Canada said, “Freedom of speech is under threat by religious extremists.  Faith-based terrorists are attacking and killing journalists and cartoonists while governments use cruel blasphemy laws to torture their citizens.  It is time the Canadian government actively opposed blasphemy laws and the brutality and violence they precipitate.  The Canadian government should start by calling for the immediate release of Raif Badawi and by abandoning Canada’s own blasphemy law, Criminal Code Section 296.”
I've been very frustrated with our government's apparent blindness to the monstrous human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps they will not be able to ignore the problem now.

- Thanks to Canadian Atheist's Veronica Abbass for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Enlightening Discussion About Recent Medical Ethics Stories In Canada

Arthur Schafer is Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, at the University of Manitoba.
There is an awesome interview with University of Manitoba Ethics Professor Arthur Schafer on the latest the Legion of Reason podcast.

Episode 127 – Ethics with Prof. Arthur Schafer
He is also a full professor in the Department of Philosophy and an ethics consultant for the Department of Paedatrics and Child Health at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. He has also penned numerous articles for The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, The Winnipeg Free Press, The Medical Post, and The Sunday Times (London). In addition, he frequently appears on CBC, CTV and The Discovery Channel to discuss matters ethical in science, technology and medicine. I finally made good on my threat to invite Professor Schafer on the podcast to give us his perspective on recent developments in medical ethics in Canada and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on medical practice.
In the interview hosts Randy Tyson and Christine Shellska talk with him about recent prominent medical ethics cases here in Canada like the the Calgary doctor who refused to prescribe any birth control pills. He also discusses the recent court ruling allowing a First Nations family to substitute life saving chemotherapy for their daughter with leukemia with alternative medicine administered at a Florida-based massage center by quack doctors.

He covers many other relevant bio-ethical questions as well. It's well worth the listen.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Alberta Catholics Support School GSAs Despite What Their Church Says

Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) is a tricky topic in Alberta's publicly funded Catholic schools and their conservative and uber-conservative political parties have been bungling this up pretty well lately.

So there's results are in from a newish poll asking Albertans what they think of allowing Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools.
A Leger Marketing survey conducted Dec. 8 to Dec. 11 asked about 1,000 Albertans over the age of 18 whether they support or oppose gay-straight alliances (GSAs), student-led anti-bullying groups for LGBTQ youth, in Alberta schools.

While 31.6 per cent of Albertans surveyed did not have an opinion, 47.8 per cent said they supported GSAs while 20.7 per cent said they oppose GSAs.
So that's a whopping 79.3% who either don't care one way or the other, fully support GSAs or are too ashamed to reveal themselves as bigots.

The Sun News article points out that support is mostly concentrated in the larger cities, which is of course no surprise whatsoever. My cynical side suspects a sort of leaning onto previously established stereotypes of the big bad secular cities -- dens of sin -- versus the wholesome family farms in the country, where decent Christian morals prevail. I'm sure I'm just imagining things.

I also found it was a little suspicious that the author also found it necessary to point out that respondents were not asked their sexual orientation. Is it even conceivable for this to somehow affect the numbers?

Respondents Reporting as Catholic (information previously released)
Strongly oppose - 11.6%

Somewhat oppose - 6.2%

Neither support nor oppose - 19.7%
Somewhat support - 14.4%

Strongly support - 37.9%

Don't know - 10.1%

We're talking about 17.8% opposition to GSAs. That's lower than the total sample percentage and they appear to be much more certain about this as well. So, we have a situation where Catholics are better than their own church and the wider population. I love it when that happens.

It would be nice if this were a wakeup call, but I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Why Is Our Government Killing Science In Canada?

I'll be frank, science in our country is being flushed down the shitter by the Harper Government. There is a most excellent opinion piece in the Toronto Star pointing this out. It even tries to figure out why the government could ever think defunding all for-knowledge science while turning government grants into nothing more than business subsidies.

Canada needs a brighter federal science policy: EditorialWhether out of ignorance or anti-intellectualism, the federal government continued to do serious damage to Canadian science in 2014.

The opinion piece breaks down the Conservatives' eight year assault on science in our country down and offers two possible causes -- since everyone agrees that no sane government would decimate scientific research in its own country on purpose unless it is somehow malicious or misguided.
According to one school of thought, the answer is simple: the Conservatives are cavemen set on dragging Canada into a dark age in which ideology reigns unencumbered by evidence. Let’s call this the Caveman Theory.

The other, more moderate view holds that Prime Minister Stephen Harper et al are not anti-science – that they at least understand the importance of research and development to their “jobs and growth” agenda – but are instead merely confused about how the enterprise works and about the role government must play to help it flourish. Let’s call this the Incompetence Theory.

This year, sadly, Ottawa gave critics ammunition for both attacks.
The article excellently explains both theories -- I think I subscribe to both. As you can see, neither theory is the least bit better for Canadian scientists or Canada as a country.  Either way you slice it, the Harper Government has singlehandedly decimated scientific research in our country. With each new closed laboratory or research institute, we move backwards as a country further.
Whatever the government’s motives, whatever it understands or does not about how science works, it has over the last eight years devastated Canadian research in a way that will be hard to reverse. Private sector R&D continues to lag, but in our efforts to solve that problem we have seriously reduced our capacity for primary research, squandering a long-held Canadian advantage. Meanwhile, we have earned an international reputation for muzzling scientists, for defunding research that is politically inconvenient and for perversely conflating scientific goals with business ones, thus dooming both. Our current funding system is less well placed than it was in 2006 to promote innovation and our science culture has been so eroded that we are unlikely to attract the top talent we need to compete in the knowledge economy.
They certainly do seem to understand how money and religion work. This government has concentrated on both of these at the expense of science for the past eight years. The article concludes by imploring us to all make the right decision for science at the next election. I think we all know what that means.

Read a more indepth reaction to this opinion piece over at Larry Moran's Sandwalk blog.

Conservative Government Let Science & Technology Museum Rot Since 2010

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The mission of the Canada Science & Technology Museum in Ottawa has been a noble one since its inception by Lester B. Pearson's Federal Government in 1967:
The role of the Museum is to help the public to understand the technological and scientific history of Canada and the ongoing relationships between science, technology and Canadian society. The artifacts present the ongoing relationships between science, technology, and the transformation of Canadian society.
As you can see from the above picture, the building is a very unassuming one -- unlike the $350,000,000 visual assault that is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. (Yes, I do support Human Rights.) I hope the Harper Government takes good care of this new museum -- maybe they can integrate it into their new national propaganda campaign!

I say this because it seems like our friend John Baird and the conservatives have let the Canada Science & Technology Museum go off -- a mould problem which closed the building in September.

Well, have no fear because the government has finally coughed up $80.5 million, after considerable press coverage of the situation, to refurbish the building and fix the roof. Projected re-opening in 2017, just in time for the building's 50th anniversary and the country's 150th birthday.

It's a real shame though that the building needed to remain closed for three years, right? It's too bad nobody caught this situation sooner. No, wait, they did.
The closed Canada Science and Technology Museum had been asking the federal government for years to help fix a leaky roof whose "lifecycle had come to an end," according to documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request.

The museum, which closed in September after leaks in the roof led to unsafe levels of mould in the air, had communicated its desire for a new roof at its 50-year-old Ottawa location as early as 2010.
Those pesky scientists and their museums with technology and evolution and stuff! How the hell is the Ministry of Truth supposed to adjust the messaging and narrative of facts? The government is well aware by now that scientists just don't seem to be their friends at all because they keep saying inconvenient and fiscally unconservative things with all their studies and reports and research and such.
In a timeline obtained through the information request, the museum said it told the Department of Canadian Heritage for four consecutive years, beginning with the 2010-2011 corporate plan, about the roof and the funding needed to fix it.
There was some movement in October 2013. A modest $3.2 million was budgeted to repair the roof. However, the rot was already far too advanced by that point -- three years after the initial problem was found. So those repairs had to be stopped.

Powerless to actually do anything, the museum staff documented 49 distinct leaks in the roof -- much like observing a dying patient.
"Water leaks all weekend — closet between Connections and Innovations, 4 small leaks in Connections, Innovations, Biocomposite Plastics exhibition, Electrical Panels on south wall, in between walls of Energy and Technozone, Technozone carpets soaked," said the entry for Jan. 10-12, 2014, describing nine of the 49 distinct leaks reported from Thanksgiving weekend 2013 until the closure.
I've had to deal personally with a wooden structure whose roof failed. It doesn't take long for severe damage to walls and electrical and mould. Very soon, complete gutting is required. If you want to let a building reach a point of no return in a hurry, letting the roof fail is truly the easiest route. If it weren't for the substantial public response to the story in the past couple of years, it might just have been easier for the government to shrug and announce that the building was just too far gone.
Museum CEO Alex Benay and regional minister John Baird were unavailable for comment earlier this week.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

CFI & Humanist Canada: Yey! ORF: Meh.

From left to right: Eric Adriaans, Kevin Smith, Andrew Bennett, Eric Thomas.
In April 2013, I posted about how CFI Canada representatives finally got to meet with Ambassador Andrew Bennett from a newly-created Office of Religious Freedom (ORF). It seemed like the government organization only agreed to meet begrudgingly, after some media pressure -- it was like going to meet the Wizard. I was still happy to see the meeting, but couldn't help but be skeptical.
It's just that I cannot help but be highly skeptical and pessimistic about this.  Actions speak louder than words and I won't take them seriously until they make a stand.  I have a hard time accepting that this office was oblivious to the IHEU report for example. What kind of international policy office on religion could have missed that?  And why did they not consult with atheist or even Muslim groups during their formative stages.
After that meeting, there was a general sense that the office was doing nothing substantial to help atheists and non-religious people. Although I do not have the link, I can recall a challenge made to Bennett to demonstrate his support for human rights of atheists and agnostics by speaking out against Saudi Arabia's horrific treatment of blogger Raif Badawi. We waited and, other than a few muffled whispers and nods, none seemed to come.

Well, on December 22nd, there was another meeting between the ORF's Andrew Bennett, Eric Adriaans and Kevin Smith from CFI Canada, and Eric Thomas from Humanist Canada.

I'm happy the CFI covered this on their site, because I see precious nothing at all on the ORF's press release page or on Bennett's Twitter feed! But then, this has been the story all along and nobody would expect the ORF to break decorum by going out of character.

So, is this new office doing anything at all to help non-religious people deal with persecution? I must now try to suspend the years of disappointments and look at the results as objectively as possible.

The CFI press release points out that Bennett has offered his support of their work. They are highlighting some bright points:
Since that meeting, CFIC has been pleased to observe Ambassador Bennett’s support of CFI’s work to support Raif Badawi at the United Nations Human Rights Council (CFI Transnational’s Michael DeDora advocacy work of June 2014) as well as his comments on the subject of freedom from religion
Allow me to give credit where credit is due.  CFI did a really great job chastising Saudi Arabia for their horrible disregard for human rights and for their inhumane torture of Raif Badawi. In fact, I think they did an even better job than John Baird or Andrew Bennett.

No wait, we got this tweet:
Yes comrades, I am not impressed. If this is progress, then may I please have my part of the office's 5M budget back so I can donate it to Amnesty International?

Oh, and no press release on the official page, of course. Furthermore, it wasn't even a protest against the Saudi government for their treatment of Raif. Technically, it was Bennett being proud that another Canadian defended the right of the Centre for Inquiry to speak out for Raif. Feel free to follow the trail of indirections on your own. Scribble it out on napkin with a graph, if you want clarity.

Doing a quick survey of Bennett's Twitter feed, I found a couple of retweets of Michael De Dora -- who is doing visible work -- as well (one, two). That's pretty good, I guess. I've been known to retweet other people's stuff too. Only takes a click.

Bennett has also seductively dangled supportive generalizations at the end of paragraphs as well. I'm afraid that I've already been unimpressed with his comments in the United Church Observer.
If we don’t have religious freedom in society, it’s very hard to also have freedom of expression, freedom of association. All these different human rights are linked together. When we look at freedom of religion, it’s the freedom to openly — publicly or privately — profess your faith. It’s the freedom to engage in public worship in peace and security. It’s the freedom to engage in missionary activity. And here’s the real acid test: does a country allow people to freely convert to another faith? Conversely, does it not force them to change their faith? There must also be an understanding that people should be able to not have religious faith.

Interview with the United Church Observer from 09.2014
He did say this during comments at a Toronto area talk, though. So I cannot fault him completely -- this was good. Too bad it was the comments to some speech and not an official press release or a television interview or in a major newspaper or a blurb on his website. Demanding aren't I?
In an obvious sense, the immediate objective for much of our advocacy work is to speak the truth about the plight of individuals and persecuted religious groups, to help build support for efforts that will alleviate their suffering. Including those persecuted for the choice not to adhere to a religious belief or to openly disagree with the established belief.
To be fair, he also said something similar in another speech in Warsaw. I guess this is good, but who actually sees any of this? You really need to dig and it doesn't help that his website seems not to mention any of this at all.

The CFI release points out that Bennett does believe in freedom to believe in a non-religious philosophy. Although, he seems to miss the point that for many people in this world -- including many people in North America who are literally recovering from religion  -- that people must have freedom from religion.
Ambassador Bennett informed us that he believes “freedom of religion must incorporate the freedom to not have a religious belief,” and while he does not believe in freedom from religion, does feel that people must have “the freedom to embrace a non-religious set of beliefs or philosophy.”
I'm not sure what to make of that. For those of us who have had religion crammed down our throats in our youth and see religion as a net positive harm for the world, freedom from religion is essential. It's actually something not to be dismissed -- many of us were indoctrinated as children and much of our lives were spent actively fighting for our own freedom from our childhood religions.

Here are the topics covered in the meeting.

  • ORF’s “The Religious Freedom Fund”
  • ORF’s duty to speak out against all faith-based discrimination, harassment, torture and human rights violations
  • Canada’s Blasphemy law (Criminal Code Section 296) and its symbolic relationship to blasphemy laws in other states (the blasphemy law is a domestic matter not within the purview of the ORF)
  • CFI Canada’s project to respond to international atheists seeking our support in repressive regimes
  • Work that CFI, HC and ORF can do together to provide education on freedom from religion

Good for the CFI and Humanist Canada. These are all worthy and they are the right groups to discuss it. If the ORF helped out with any of these, we may get concrete results.
Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director of CFI Canada said, “This was an important and constructive meeting. As educational charities and the leading voices for Canada’s atheist, secular humanist and humanist community – we must do all that we can to develop relationships within our movement and with government agencies such as the Office of Religious Freedom to ensure that our community is not left out.  Ambassador Bennett continues to work with us toward concrete outcomes from our working relationship.  I look forward to the work we will do together to ensure that the human rights of non-believer minorities are defended as rigorously as religious minorities.”
Still waiting for those concrete outcomes! Still waiting!

I understand that it makes more sense to build bridges than walls. So, I praise the CFI and Humanist Canada for meeting with the Office of Religious Freedom. It's also nice that Andrew Bennett has accepted another meeting.

However, I cannot help but remain skeptical and disappointed in the Office. It still seems to me like they're hardly even trying. When it comes to people (not philosophies) being in peril for their lack of religious belief across this globe, it really seems to be that groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Atheist Alliance International, International Humanist and Ethical Union and the Center For Inquiry are superior human rights watchdogs and are more effective at engaging people over social media.