Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Saudi Arabia: A Real Human Rights 'Fixer Upper'


Today, Saudi Arabia stepped timidly into the 20th century, not only are women allowed to vote - assuming they can get their menfolk to drive them to the ballots - but they can now run for office too. I'm not sure whether or not these candidates required approval from their husbands first. I'll just go out on a limb here and guess 'yes.'

In fact, time constraints forbade me from covering the recent news about Loujain Al-Hathloul, about whom I wrote earlier this year. She was thrown into jail for operating a motor vehicle in Saudi Arabia - thankfully they didn't suspect her of witchcraft or they would have killed her. Now she is running in this first election open to women in the hopes of improving women's rights in the country.

Critics think it's a ruse.
Critics argue the inclusive election is an empty gesture by the government, meant to avert media attention from the broad range of women's rights violations that persist within the kingdom.
Whatever the situation, it turns out that 19 women have won, but the report is not telling me who. I wish her the best of luck - one would think the only way possible is up; but the Saudi government has really surprised us all with their extraordinary ability to take a terrible human rights violation and turn it into an horrendous one.

To be honest, I've always admired people who have mastered IDGAF (I don't give a fuck), but the Saudi leadership have truly taken this to such an extraordinary level, that I've come to think that they do actually give fucks. They just do not understand human rights at all. If you're ignorant to the whole concept of freedom of speech and expression then you will not give a fuck about these - you may still give a fuck about how everyone else on the planet is reacting and get really confused and upset at them too.

What am I rambling about? Oh, I'm sorry, I've changed the topic to Raif Badawi.

The week before last week, the Swiss ambassador to Saudi Arabia dropped a hint that the Saudis were preparing a pardon for Raif, who made the horrible mistake of blogging his opinions in a freedom of expression free zone - (the entire kingdom seems this way).
A Swiss newspaper is reporting that imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi could have his sentence of 1,000 lashes suspended, but Amnesty International has yet to confirm the news.

The Swiss Secretary of Foreign Affairs Yves Rossier told the Fribourg daily newspaper La Liberté that Badawi's sentence was suspended.

"A royal pardon is in the works thanks to the head of state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud," he said.
Haha! Just kidding! The Saudis really played a funny prank on Mr. Rossier there, right? It turns out that just days before International Human Rights Day - how festive! - Saudi officials moved Badawi into a super isolated prison, which is apparently the sort of place they stick people whose appeals are all over.

Oh, and the situation is so grave, that after years of confinement, Badawi has begun a hunger strike too.
Raif Badawi has today began a hunger strike as The Saudi Prison administration has transferred him to a new isolated prison.

The prison administration has transferred Raif to the notorious ‘Shabbat Central’, located in a deserted and isolated area – around 87 km from Jeddah City.

This prison is designed for prisoners whose verdicts have been confirmed with a final Adjudication. The Saudi government has repeatedly declared that Raif’s case is under review and is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.

We express our surprise at this decision especially after the Swiss Secretary of Foreign Affairs Yves Rossier announcement on 28 November that a royal pardon is in the works. And we are very alarmed at the prison administration decision to transfer Raif to the Shabbat Central and fear it may lead to the resumption of his flogging.

As a result of this decision, Raif started on Tuesday a hunger trike and we hold the prison administration responsible for any harm that Raif may suffer.

We take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman to act on his promises and pardon my husband, end his and his family’s ordeal and unite him with his wife and children.
Incidentally, Raif is diabetic. So if you think hunger strikes suck, then you better believe they really suck if you can pass out and die easily when your blood sugar levels go wonky because... you're diabetic. It's no joke, this could kill him - and I'm not entirely sure if the Saudi officials really care that much.

What can you do?  I guess you could start by signing this petition to Justin Trudeau. Don't bother trying to talk to the Saudi embassy, they're not listening.

You can go here and see other things you can do.

Again, congratulations to the newly elected in Saudi Arabia. If they want to improve human rights and equality - they've got their work cut out for them.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Joint Letter to PM: Refugee Status For Bangladesh Secular Blogger & Petition You Can Sign


Awhile ago, I posted about the violent attacks on Bangladeshi secular bloggers in Dhaka on Halloween day. One of the bloggers, who's head was hacked, is Tareq Rahim. His wife, Monika Mistry is right here in Montreal. She is a Canadian citizen who is now in agony wondering if she will ever see her husband again alive.
Mistry had spoken with her husband just four hours before a friend in London, England called her in the middle of the night to let her know about the attack.

She said she feels powerless to be on the other side of the world while her husband is fighting for his life. Mistry, a Bangladeshi who came to Canada in 2006 and now lives in Montreal with her daughter from a previous marriage, said she can’t afford to go back to Bangladesh to be with Rahim.

“I can’t be there. I can’t see him, I can’t touch him, I can’t hear from him,” the 37-year-old woman said, struggling to keep her composure.
Tareq comes from a Muslim family, Monika from a Hindu one. As far as I can tell, neither were atheists - both are people who believe in secularism, like the readers of this blog. Now Tareq is asking for refugee status in Canada. He obviously requires this because who knows who's outside the hospital waiting.

The very first thing you can do is sign this petition and share it!


CFI Canada is calling on the government to take action and offer asylum to Tareq. The fact is that Tareq was in the process of obtaining legal entrance into Canada when the attack occurred  because he understood his life was at risk.
The Centre for Inquiry (CFI) Canada, a non-profit education organization, is leading calls for the newly elected Trudeau government to intervene in the case.

“CFI Canada is making an appeal to the Canadian government, and certainly Justin Trudeau, to ask for some compassionate support for someone who would have likely been coming to Canada if they hadn’t been attacked by terrorists before getting a chance to do that,” said Executive Director Eric Adriaans.
A letter has been written and signed on by 17 groups and individuals. You can find the full press release over at CFI Canada. I'm including the full text of the letter to Justin Trudeau and others in the text box below:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

November 13, 2015

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Re : Joint Statement Calling on the Canadian Government to Provide Humanitarian Assistance to Secularists in Bangladesh

We, the undersigned organizations and concerned supporters, urgently call on the Canadian government to act on behalf of one of its citizens, Monika Mistry, to help her Bangladeshi husband recover in safety from a brutal attack he suffered in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

On October 31, 2015, Tareq Rahim, an intellectual, poet and blogger, was attacked with two of his colleagues by a group of suspected Islamists wielding machetes and cleavers. Just hours later a secular publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipan, was hacked to death in his Dhaka office; he is the fifth secularist to be killed in Bangladesh this year. Ansar al-Islam (Ansarullah Bangla Team), a local affiliate of al-Qaeda, has taken credit for the attacks.

Tareq and Monika have a mixed-faith relationship and had plans to enjoy their marriage here in Canada once they were able to complete Immigration Canada’s paperwork. We implore the Canadian government to assist Tareq and Monika to expedite this process on appropriate grounds and expedite the necessary processes to bring Tareq to Canada to recover from this brutal attack in safety.

Currently, Tareq remains in hospital with a bullet lodged in his abdomen that doctors have been unable to remove. Even in the hospital, Tareq has minimal security and we fear his attackers will return to repeat their attack. While there is some security in the hospital, once Tareq is discharged he will be at a very high risk of continued attempts on his life and likely faces assassination.

The attacks on October 31 are just the latest incidents of faith-based violence committed against the vulnerable religious minority, secularists, in Bangladesh this year. Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Neel and Faisal Arefin Dipan were all secular writers, publishers and activists who spoke out against religious extremism and had repeatedly received death threats for their writings. They were associated with a “hit-list” of 84 atheist bloggers submitted to the Bangladeshi government that was subsequently leaked in 2013 prior to their murders by members of Islamic groups in Bangladesh. Since then, two new global hit-lists have been published by Ansarullah Bangla Team, a group of Bangladeshi Islamic extremists that targets Bangladeshi secularists both in country and around the world. Currently, 20 or more secularists and humanists have been forced to flee into exile out of fear for their lives, but the global hit-list ensures that the threats against them are not restricted to Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh’s current political climate, these gruesome, faith-based crimes continue with no end in sight and impunity increases for those already committed. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina and the ruling Awami League party, which claim to be secular, have done little to speak out for justice in these crimes and have taken no steps to protect this targeted group.

Diplomatic relations between Canada and Bangladesh were built upon shared values of democracy and pluralism, placing Canada in a unique position to remind the Bangladeshi government of its duty to protect all of its citizens. We urge the Canadian government to convince Prime Minister Hasina and the Awami League party that turning a blind eye to the gruesome, hacking deaths of its own citizens for political expediency only strengthens religious extremism. The Bangladeshi government must not allow political interests to trump the rule of law.

Before these latest attacks on October 31, over 300 human rights organizations, civil society organizations and supporters, and concerned members of blogging and activist communities in Bangladesh and internationally had already protested in the strongest possible terms the institutional attack on Bangladeshi citizens who profess humanist, atheist or secularist views.

In Canada, we have already reached out individually to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; The Honorable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; The Honorable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Robert McDougall, High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh; Honorable Frank Baylis, Member of Parliament Pierrefonds-Dollars; and Mr. Andrew Bennett, Ambassador for Religious Freedom. 

The undersigned Canadian and supportive international organizations and individuals are now standing in unity and adding their voices to the outcry. However, it is even more important for the Canadian government to show compassion for its citizen, Monika Mistry, by helping her injured husband and by working to end tolerance of faith-based violence in Bangladesh.

Canadians are privileged to enjoy a peaceful, tolerant and culturally diverse society and we are proud of our country’s history in accepting people of all faiths – and those without a faith – and those who are fleeing persecution. Canada must take its place as a global leader in providing protection for persecuted religious minorities around the world.

We implore the Canadian government to continue to stand up for traditional Canadian values and to make Canada a safe destination for those facing persecution for their views. Please help us to expeditiously reunite Tareq Rahim with his wife while he recovers from this brutal assault of faith-based terrorism.

Signed, Eric Adriaans, National Executive Director – Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC)
Kevin Smith, Board Chair – CFIC Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director – British Columbia Humanist Association
Brendan de Caires, Programs & Communications Director – PEN Canada 
Eric Thomas, President – Humanist Canada 
Michel Virard, Association humaniste du Québec
Sean McGuire, atheist Writer & Editor My Secret Atheist Blog
Veronica Abbass, Editor Canadian Atheist
Andrew Copson, President – International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
Richard Thain, Canadian secularist activist and citizen
Randy Bowes, Board Chair – West Hill United Church
Board of Directors – Humanists Atheists Agnostics of Manitoba
David Rand – Libres penseurs athées – Atheist Freethinkers
Rafida Ahmed Bonya & Administrators of the Mukto Mona Blog Site 
Center For Inquiry U.S.
Christine Shellska – President – Atheist Alliance International
Progressive Atheists Inc (Australia)
Canadian Humanist Publications

Cc
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition
The Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Citizenship Immigration and Refugees
The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Member of Parliament Sturgeon River – Parkland
The Honourable Thomas Mulcair, Member of Parliament Outremont
The Honourable Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament Saanich-Gulf Islands
The Honourable Frank Baylis, Member of Parliament Pierrefonds-Dollard

You'll find another simpler sample letter at a previous post I did about Tareq's situation along with ways to contact your politicians.

(Image source)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Iranian Actresses Forced to Flee Country After Posting Photos of Themselves Without Hijabs

One of the immoral pictures from Sadaf Taherian's Instagram (left) vs an pre-controversy photo (right).
You may have listened to the last episode of My Secret Atheist Podcast, where Aki Muthali gave her very strong opinion on the hijab. This story does really drive home the fact that, regardless of the situation in western secular democracies like Canada, in Muslim theocracies like Iran, women have no choice. They must wear this head covering.

Actress Sadaf Taherian learned this the hard way a couple of weeks ago. She decided to post some pictures of herself not wearing a hijab onto her Facebook and Instagram accounts. In several photos she is wearing workout clothes or midriff showing shirts - but this wasn't what ticked off the Iranian government.
Iran’s regime has joined the campaign against a leading actress who released photographs of herself without a veil, questioning the woman's mental balance and calling her an "offender".

Sadaf Taherian was forced to flee to the United Arab Emirates last week after being criticised for publishing pictures on social media showing her without the traditional Muslim head covering, or hijab.
This prompted another Iranian actress, Chakame Chamanmah, to post this veiless picture in support of Sadaf (among others). Now it is believed that Chakame has also fled Iran.

Chakame Chamanmah
The Iranian government has this to say:
The ministry of culture and lslamic guidance in Tehran announced that neither woman would be allowed to act and both should repent. “As far as this ministry is concerned, these two individuals are no longer considered to be artists any more and do not have any right to act,” said Hossein Noushabadi, a spokesman.

“Both of them have to apologise to the Iranian people and publicly announce that the reason behind publishing their photos on social media is that they suffer from lack of esteem and have psychological and personal complexes.”
Islamic guidance indeed. This is what happens when you live in a theocracy.  The article goes on to say that both women would certainly be prosecuted legally in some fashion should they return to Iran.

In a recent interview with IranWire, Sadaf expressed her dismay with Iranian law and suppression of human rights.
I wish they had more respect for a woman’s choice. Where in the world do you get famous by taking off your headscarf? If you are talking about our own country Iran, then you know that the current system trembles when it sees a few strands of a woman’s hair — and prevents you from working in cinema and achieving fame. Besides, if taking off your headscarf gets you noticed, then why does it not happen to other women who publish similar pictures on their pages?
Furthermore:
Posting photographs is one the simplest things you can do online and I give nobody the right to react this way and then expect me to remain silent. Besides me, there are many women, including actresses, who post such pictures. Unfortunately, Iranian law does not permit them to live the way they want to live. I did this in another country, where I have freedom and the right to choose. I pity people who play the role of the Morality Patrol for the Ministry of Guidance. Each person is responsible for her own life. Those who frighten me about Judgment Day better think about themselves and ask God’s forgiveness for the accusations and the libelous comments they make.
And:
Each person has a different way of thinking. You cannot compare them with each other. I want to live in the way I like. As a human being, I want to have my basic rights, such as freedom of expression and the freedom to wear what I want. I want to be free to decide for myself.
The interview is well worth the read.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

PM Trudeau Needs to Stand Up For Human Rights


Justin Trudeau has been really busy lately getting elected prime minister and filling his cabinet (with politicians) and getting sworn in and stuff. So I'll let it slide for now that he hasn't mentioned anything recently about Raif Badawi or those dead and almost dead Bangladeshi secular bloggers.

Now, though, he really should start championing human rights and perhaps he should listen to the lawyers over at Lawyers Without Borders.
On the eve of the government's swearing-in, the advocacy group's executive director, Pascal Paradis, held a joint news conference in Montreal with the imprisoned Saudi blogger's wife, Ensaf Haidar.

"Raif Badawi's case is important," Paradis said. "It should rank among the priorities of the new foreign affairs minister, starting Thursday."

"Mr. Trudeau himself has been on Twitter, saying that Canada will stand alongside Raif Badawi."
Remember, you need not like lawyers, but you should always listen to them and try to figure out what they're saying.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that not everyone likes letters in the mail. You see, letters in the mail always thrill me but the Saudis are not interested in 'annoying' unsolicited human rights activists delivering thirty thousand letters in support of Raif Badawi's release.
Supporters of Raif Badawi found themselves up against the closed doors of Saudi Arabia’s embassy Monday as they tried unsuccessfully to deliver 31,000 letters demanding the imprisoned blogger’s release. 
The letters came from 20 different countries - guaranteed to have a wide array of interesting stamps! - but the Saudi embassy just wasn't into it. Perhaps they lack enough letter openers to deal with the volume? Although, Amnesty International is able to sum up the contents of these letters nicely for them in an executive summary if only they would listen.
Vaugrante called it “extremely disappointing, even alarming” that the embassy would not accept the letters, and wondered if it meant communication channels were becoming more rigid. 
My guess is that Saudi officials just don't give a fuck about human rights or freedom of expression. In fact, I really am wondering if they understand the concept at all.

If you would like information on how to reach our new PM, check out a previous post.

(Image source)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

CFI Ottawa to Protest Resumption of Raif Badawi's Flogging

Raif Badawi
You've probably heard by now that the Saudis intent on resuming flogging Raif Badawi - a man thrown into prison and beaten simply for blogging about human rights and critiquing the Saudi monarchy.

If you're near Ottawa tomorrow, you can help CFI Ottawa protest this sickening turn of events in front of the Saudi embassy.
Monday, November 2, 2015 - 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Saudi Arabia Embassy
201 Sussex, Ottawa, ON (map)
Badawi also won the Sakharov human rights prize - the most prestigious human rights award the of the European Union.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year the prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege.

Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by political groups or by at least 40 MEPs. Based on the nominations, the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists. After that the Conference of Presidents, made up of the EP President and the leaders of the political groups, select the winner.
During the announcement, European Parliament President Martin Schulz did what Justin Trudeau ought to do soon: denounce the brutal torture and jailing of Badawi.
“The conference of Presidents decided that the Sakharov Prize will go to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi,” said Schulz announcing the 2015 laureate in plenary. “This man, who is an extremely good man and an exemplary good man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties that exist in this country which can only be described as brutal torture." The EP President added: “I call on King of Saudi Arabia to stop the execution of this sentence, to release Mr Badawi, to allow him to back to his wife and to allow him to travel here for the December session to receive this prize."
Consider going to the protest and, at the very least, tweeting to Justin Trudeau.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Can We Just Try For a Fair Secular Solution?


Today's election day. Once again, much like the Quebec election, I find myself stuck in the middle of two positions. Both sides likely do not understand me. Both sides likely find me annoying.

It has to do with women swearing an oath of citizenship wearing niqabs. That should be the limits of the debate here in Canada, but of course people have taken things and they've run with it. The issue itself has been distorted all to hell.

Here's the deal. I'm actually fine with women (or men) wearing niqabs, Pastafarian spaghetti strainers, Wiccan ritual outfits, giraffe suits, Storm Trooper costumes or even garbage bags to citizenship ceremonies. I have no ill will towards women wearing niqabs, burkas, hijabs or chadors. I think this point of view is shared by many Canadians.

People who get offended by the above point of view because Jedi and Pastafarianism are not a real religions while they've got a legit one can eat it. That's part of this tolerance I keep hearing about. It works both ways.

In return for allowing all people to wear face concealing head coverings, Muslim women and ultra orthodox Jewish women (coverings for these do exist) will be able to wear their garbs in citizenship ceremonies. As Canadians, we can all get together and figure out what's required to facilitate this new right for all Canadians regardless of religion or lack thereof. Maybe it will involve a special room to the side where a government employee will validate the person's identity. Perhaps it will involve a special notary public. Perhaps retina scanning technology will be used. There are many many options.

This would not be religious accommodation, this would be head garb accommodation.

I'll also stop people right here who say that this will cause too much extra spending and would propose that the government stop funding religious magazines to pay the few extra salaries required. Honestly, we have the money to settle this debate in a permanent and truly secular fashion.

This is my dream: Secular government sees that a significant proportion of their citizenship wants to wear stuff on their heads to citizenship ceremonies. Government says that if one group wants this right then all groups get it. It's like when little Billy brought his chocolate bar into class - all the kids get some. It's only fair, children.

There is also a dark side to this debate though. On the one hand, you have people who are truly xenophobic and bigoted who are against Muslims. On the other, you have ex-Muslims and other progressives who point out, rightly, that in many countries - including Muslim communities within Canada - girls and women are forced to wear these coverings and that is oppressive. On a third hand, you have progressives who seem completely blind to this oppression.

I say, let's take the wind out of the issue by allowing everyone to wear what they like and then concentrate on different ways to combat religiously motivated oppression. Mandatory multi-religion courses and broad social studies in schools is one way, for instance. This includes realistic sex education - which address perfectly healthy realities like homosexuality and trans folk - like what all the hullabaloo is about in Ontario.

Listen, I'd love to see Harper go. I'll take the NDP as first and the Liberals as second. Issues like the TPP, assisted dying, abortion rights, healthcare, not making 15B dollar arms deals with Saudi Arabia, unmuzzling scientists, decriminalisation of cannabis, and secularism are important to me and I hope we see a little more of this.

Sadly, I'm not holding my breath for a fair and reasonable solution to this problem from any of these parties.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Conservative Government Effectively Screening Syrian Refugees Based On Religion


The Syrian refugee crisis is a tragedy of nearly unparallelled proportions. So, the Conservative government originally made a goal to bring in 1,300 people. Unfortunately, they missed their goal because they insisted on privatizing the whole process by requesting that private sponsors help foot the bill - this is code word for churches.  

See, the only private groups that can step in in any reasonable number to bring in refugees just happen to be religious groups. Anyway, it didn't work.
When the government first committed to accepting 1,300 Syrian refugees, only 200 were supposed to have been government-assisted. However, Canada ended up more than doubling that number and sponsoring 434 refugees when not enough private sponsors came forward quickly enough.

These 434 were referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and therefore were not selected based on religion or ethnicity.
Now the government could have easily sponsored these refugees itself, but the privatization of this process had two effects which must have been appealing to the Conservatives. Firstly, it appeals to the whole idea of economic privatization (they love that) and secondly - although CFI Canada is trying - the only groups who are currently in a position to be private sponsors just so happen to be churchers ... mainly Christian ones.
"Maybe the government looked at this and concluded it was churches who are best organized to do private sponsorship. Thus, since the government is putting emphasis on ... private sponsorship rather than UNHCR refugees sponsored by the government, maybe they told themselves, 'They're mostly Christians,"' suggested Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR).

Last December, the CCR and other organizations denounced Ottawa's intention to privilege certain refugees on the basis of religion.

"This type of practice runs counter to fundamental principles of refugee protection," said CCR president Loly Rico. "The refugees must be selected for resettlement on the basis of need." 
Of course, the Harper government doesn't care one bit what groups like this think. They are playing up to their evangelical and Christian base. Because the UNHCR does not consider the religion of the refugees when determining their need, the government is turning to churches to bring over as many (just so happen to be Christian) refugees as possible.

They just raised their new goal to 10,000 refugees this year.
The Conservative government is counting on private sponsorship to ensure that the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has promised to accept between now and next September will be first and foremost Christians, Druze, Kurds and other minorities it wishes to prioritize.
According to the article, only 1,100 refugees have made it over so far this year. The pace needs to pick up if the government really cares about making their goal and helping people based on their needs rather than on their creeds.
"If an established group decides to sponsor a Muslim, nothing in the law allows the government to not take up the file or to refuse it because the person is the wrong religion," said Dench.
Naturally, atheists in Syria are at terrible risk - within their country and in many of the countries in the Gulf region. They also are not the right religion.

(Image source)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Discussion: "Not Just Another Niqab and Burka Article"


Niqabs, hijabs, chadors, and burkas seem to be in the news again as the election heats up. To be honest, I've tended to avoid this issue. I wish we would just start taxing churches, temples and mosques indiscriminately like any other building.

This said, I'm okay with face revealing chadors and hijabs when government ID is required, but niqabs and burkas would require that either the State hire special female face checkers or else some form of reasonable accommodation by the women themselves to the State by revealing their faces.

And naturally, any judgement here would need to also apply to Pastafarians! They wear headgear more revealing than all four of the above and is worn for religious reasons and yet it is not allowed! Why?

I will soon have Eiynah Nicemangos onto the podcast who has some strong feelings regarding this issue.

Another person with opinions on this is fellow Canadian Atheist blogger Veronica Abbass. She has published an interesting article over at the Atheist Freethinkers blog.

Abbass sent me some background on the blog. Atheist Freethinkers/Libres penseurs athées (AFT/LPA) is a fully bilingual (French & English) organization based in Montreal, Quebec committed to “reason, knowledge and the material, intellectual and moral advancement of humanity.” AFT/LPA’s raisons d'être are to “promote secularism and reject any religious involvement in civil institutions.”

From Abbass’ latest article, “Not Just Another Niqab and Burka Article,”:
Raheel Raza’s Toronto Sun article “Ban niqab, burka in all public places” and reprinted in Huffington Post Canada as “As a Muslim, I Think Canada Should Ban the Niqab and Burka in Public” is extremely annoying.
Go give it a read to find out why Abbass finds Raheel Raza’s article “annoying.” Then let the discussion begin.

Read and sign the Atheist Manifesto and join AFT/LPA.

Be counted: Sign Atheist Census Canada and the Atheist Alliance International Atheist Census.

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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Guest Post from Veronica Abbass: We Will Fight!


The following is a short guest post from fellow blogger Veronica Abbass, who writes over at Canadian Atheist.

I write this in a safe place: my own house, in my city and in my country. Other bloggers are not so fortunate:
In the past two years, about 10 secular bloggers and their supporters have been killed by religious extremists in Bangladesh because of their writings criticizing religious extremism.

In response to the threats and violence, some have moved abroad.
However, despite the "hitlist of secular bloggers, writers and activists around the world" issued by the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamic militant group in Bangladesh, the secular bloggers are determined to fight against the threat to their lives. Ajanta Deb Roy, a London-based activist with Bangladesh’s Gonojagoron Mancho or National Awakening Platform, has promised,
'We will fight'
“They want us to move away from the path of activism. None of our fellow activists, many of whom are bloggers, will come out from our way of activism. Until our last breath, we will fight for the sake of secularism, freethinking, human rights and religious tolerance."
In a July 1 post on this website, Sean McGuire reflected, how lucky I am to live in a country where it's (still) possible to safely blog about atheism,  the dangers of religion and state-church separation issues. If we were not so lucky, would we be so brave as Bangladeshi blogger Ananya Azad, now living in Germany?
“They want me to stop writing. But I am dead sure that in no situation I can stop writing. With my secular and rationalist belief I shall keep on writing as long as I am alive."

I honestly don't know.

Veronica Abbass is a self-described atheist activist who blogs at Canadian Atheist.

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Monday, 28 September 2015

Saudi Foreign Minister: We Have Right Not to Follow Any (LGBT Rights) Agenda That Runs "Counter to Islamic Law"

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir
Well now that the UN has elected Saudi ambassador Faisal Trad to chair the UN Human Rights Council panel, they had better get right on the terrible human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and perhaps speak up against Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel Al-Jubeir:
Saudi Arabia has protested any references to homosexuality in a new UN development program, saying it is "counter to Islamic law." Punishments for those engaging in same-sex relationships in the absolute monarchy are brutal, such as being stoned to death.
Trends

The protest was made by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who told the UN General Assembly that "mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman,” AP reported.

He stated that Saudi Arabia had the right not to follow any agenda that runs "counter to Islamic law."
Well there you go. I wonder what Faisal Trad's panel's recommendations could be regarding the situation in Saudi Arabia and their obvious lack of any respect whatsoever for basic human rights or international law?

Well, I'm certain this will all play out perfectly fine.

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Friday, 25 September 2015

AJ+ Releases Great Video About Saudi Arabia Heading UN Human Rights Panel



Here's a great video by Al Jazeera (AJ+) that sums up who stands to lose now that Saudi Arabia is heading the UN Human Rights Panel. Remember you can sign a petition against this here.

Saudi Arabia to Head UN Human-Rights Panel
Saudi Arabia has been picked to head a UN human-rights panel. Perhaps these people would disagree with that choice.
Posted by AJ+ on Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sign This Petition to Get Saudi Arabia Off UN Human Rights Council


My post yesterday about Saudi Arabia being appointed a key role within the UN Human Rights Council was mainly a vent. It didn't have anything you could actually do about this situation.

Well, I still don't have much, but I do have this petition to remove Saudi Arabia from the panel altogether.

It was started just two days ago and has already amassed over 11,000 signatures.

(Image source)

Monday, 21 September 2015

UN Human Rights Council Shamefully Sells Out

Ensaf Haidar and UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer in Sherbooke, QC.
Remember when I felt ill because the UN was totally cool with Saudi Arabia hosting that human rights summit for the UN Human Rights Council over the summer? Well, it turns out that they've given the panel over to the Saudis. I wonder how much that cost this country, with some of the most epic human rights violations in the world?
The United Nations is coming under fire for handing Saudi Arabia a key human rights role even though the Kingdom has “arguably the worst record in the world” on freedoms for women, minorities and dissidents.

Critics, including the wife of imprisoned pro-democracy blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1000 lashes for blogging about free speech – say that the appointment is “scandalous” and means that “oil trumps human rights”.

Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is leading an international campaign to free her husband, said on Facebook that handing the role to Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, was effectively “a green light to start flogging [him] again”.
This just literally makes me want to puke. Here's an example of how things may go with the Saudis in charge.


It really does make me lose all faith in the UN and their so-called mandate to protect human rights. It really does seem like they are weak willed and pathetic on this front.
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said that the appointment, made in June but unreported until now, may have been a consolation prize for the Saudis after they withdrew their bid to head the 47-nation council following international condemnation of the kingdom’s human rights record.

The Saudis’ bid emerged shortly after it posted a job advertisement for eight new executioners, to cope with what Amnesty International branded a “macabre spike” in the use of capital punishment, including beheadings, this year.
We really need to get off oil. Until this happens, you can expect more farcical displays of spinelessness like this one.

The UN is no friend of human rights nor secularists like the jailed Raif Badawi, who's wife, Ensaf Haidar, posted:

The International Community Give A Saudi Green Light To Start flogging #RaifBadawi again
Posted by Raif Badawi on Sunday, 20 September 2015
It really looks like we can no longer take the UNHRC seriously. Perhaps we could hold a fundraiser and buy them back somehow?

Read more about this over at the UN Watch blog.

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Friday, 18 September 2015

CFI Canada Expresses Strong Concerns About Proposed 'Anti-Hate' Bill 59


CFI Canada has an excellent post on their blog where they break down what they find disturbing about the proposed Quebec Bill 59, which I've expressed concerned about as well as Jerry Coyne, who is rightly calling it an anti-blasphemy law.

Essentially, the Bill attempts to introduce more severe punishments for hate speech along with a permanent registry of haters that could be accessed by the public. This might not seem too bad at first glance, but the problem is that the legislation seems to be leaving the determination of what does constitute hate speech to the province's human rights commission - rather than the existing criminal code. As I've written before, the head of the commission is a political activist with an agenda to quell any criticism of religion - more specifically Islam.

Even at least three prominent Muslim groups are concerned about the legislation and how the registry could potentially destroy the lives of people - both Muslim and non-Muslim.

After breaking down the reasons for their concern, the CFI concludes:
Bill 59 is a problematic proposal which implements measures that may easily be abused or misused by groups interested to stifle criticism of religion or religious figures. It is important to investigate not only the interplay between sections of the act itself, but also their effect-on and interaction-with the other legislation.  For example, this proposed legislation is subject to precedents and definitions established in prior rulings by The Supreme Court of Canada and other relevant federal legislation.  These legal precedents would be sources on such matters as the definition and scope of hate speech.

Another example of the problematic complexity of this proposed bill is in the interplay of the separate section.  If a person or organization is accused through Sections 2 and/or 3 and has their name added to the list described in Section 17, how might that relate to Section 24′s notation that the organization or person may be “considered to exhibit behaviour that could reasonable pose a threat for the physical or emotional safety of the students.”?
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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Richard Dawkins Weighs In Against Quebec "Anti-Hate" Bill-59


Back in August, I expressed my grave concerns with a proposed piece of anti-hate legislation here in Quebec, Bill 59. The main problem was its utter failure to define what hate speech was. Instead it left it up to committee - which on its own is the ultimate evil.
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.
That's pretty scary, because these folks aren't Supreme Court judges. In fact, the head of this commission wants to stamp out anti-Islamic speech.
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.”
Yes, this is really an anti-blasphemy law. And furthermore...
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.
We're talking about countries like Saudi Arabia, here.

So today Richard Dawkins expressed his concern as well... as only Richard can.
Okay, so like many of Dawkins' previous tweets, I do not give him points for tact. I'd also like to point out that although this Frémont seems to be taking his cue from the OIC, several Muslim groups in Quebec have expressed the very same concerns I have about the bill's lax definition of hate speech. So the only people who seem to like this are the extremists.

Still, it's nice to see Dawkins shining an international light on this situation. Hopefully this new level of scrutiny will kill this pernicious bill, which as Kyle Shideler in the somewhat dubious looking right wing Town Hall website (to which Dawkins links) reminds us:
In 2013, the Canadian parliament moved to end scrutiny of Internet speech by its Human Right Commissions when it abolished the infamous Section 13, of Canada’s Human Rights Act. The elimination of that odious and censorious clause followed a successful campaign given voice by Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant after the two were targeted for writings and publications which reportedly “offending” Muslims.

But like a zombie rising from the grave, the idea of censoring “blasphemous” speech, continues to come back, no matter how dead it may have appeared.
Indeed, this is not an anti-hate bill, it is an anti-blasphemy bill with teeth. Fines of up to 10,000$ can be levied and you can have your name put onto a permanent public registry as a hater.

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Dear Canadians: I Really Think We Need to Vote Them Out

Canadian designed and built LAV III by General Dynamics (source)
Hey guys! I've been having what's called a social life lately, which has been stealing precious time from what can be termed as family and household obligations, which has been offsetting all of my precious blogging time. It's disgusting, and revolting and just not at all fair - I know - and I promise it will all come to a screeching end soon - as it always does.

Until my successful social life implodes, however, I will occasionally come up for air. In this instance, I implore you, my readership, to do just one thing this October. If you're Canadian, please vote against Stephen Harper this election. Practically this means voting Liberal or NDP. This is important because this Harper Government is basically evil - the evidence is out.

The examples are legion, but here's one I'll talk about now.
Ottawa is contractually obliged to keep secret the details of a controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia – a transaction that Stephen Harper personally assured the country’s monarch will be guaranteed by the Canadian government, documents say.

Foreign Affairs e-mails obtained by The Globe and Mail under access-to-information law indicate the Saudis have made excess publicity about the sale of armoured fighting vehicles a deal-breaker.
I've written about this foul and putrid deal here and here. Other governments are doing similar things, but we're Canadian and we're supposed to be peaceful. My father didn't get killed while hitchhiking through Egypt and Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 partly because he had a big Canadian flag sewn to his backpack. At gunpoint, they saw it and happily commented on the beautiful lakes in Ontario just before not killing him. Yes, Canada meant something.
A cloak of secrecy surrounds this agreement, first announced in 2014, with Ottawa refusing to divulge any substantial information on the vehicles Canada is selling to the Saudi regime – or how it justifies the sale to a nation known for human-rights abuses.
This is the same government that launched our Office of Religious Freedom. The hypocrisy here is so thick that I am gagging and hope to not vomit all over my keyboard. This new office is part of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs. The ORF's head, Andrew Bennett publicly denounced the treatment of secular blogger Raif Badawi by the barbaric Kingdom of Saud before his first flogging.

Of course, they know how unpopular and, well, immoral, this deal is. Both sides are keeping as quiet as possible.
In another government e-mail exchange in January of 2015, Brigette Walenius, deputy director with Foreign Affairs' Middle East-Maghreb Commercial Unit, cited General Dynamics officials who spoke of a “confidentiality clause in their contract with the Saudis” and how Riyadh “could terminate [the] contract if too much info is released.”
Must keep all this hush hush or else how will we be able to feed on the revolting blood money flowing in. If we don't take the money, someone else will, right? Best to keep all this human rights business out.

It turns out that the Conservative government is jumping with glee and smacking their salivating lips just thinking about all those wonderful LAVs (light armoured vehicles) they will sell a nation that chops people's heads off for practicing witchcraft. 
The Canadian ambassador ends this e-mail with a jubilant expression “Gotta LOV the LAV!” but not before sketching out some bare-bones details.

He wrote that General Dynamics “have been chasing” the contract since 2009 and it’s a boon for the plant in London, Ont., because the company’s work on LAVs for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan was wrapping up as the Canadian combat mission ended in 2011. These new orders will “replace the decline from Canada’s Afghanistan withdrawal,” Mr. MacDonald said in his e-mail.

The ambassador wrote that the LAVs “are going to be ‘fully loaded,’” that they would be the “most advanced ever made” and that delivery would start 38 months after the contract was signed and last another 108 months, or nine years.

A separate January 21, 2015, e-mail from an official in Foreign Affairs’s export-control division said documentation received from General Dynamics to date suggests the vehicles could possibly include turreted LAVs “equipped with automatic firearms.”
The Saudi government, who are not a democracy but rather a theocratic monarchy, who have special forces of religious police roaming the streets, who will throw you into jail for questioning anything to do with the government, who do not allow women to drive, who execute people for trivial reasons and who use force to disperse their own citizens and have used essentially the same vehicles to brutalize civil uprisings in Bahrain - the Harper government wants to do business with them!
As an example of how light armoured vehicles (LAVs) might enable human-rights abuses, rights activists allege it was Canadian-made fighting vehicles that Saudi Arabia sent into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. Asked if it believes the Saudis used made-in-Canada LAVs when they went into Bahrain, the Canadian government doesn’t deny this happened. It only says it doesn’t believe the vehicles were used to beat back protests.
Maybe they see a little of themselves in the Saudi regime? I'm certain similarities could be found.

Please vote this man out.

If you're an American Democrat, please vote for Bernie Sanders. See how political I am?

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.

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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.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Huge IHEU Join Open Letter to Bangladeshi PM & President


I'm proud to have had the opportunity to add my name to an excellent open letter addressed to the Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

This is in the wake of months of apparent Bangladeshi police bungling and apathy when it comes to properly investigating the brutal murder of five atheist bloggers in the past two years. In fact, just days after atheist blogger Niloy Neel had his head and hands hacked off by religious lunatics, the country's highest level policeman - in an action worthy of an asshole of the year prize - advised living atheist bloggers to stop writing against religion, or else face trouble with the law. This behaviour is disgusting and has prompted a petition demanding the police chief's resignation.

The letter itself covers this:
Following the murder of Niladri Chatterjee on 7 August, the Inspector General of Police engaged in victim-blaming, called for self-censorship, and threatened bloggers — the very people who are being murdered — with legal action under the current quasi-blasphemy law. Meanwhile, despite some counter-terrorism operations, the police have comprehensively failed to disrupt the networks that are ordering or carrying out these cowardly attacks. Even with two of the killers caught at the scene (after the murder of Washiqur Rahman) and claims of responsibility made openly on social media and via news outlets, still the attacks go on, and the extremists behind the killings remain at large. Instead of calling for vigilance and evidence against the murderers from the general public, police have instead encouraged the public to report alleged atheistic writings.
Indeed, how can bloggers expect their human rights and safety to be protected if their own government apparently holds them in contempt?
Furthermore, your Cabinet Committee for Law and Order, headed by Minister of Industries Amir Hossain Amu, on their 9 August 2015 meeting decided “to declare Atheist authors as criminals”, thereby making them subject to prosecution, and intelligence agencies have been asked to monitor blogs to find those atheist writers. Even under the current law, such a mass arrest of people who profess non-religious views in their online communications would represent a grave violation of the international human rights obligations to which Bangladesh is committed. The Home Minister in a separate speech was seen repeating the same warning message.
The letter goes on to implore that the president
  • ensure the safety and security of those individuals whose lives are threatened by Islamist extremists, including the witnesses and family members
  • instruct the police to find the killers, not to harass or blame the victims
  • disassociate yourself publicly from those who call for death penalties against non-religious Bangladeshis, and ensure using your executive authority that individuals within your party membership maintain the same standard of respect for freedom of conscience and expression
  • work decisively for legal reform to repeal Section 295A of the Penal Code and section 57 of the ICT Act of 2006, in order to bring the legal system of Bangladesh in line with the  spirit and values of freedom of expression and ‘of conscience’ as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, and as per obligations under the international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is party.

Fellow blogger Veronica Abbass is also on the list of supporters. She points out the Canadian contribution on a recent post over at Canadian Atheist and I'm proud to be on that list.

The full list of supporters is at the bottom of the Bangla version of the letter.

Veronica also points out that things aren't exactly perfect here in Canada either. She points out a post I recently made about the proposed Bill 59 here in Quebec which could threaten our ability as atheist bloggers to question, criticize and otherwise despise religion. More on that in future posts.

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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.

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