Showing posts with label montreal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label montreal. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Raif Badawi Foundation For Freedom Created Here In Montreal

Ensaf Haidar at the foundation's launch in Berlin on Friday.
Ensaf Haidar wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi launched the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom (Fondation Raif Badawi pour la liberté) in Berlin. Friday's event was simulcast to a second opening ceremony in Montreal.
The announcement was made successively in Germany and in Montreal. The President, Mrs. Ensaf Haidar, Mr. Badawi’s spouse, was in Berlin to meet with dignitaries in order to gain their support regarding her husband’s liberation, atop of taking part in the press conference. “I am truly grateful for the support that has emerged across the world for the Foundation. This justifies in my opinion, its very existence and its necessity,” declared Mrs Haidar. “Its goal happens to embody Raif’s values, who would be very happy to see that his struggle is a concern for so many people around the world,” added Mrs. Haidar. It is to be noted that Mr. Badawi will be honorary president of the Foundation.
The foundation's stated mission:
The Foundation serves as a free platform enabling international dialogue as well as a resource centre providing academic research on legal and social topics concerning the Arab World.
You can purchase Raif Badawi's book on the site as well as make donations via Paypal. The foundation has also stated that it will never accept a donation of more than 30% of its total budget so it can remain unbought.

You can follow the latest from the foundation on their Facebook page.

This is awesome and it can do nothing but step up the pressure for cases like Badawi's. I also believe it will help other secular bloggers - the way our Office of Religious Freedom and Department of Foreign Affairs has not.

If you would like to read more, check out Veronica Abbass' and Hemant Mehta's posts on this.

(Image source)

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Please Stop Littering My Environment With Your Religious Tracts


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Montrealers! Check Out 'Moutons No More'

(moutonsnomore.com)
It has been entered into the public record that on May 23rd, 2015, I had a pretty bad hair day. I also sat for a few minutes on a state speaking into a microphone next to two men who were better dressed than me.

Or so this picture on the Moutons No More (Sheep No More) website will make abundantly clear.

(moutonsnomore.com)
This was my first visit with the skeptical entertainment group right here in Montreal. They put on a show called Funny You Should Think That. Each table in the audience discussed important news stories at the time and tried to look at them with a critical eye. At the end of these breakouts, some audience members went to the front to share their opinions. Since I've almost always got an opinion, I ended up at the front for a few minutes.

This is just one of many productions the Moutons No More put on. The website hosts several evidence-based media producers.
Moutons No More is like a movie production company. One banner, multiple productions, all led by different creative minds. What brings us together? Rationality. Forget the dry, academic stuff: Moutons No More is creative enough to insert “fun” into “reason”.

With Moutons No More, you can learn about science, listen to voices of reason on contentious issues, see the paranormal debunked before your very eyes, and watch grounded takes on the irrationality that surrounds us. And once a month, all of our producers get together in Montreal to throw an amazing and ever-changing stage show that combines comedy, reason… and alcohol!
I'll admit that the Montreal scene - if you will - does appear to be rather distinct compared to others I've learned about on the web in other towns. Or perhaps the landscape is changing? All this to say, it took me awhile to find this lot using regular means.

This entertainment and media-production approach does seem to fit Montreal well though. This is a troupe of scientists, stand up comedians and other artists.

I'm really looking forward to joining another fantastic evening! We'll see how my hair looks - cuz that's what's really important to me.

Meanwhile, check out the videos, podcasts and other media over at the Moutons No More website!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Raif Badawi Book: New Quebec Edition & English Edition Foreward By Lawrence Krauss

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
Editions ēdito in Quebec have put together and published some of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's most compelling online texts and the new edition is now available for purchase in bookshops across the province. It's titled 1000 coups de fouet: parce que j’ai osé parler librement ( 1000 Lashes: Because I Dared to Speak Freely ).
1000 coups de fouet, a collection of 14 texts by Badawi that landed him in jail in Saudi Arabia, was launched by Quebec publishing house Éditions Édito with Amnesty International on Tuesday. This follows releases in Germany and France and an English translation is in the works, according to the NGO.
The initial launch was Tuesday and was even attended by opposition Federal MP Hélène Laverdière, who is Deputy Critic For Foreign Affairs.
“It’s very sad to see that the Canadian government is not doing more,” said Hélène Laverdière NDP MP for Laurier–Sainte-Marie.
She went on to point out that Canada really ought to be doing more considering we're providing refuge for Badawi's wife and family. Hopefully, Harper won't respond by kicking them out.

If you can understand French, you can watch a video report on the launch over at Radio Canada.

Another Montreal book launch was yesterday and was even attended by some government officials.

The English edition, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think,  is apparently on its way July 24th with a foreward by Lawrence Krauss!

The Gazette article about the Quebec edition I quoted above includes a few English translations to give you an idea of the sort of thing Badawi wrote that landed him into jail.
In reality, this august preacher drew our attention to a truth that had evaded us until then, from me and my honourable readers, that there exists “religious astronomers!” What a lovely and unusual name, since in my humble experience and from my research, which is not negligible on the subject of the universe, its origins and the planets, I never encountered these terms. I advise the American space agency NASA to abandon their telescopes and give them to our “religious astronomers,” whose perception and insight surpasses the defective telescopes of NASA.
You can find a list of release dates for the book over at raifbadawi.org -- Amazon links for countries and languages are there as well -- French and German are so far available.

I'll just add that it sort of pains me a little that I see so much action here in Quebec on this, but not too much outside. Perhaps it's because Ensaf Haidar is here? Well, at least they are being made to feel welcome.

You can find information on the Quebec Edito edition at there website.

Quebec edition. (source)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Skeptics In the Pub -- Non Skeptical World


On my way home from a most pleasant Skeptics In The Pub meetup, which I've been attending lately, I noticed this card plastered all over the Metro (subway) station. I thought it was sort of ironic -- in a kind of colloquial way.

OM NAMA SIVAYAASTROLOGY CENTERPANDIT: RAM JI
International Famous Astrologer
Most Powerful Spiritualist From India
Grand pouvoir Spirituel de l'inde

An Expert Pandith at your service. Past, Present, Future of your Life.
Sickness, Education, Employment, Business, Marriage, Court, Enemy,
Black Magic, Secret Matters Etc.

ARE YOU DEPRESSED & LONELY...?
I will Remove & Destroy all Bad Luck, Witchcradt, Obeya, Jadoo, Voodoo & Protect you from all Evils.

Business Investments, Enemy, Work Problems, Jealousy, Money Problems, Negativity, Childless Couples, Sexual, Family Arguements(sic), Depression, Loved ones, Drinking, Love issues, Horoscope

PRIVATE & CONFENTIAL(sic)

100% REMOVAL OF BLACK MAGIC & GIVES PROTECTION
If you're depressed or lonely, I would strongly suggest that this could very well be the very worst person to call.

Maybe I'll bring this card to the next Skeptics In The Pub.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Church Having Problems Finding New Location Because They Don't Pay Taxes

United Pentecostal Church in St-Laurent, Quebec. (source: Google Maps)
There was a highly sympathetic story done by CTV News last night for the United Pentecostal Church in my home borough of St-Laurent. The church has been doing very well and has completely outgrown their building, which seats 600 with a congregation of some 1,200 people. This puts them within reach of the megachurch designation -- a big deal for secular Quebec.
Pastor Paul Graham, who has been with the church for almost 40 years, tells CTV Montreal that the 600-seats are simply not enough for the 1,200-or-so who use the church but the borough has not made relocation easy
Take a look at the language in the story and you'll see a framing not unlike David vs Goliath

Listen, I can sympathize to a point. Dealing with city hall can be frustrating. In this case the church is looking for another location, but the city has so far refused to allow these said locations to be rezoned to places of worship.
Borough Mayor Alan DeSousa has said that the borough want to stick with its master plan and would prefer to avoid rezonings.
Their master plan is to try to maximize property taxes as much as possible and the pastor of the church, Paul Graham, is nice enough to remind us that churches don't pay property taxes. So the city would be going from a position of losing tax money on a 600 person building to a 1,200 person building -- a building the size of a retail store... likely with a parking lot to boot.

So it's nothing against Christians, per se. It's just that they're not paying their fair share -- assuming taxes are the reason.
Pastor Graham believes a big issue for the city is tax revenue. Property taxes aren't collected on places of worship.
Well no wonder I had to pay last year's property taxes in two instalments! I had to pay for the churches as well! If they would pay property taxes like the rest of us, the city wouldn't be giving them a hard time. They would welcome them with open arms just like any company. Problem solved!

I guess privileged status has it's downsides too, right?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Life Imitates Art: Two Former Hasidic Jews In Film About Woman Questioning Her Place In Hasidic Community

Still from Félix et Meira set in Mile End, Montreal. (source)
There's an interesting film out recently set in Mile End, Montreal, one of a few neighbourhoods with a large Hasidic Jewish population on the island. It's called Félix et Meira:
Félix and Meira is a story of an unconventional romance between two people living vastly different realities mere blocks away from one another. Each lost in their everyday lives, Meira (Hadas Yaron), a Hasidic Jewish wife and mother and Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a Secular loner mourning the recent death of his estranged father, unexpectedly meet in a local bakery in Montreal's Mile End district. What starts as an innocent friendship becomes more serious as the two wayward strangers find comfort in one another. As Félix opens Meira's eyes to the world outside of her tight-knit Orthodox community, her desire for change becomes harder for her to ignore, ultimately forcing her to choose: remain in the life that she knows or give it all up to be with Félix. Giroux's film is a poignant and touching tale of self-discovery set against the backdrops of Montreal, Brooklyn, and Venice, Italy. Written by Oscilloscope Laboratories
Of course, it's cool I get to see Montreal. The story line is also cool. However, it's also pretty neat that both of the starring actors left Hasidic Judaism.

One, Luzer Twersky, who plays Meira's husband,  is even an atheist (interview):
“I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t believe in God. I realized that I was actually an atheist and there seemed to me so much more to explore in the world and I didn’t want to limit myself to that tiny little community.”

Luzer Twersky's plays the charachter Shulem, whose wife Meira wrestles with her faith. Credit: courtesy of "Felix & Meira" Now Twersky, the secular atheist actor, has been put him back inside that Hasidic world by a role in the upcoming film “Felix & Meira,” which premieres Friday. 
He plays the character Shulem, the Hasidic husband of Meira. Meira, played by the Israeli actress

Hadas Yaron, turns to music and drawing to escape the religious life that has been prescribed for her. Twersky can’t help but relate.
In the interview, he relates how he would hide CDs, DVDs and even the DVD player in an old spare tire. Finally, one day it struck him that he was an atheist.
He’ll never forget the moment when he officially lost faith. It was Friday night, Sabbath and he was at synagogue doing Friday night prayers.

“And I was just standing there with all the hundreds of people praying. And it just hit me, this is so pointless. Everybody is insane in here,” he remembers thinking.
I've written about Orthodox Jews who find out they are actually atheist before. They often hide this fact, sometimes for years because of the deep ties they have with their families, the community, and lack of secular training for dealing with the outside world.

So Twersky kept it secret and continued to watch secular movies with headphones one. Eventually, his wife asked him for a divorce and he was effectively kicked out of the community. His parents effectively disowned him.
“Every once in a while it creeps into your mind, ‘Did I make the right decision?’” says Twersky, “As an actor, you go back there you get both the comfort of it and the conflict of it. That was difficult for me. Between takes, I would just go outside and chain smoke.”
Meanwhile, the actor who plays Meira, Melissa Weisz, has also spoken up about her own past within the Hasidic community.
I never thought I’d be an actress, but not just for the reasons most people think they won’t make it. For most of my life, I lived in a traditional family in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, where careers — let alone careers in acting — were rarely discussed. I was fully observant and, when I was 19, I entered into an arranged marriage. Four years later, I left it all behind.
Like Twersky, Weisz went through a period of asking why -- asking the wrong questions and she didn't get any proper answers.
When I was 19, I had an arranged Hasidic marriage. It was just what was done; my ex-husband and I met a few times, and then we got engaged. Fortunately, he’s a great guy; I actually started to feel like I was falling in love with him during the courtship process. I hadn’t been with anyone else. I didn’t question whether the marriage was right for me (ultimately, it wasn’t). I figured I would make it work no matter what, because I had to. But, when you start questioning things, all the dominoes start to fall.
We were married for four years when I decided to walk away from both my husband and our community. That summer, I’d gone away to Texas and spoken with various Hasidic friends and rabbis, checked out different temples. I was reading a lot about Judaism and realized, once and for all, that it felt false to me. I had been trying to make sense of it and find my own path within it, but I just couldn’t. Religion, in general, just doesn’t really have a place in my life or my belief system.
Although things were shaky at first, Weisz has managed to reconnect with her family.

Here's the preview. I think I may hunt out the movie!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Calgary Private School Possibly 'Inconsistent' But No Indication of Being 'Atheist'


Chris Selley wrote something over at the National Post about how if schools want to be atheist they should be consistent in their atheism. I think it's worth a look because it shows us that it's not only atheists (schools or people?)  who must be consistent, it's our entire system. Don't blame the atheists, okay?
If you run a private school with a position on religion, these are interesting times. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled Montreal’s Loyola High School was entitled to teach Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum from a Catholic perspective — that is, it said Catholics were not required to treat Catholicism as just another faith. You might ask: Why would anyone enrol his children in a Jesuit school expecting it to be neutral about Catholicism? Why would a government that strives toward neutrality in matters of religion allow churches to run schools and then presume to tell them how to teach about religion? But this is the country we live in. Many of our governments subsidize the religious schools they’re trying to nudge away from their faiths.
It all sort of breaks down with the very first sentence and Selley knows it. He tries to remedy things by tagging on the last sentence. Let's play it back without all the goop in the middle.
If you run a private school with a position on religion, these are interesting times. ... ... Many of our governments subsidize the religious schools they’re trying to nudge away from their faiths.
Well, that just about sums it up, doesn't it? A huge problem here is we're calling these schools private when they're being subsidized heavily per student by the government. Whether the school be a Muslim academy teaching girls they cannot do track (because running will make them lose their virginity) or a Catholic school teaching that a virgin can give birth to the son of a god whose body becomes one with your Sunday morning communion wafer, it just shouldn't be funded by the government. We definitely shouldn't have this deliberately obscured by calling it a private school.

Let's get into the goo now.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled Montreal’s Loyola High School was entitled to teach Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum from a Catholic perspective — that is, it said Catholics were not required to treat Catholicism as just another faith.
As I've mentioned before, this is one class... just one single class out of many. This would be perhaps the only class where the school would be required to present alternate religious beliefs without trashing them. Is this really too much to ask? Ultimately though, the school got their cake and they get to eat it too.

Commentor fabuloso puts it excellently:
The Loyola school was not forbidden to "teach Catholicism from a Catholic perspective"; it was, according the the Que. ministry, required to add One Mandatory Course to its curriculum that dealt with religion from a neutral or non-sectarian angle.

That requirement was there so that the Loyola students could receive an accredited degree in public education, with a few comparatives. Similarly, a cult that thought the world was Flat would need to add one course that proposed the Round Earth Theory.
 Surely this must be some form of sloppiness on Selley's part. Now for some more goo.
You might ask: Why would anyone enrol his children in a Jesuit school expecting it to be neutral about Catholicism? Why would a government that strives toward neutrality in matters of religion allow churches to run schools and then presume to tell them how to teach about religion?
I wouldn't expect it to be neutral about Catholicism, most of the time. I would expect them to abide by the education ministry's rules to insure my child gets properly educated on world religions. I would expect that especially since public dollars go into the school.

Look, I don't know how things work in Ontario or the rest of Canada. Here in Quebec, the state has a mandate to ensure a basic level of education for the children. I wonder what Selley thinks about the Quebec government meddling in the education of extreme Orthodox Jewish groups. Should they stand aside and allow children to be taught nothing but the Torah and Yiddish? Why does religion get a pass with Selley?

The first step is to stop public funding of religious schools and subsidies to students, point finale.

Now let's move on past the first freaking paragraph to the rest of the piece. The details of this case are from 2011, predating this blog. This will be my working excuse for having never heard of it.

It seems that there is this prestigious private school in Calgary, Webber Academy, which is attempting to be non-denominational. I have really no idea what that truly means. It could simply signify Christian-lite. Anyway, this school forbade two Muslim students from praying anywhere on the premises. The students went before a human rights tribunal and won. Now the school is stuck with a $26,000 fine and the students can presumably pray in the school.
The Alberta Human Rights Commission fined Webber Academy a total of $26,000 for distress and loss of dignity after the boys were forced to hide at the school or leave the property during the city’s chilly winter to fulfill their faith’s obligations.
Look, as an atheist, even I agree with the commission. So long as it's not lead by the school itself and the students do not get any special privileges and do it discretely somewhere on the premises -- hey, knock yourselves out.

Selley rightly points out that this school was fine with headscarfs and turbans, etc. It just had a problem with the physical action of praying. This was the primary inconsistency of the atheist school.
But it’s not hard to see why they lost. Webber claims visible religious practice is a direct affront to its central ethos, but its ethos doesn’t seem to be very coherent: It allows students to wear turbans and hijabs, for example. The school tried to distinguish between garments as “a state of ‘being'” and prayer as “a visible activity,” which the tribunal kiboshed on principle; but in any event the activity wouldn’t have been “visible” had the school provided a private space. And Neil Webber, the school’s president, certainly did himself no favours by suggesting a student quickly crossing himself might not be a problem.
In the end it can really be a matter of degree but that's not my issue. Selley is here saying that it's those who wish to run atheist schools who are being inconsistent. It's just that there is no indication whatsoever that the school administrators are the slightest bit atheist.

The same commentor, fabuloso sums it up well again.
The Webbers aren't "atheists", they are people who ban visible expressions by students of adherence to any particular religion. As most Christians are not required by their churches to pray out loud, or wear big crosses, this ban is a free pass for Christians. But for faiths that do require a daily prayer, as the HR council said (in one of the few moments when it has fulfilled a lucid purpose), the ban is a ban on Muslim students enrolling in the first place. Which makes Webber a nice, white, suburban, discreetly Christian academy in the near suburbs of Calgary.
It seems to me like the problem with Shelley's piece is not merely in the first sentence. The issue exists even earlier on, in the title itself: Want to be atheist? Be coherent first.

Atheist where, who?

The word atheist makes for good click bait though.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Who Frames the Secular Charter? Why Can't We Work Together?

(source)
So there was a bit of a scuffle here in Montreal on Sunday between people who claimed to be pro Secular Charter vs those who claim to be anti-racist. I grow weary of the sort of framing secularists get in the English media here in Canada -- I don't think it helps anyone, even moderate religious people.
Anti-Muslim radicalization and anti-racism protesters clashed outside of a Montreal post-secondary institution on Sunday afternoon, leading to one arrest.

Duelling demonstrations by a small group of secular charter supporters and a group of anti-racism protesters turned violent after a man was attacked with picket-sign sticks. 
The anti-radicalization marchers were there to protest Collège de Maisonneuve allowing Adil Charkaoui to resume teaching his Arabic and Quran course after two of his students were linked with six youth who ran off to join ISIL in Syria. Four of the six attended the college.

As far as I know, there is insufficient evidence to implicate Charkaoui into any sort of ISIL recruiting or direct radicalization of youth. So I wonder why these secularists and anti-racist protesters cannot work together to find a solution to the broader question of radicalization? Am I naive? Surely both sides do not wish anyone's children to run off to Syria.

I would think that there could be no person more noble than an anti-racist person who is also against Muslim radicalization and is strongly in support of a secular state. So what went wrong here?

I keep asking the questions, then in the same article, perhaps I find a clue.
A couple of dozen people who said they supported Quebec's failed secular charter — a proposed bill that would have imposed rules on head coverings in Quebec — ultimately showed up at the school. About 50 people from the anti-racism camp were there to denounce them. 
This is the tragedy of the charter that keeps disappointing me. A noble idea that everyone should be able to get behind boiled down to the pettiest and most irrational of suggestions possible. Yet this is how I see the original charter framed, time after time -- dumbed down to nothing more than apparently xenophobic wardrobe fascism.

Don't get me wrong, a proper secular charter would include some limitation to religious wardrobe. It would be fine for a woman to take her citizenship oath or appear in court wearing a chador or less -- the same as as a Catholic nun, for example. This is for practical purposes -- for identification. Otherwise, they may wear their niqab wherever they like.


But this would be a minor aspect of a proper charter. Bigger fish to fry would be the eradication of tax breaks for the clergy, churches and religious institutions. Private religious schools would no longer receive a per head government subsidy either. Religious symbols -- mostly Catholic -- would be removed from city halls and other government buildings, including the National Assembly. Prayer before government meetings would be eradicated completely.

I personally do not have a problem with government workers wearing religious symbols or hijabs, so long as the do their duties and do not discriminate. Although I tend to flip-flop on this one from time to time -- I still see this as being their own personal expression and do not assume that it is an expression of the government itself just the same as I do not consider the hue of lipstick they are wearing to be an expression of government endorsed cosmetic.

Even that last point -- being the most contentious and probably best left out of any Charter if we want to have any charter at all -- need not stand in the way of reasonable people -- religious or not -- working together to fight radicalization and promote a democratic secular state that allows us all freedom to exist and express ourselves.

Why can't we work together?

Really, this debate is much more nuanced than this -- and I think we all would actually agree on a lot more if we stopped and listened to each other.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

My Alma Mater Does The Right Thing


I have a gym down the street from where I live. I hate going to it mostly because of the inconvenience of getting changed, but there are other reasons as well. Let me list them.

  1. The floors of the Dudes' shower stalls are slimy.
  2. Dudes in neighbouring stalls -- presumably after an overly ambitious workout -- loudly spit and gargle and occasionally sound as if they're going to ralph.
  3. Dudes are very proud of their physique and strut about tackle out for all to see, constantly.
  4. Dudes loudly boast to each other about the woman they're currently banging citing too much information.
  5. Dudes insist on hogging the weights at the gym.
  6. Dudes' unwiped sweat all over equipment.
  7. Dudes grunt and moan like they're attempting to give birth to something as they overexert themselves with the weights.
So right, my problem with the gym is mostly dudes, but I am a dude. So it's not all dudes, just obnoxious meatheads. It can be bloody intimidating and daunting for anyone.

When I went to this gym, I had a hard time making it work with my schedule. Just imagine how rough it would be if the gym had women's only hours. Unless these hours were during the day, they would be cutting into my hours as a man.

Well, that was the proposal by Law student Soumia Allalou when it came to McGill University training facilities. She wanted to get back into shape but, understandably, felt more comfortable without dudes all over the place. Oh, but it wasn't for the reasons above, but rather, for religious reasons.
"Personally I prefer to work out in a women-only environment. I just kind of assumed they would have women-only hours. I asked them if there was a project for that in the works and they said that they didn't think so," said Allalou, who wears a hair covering and cites religious reasons for her preference. She took to Facebook to voice her concerns.

"I feel like there are many women who have a variety of reasons for preferring to work out in a women-only environment. Whether it's how comfortable they are, whether they have had bad experiences at the gym in the past, whether they have less access to the machines. A lot of women tell me they feel intimidated in the weights section," said Allalou. 
I've got news for you, Soumia, men feel intimidated in the weights section. As I've written above, that's just part of going to pretty much any gym. I'm afraid that, unlike me, you'll just have to cope with this list of dozens of women's only gyms on the island of Montreal. I know, it's tragic.

I guess if I had a special religion -- say: can only work out in gyms without obnoxious dudes all over the place religion -- I would try using that in my favour too.

Given that Allalou is a Law student, I cannot help but wonder if this is some sort of test, but motives aside, this was a classic case of religious rights versus secular society where gender equality is at least a goal.

Luckily, after at least one petition, McGill did not cave to the pressure and will not provide a women's only gym period. If women would like this, there are services available elsewhere.
"We don't believe in the segregation of our services, we don't believe in separating some groups from others on campus," Dyens said .

"It's always been clear, McGill is secular and co-ed, and this is what we promote."
Thank you McGill! Now, I'm waiting to see if anything else happens with this, legally speaking.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

University Prompts Muslim Students to Remove 'Objectionable Material' From Library

Reflections Islamic library at Concordia University. (source)
Something disturbing is going on at one of my almae matres, Concordia University. It seems as if the school has caved to paranoid fear mongering in the press and is now working with the Muslim Students Association to remove any works from their library which are against the law or do not reflect the values of the institution or society.

I thought actions were against the law, not books. I better take a second look at my bookshelf before the police come for me.
Members of Concordia University’s professional library staff will review books and documents in the student-run Islamic library on campus to ensure that the contents “reflect the law and reflect the values of the institution and our society,” a university spokesperson said Thursday.
Apparently, the contents of some of these books were revolting and contrary to what one would find in an open and democratic society.
The Dean of Students and other members of the university administration met with members of the Muslim Students’ Association executive on Thursday afternoon to discuss allegations in a televised report that aired last Friday. The report on TVA claimed that the Reflections Islamic Library, a small, student-run library in the headquarters of the MSA on Mackay St., contains books by certain authors who have condoned wife beating, made statements in favour of female genital mutilation, or who have advocated for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts or for renouncing Islam.
Yes, and? This is a part of the Muslim literature out there. It's reality. People are dying across the globe because of these rules. Am I the only one who thinks these books should stay right where they are so students can see the objectionable sides of their religion and arm themselves with ways to refute them? This censorship is not only counter productive, it's revolting.

Apparently caving to public opinion, university spokesperson Christine Mota described how they would work with the group to sanitize their library of anything which could be the slightest bit controversial. Controversial ideas: no place in a university library for those.
She said the university has offered the MSA the services of the university’s main library staff to “guide them through this process.” She said the students “gratefully accepted” that offer. She said she did not know which authors’ works have been removed, nor how long the culling process would take.

“Student associations have the right to have book collections on university premises,” Mota said. “But with that right comes the responsibility to ensure that the contents respect the law and reflect the values of the institution and our society.”
Of course, Mota couldn't define what these values were. I wonder how many other books in the library would go against these? The most popular commenter to this story, Anne-Sophie Grenier, summed up some of my frustration:
Any decent university library has books that do not, as Mota put it "respect the law and reflect the values of our institution and our society". The Concordia Library has Mein Kampf, the philosophy and history sections are full of books with controversial and "illegal" ideas. Having a book on a shelf or reading a book does not mean that the contents are endorsed by the reader. This is a place of higher learning, not book burning.
Is Quebec turning into precisely what it does not want to become? Are we becoming the mirror image of places like Saudi Arabia? 

Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal:
“This is totally crazy,” Elmenyawi said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “Are we going to go back to the dark ages and start burning books now?”

He said some authors may say or do controversial things, but it does not mean all of their writings should be banned. He said students at the university level are smart enough to debate ideas, and not “naive and gullible kids who don’t know right from wrong.”
He went on to say that: only materials he would argue should be removed from a library are books that advocate “ideological violence.” This would be the only place I disagree with him. There should be no acceptable upper level of ideological violence too harsh in books at the library. There ought to be absolute freedom of expression and access to information -- only actions should be restricted to what's legal.

Furthermore, banning these books does nothing but lend them unwarranted notoriety and power. They become forbidden fruits, if you like. The opposite should be true. These works should be studied in the library and then refuted and ridiculed constantly. This is the correct way of dealing with toxic ideas.

This is a blog primarily about atheism and I would very likely have many critical things to say with what's inside all the books in the collection. However, as a non-religious minority, I understand the importance freedom of expression. This sort of censoring is wrong and the apparent belief that Muslims cannot handle this is patronizing to the extreme.

In a Canadian university! For shame!

Let them have their books!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Quebec Judge Refuses to Hear Muslim Woman's Case With Her Hijab On

Rania El-Alloul (source)
Montreal resident Rania El-Alloul had to see a judge in order to get her impounded car back. She is Muslim, and chooses to wear a hijab (which does not impair anyone's ability to identify her.) However, judge Eliana Marengo demanded Rania remove her religious headgear before she would hear the case. Rania refused and the case was suspended indefinitely.
Marengo: El-Alloul, you stated that you were wearing the scarf, earlier. You stated you were wearing a scarf as a religious symbol.

Rania: Yes.

Marengo: In my opinion the courtroom is a secular place and a secular space. There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons. Article 13 of the regulation of the Court of Quebec states: Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed. In my opinion you are not suitably dressed. Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed. I don't see why scarves on the head would be either. The same rules need to be applied to everyone. I will therefore not hear you, if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding. 
On Friday, the Quebec Court stood by Marengo's decision.
The Court of Quebec said Friday it is standing by Marengo’s decision and the judge would not bow to public pressure.

Court spokeswoman Annie-Claude Bergeron repeated Friday that judges are masters of their courtroom and have the right to interpret the law and set the rules of the court as they see fit.
Apparently, there is little to no judicial precedent for Marengo's decision; it all boils down to what you define as decorum. I tend to agree with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Sukanya Pillay, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s executive director, said the state has no right to be in people’s closets and to tell women what to wear.

“The courtroom has every right to be secular,” said Pillay. “But that doesn't translate into telling people what they can and cannot wear in a manner that’s incompatible with their freedom of religion.”
There is broad support for Rania across the country. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to buy her a new car, since he current one is still impounded. So far, it's raised $24,000 in its first day.

I'm all for secularism, and the ideals of laïcité, but doesn't this seem completely petty? Take a look at what kind of image is being portrayed of secular ideals with this.

If the courtroom is empty of all religious symbols and the judges and government employees are not wearing religious symbols then mission accomplished -- no need to go any further! You have achieved an acceptable level of secularism! In such a place, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists -- everyone can feel equally welcome. There is no government bias.

Now a word about decorum in the 21st century. As far as I am concerned, if what you're wearing does not violate any decency laws outside of the court and you can positively identify the person (no face covering), then you should be fine wearing it in the court. I realize this makes me seem like a radical, but it's truly the only fair approach.

Oh, and if the judge has a problem where she feels she's unable to render a fair judgement for someone wearing a hijab, or habit, or kippah, then she has the right to refer the case to another judge. This would be her own issue -- her own struggle to be secular.

I know several readers will strongly disagree with me, but I really do think that a secular court does not include everything every visitor or guest is wearing. As a secular atheist, I find myself growing weary of these fits against what people are wearing and yearn for a time when we can remove prayers and bloody crucifixes from city halls and start properly taxing religious institutions. Wouldn't that be something even Rania El-Alloul could unite with us on?

Monday, 23 February 2015

City of Montreal Calls For Release of Raif Badawi

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre with representatives from all parties.
Wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi met with Montreal city mayor Denis Coderre today. As was the case with the provincial government, a motion was passed at city hall supporting Badawi's plight and asking that Stephen Harper and the federal government do more. Yes, still waiting for the conservatives.

Mayor Denis Coderre announced:
“Today the city of Montreal adds its voice to those of numerous other actors nationally and internationally protesting the public and inhuman flogging of Raïf Badawi,” Coderre said. “Mr. Badawi was is in prison because he raised the concepts of secularism and freedom of expression on his blog.

“Today we ask that the government of Canada intercede with the Saudi government to gain the immediate freedom of Mr. Badawi and push for his return to Canada to be with his family.”
The Canadian government have already more or less stated that they cannot do much because Raif is not a Canadian citizen. Many, including myself, see this as a convenient out -- especially since Canada has a multi-billion dollar arms contract with the Saudis.

Mayor Coderre reminds us that the Canadian government could be doing much more.
In response to the Canadian government’s assertions its influence is limited because Badawi is not a Canadian citizen, Coderre said that while international diplomatic issues are sensitive, there are ways in which the government can exert influence. Members of Parliament need to raise the issue in the House of Commons with new Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson. Prime Minister Stephen Harper should phone Saudi officials. Most importantly, international pressure has to be maintained in the media. Amnesty International’s petition calling for Badawi’s release has more than 82,000 signatures.
Or how about not doing business with oppressive human rights violating regimes? There are quite a few things our government could do if they got their noses out of the feeding trough.

Badawi's health is fading though, and it seems like the Saudi authorities are happy to just let their problem go away.  You can tell by Coderre's speech in the video that he's not sure if this will help -- but we need to keep trying.

In a La Presse article covering this story, Ensaf gives the sad news of Badawi's precarious health and the urgency of the situation -- if Harper is going to do something useful, he better do it now.
Mme Haidar se réjouit de ce nouvel appui. « Elle sent qu'il y a de la mobilisation autour d'elle, qu'elle n'est pas seule et qu'il y a de la solidarité autour de sa cause », a déclaré son traducteur à sa sortie de la salle du conseil. La santé de son mari est précaire, a-t-elle précisé. Il souffre de problèmes de pression artérielle en plus de son diabète.
Haidar is happy with this new support. "She senses that there is action around her, that she is not alone and that there is solidarity around her cause," declared her translator as she left the council room. The health of her husband is precarious, she underlined. He's suffering from high blood pressure in addition to his diabetes.
I really hope something happens soon. With every passing day, my dread grows.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Radical Imams & Rabbis Coming to a Community Centre Near You!


Pierre-Olivier Zappa over at TVA Nouvelles wrote up an informative column about some of the more compelling (read: radical) religious leaders who will be either visiting or setting up shop here in Montreal in the upcoming month.

There are quite a few on the page. Why not take a look at a radical Muslim event and then a radical Jewish event? For radical Christians, I'll refer to to the Westboro folks and their ilk.

This past Saturday, Salah Assawy was to drop by the Outremont Community Centre with another imam for a crowd of 300. Assawy is the Secretary General of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) which is an organization that issues fatwas to help Muslims live properly here in the West. He's also founder and president of the Mishkah Islamic University of North America which was founded as the Sharia Academy of America. Can you figure out why they might have felt compelled to change the name?

Indeed, Assawy is really into Sharia Law for everyone. Hardcore.
Al-Sawy explicitly preaches “Shari’a rule” as a form of governance. He said, “Not ruling by “Shari’ah is the reason for all that the Ummah [Muslim world] is afflicted with … misfortune, neediness, adversity and disaster.” He said that the Devil has “deceived them into believing that the Shari’ah is not appropriate for every time and place” and that Sharia’s hudud, or penal code, is “harsh and barbarous.”
Oh, and he also seems to believe that folks like me probably would best dead. It's so gratifying to me that the Montreal branch of his Mishkah university is in my very own borough.
A 2009 fatwa by Al-Sawy rules that critics of Islam’s founder deserve the death penalty, stating, “repentance does not lift up the set punishment for cursing and insulting the Prophet, i.e., execution.” A 2006 fatwa issued by al-Haj explicitly states that the punishment for leaving Islam is death, but it can only be carried out by an Islamic judiciary system and not individuals.
It can only be carried out by an Islamic judiciary system and not individuals? What a relief!

It's not just him though. The AMJA issues several fatwas from various scholars. One such scholar is Hatem al-Haj who has a few interesting things to say about marital rape.
A 2009 AMJA fatwa endorses marital rape: “As for the issue of forcing a wife to have sex, if she refuses, this would not be called rape, even though it goes against natural instincts and destroys love and mercy, and there is a great sin upon the wife who refuses.” A 2006 ruling by al-Haj states that the punishment for a married man guilty of adultery is stoning.
Yes, this is someone living in 21st century North America. This organization is also apparently totally down with female genital mutilation circumcision too:
In 2010, al-Haj approved of female circumcision, stating that the AMJA version of it is different than what is practiced in some African communities. He claimed, “Some extremists from the West and their devout followers in the Muslim world would like to brand all circumcision as female genital mutilation.” He said that because the West has not objectively studied the issue, “all of their propaganda about female circumcision is nothing more than bigotry.
It's a shame I missed this event because I would have loved to see exactly why our information about FGM is nothing more than bigotry.

Well, it turns out the city canceled the event, presumably when news in this TVA story broke in the Quebec media.

As I wrote previously about radical anti-democratic imam Hamza Chaoui, I have no problem with these men sharing their retrograde ideas. Those who have issues with them can have non-violent, non-harassing protests and information distribution outside. It's my opinion these ideas should not be silenced or they will be driven underground to fester. They must be confronted head on. It would be especially great to see the more liberal elements of these religions speaking out against speakers like this.

Now then. Why not mark February 27th on your calendar for an evening with Israeli rabbi Yosef Mizrachi? He's really big on reincarnation and believes that autistic kids and down kids are just reincarnated souls who need minor correction before they go up to heaven -- basically bad karma from previous lives.

Well, that's just kooky. According to the TVA story, he also claims that Jews get cancer when women dress inappropriately and couples flirt too much. It's all those erotic conversations, Facebook, drugs, alcohol... Apparently the Jews also deserved the Holocaust.
Chaque minute, un Juif est frappé par le cancer. C'est en raison de l'habillement des femmes, des relations entre filles et garçons. C'est en raison des conversations érotiques, de Facebook, de la drogue et de l'alcool. Toutes ces tragédies s'expliquent ainsi», enseigne-t-il. Le prédicateur ajoute que l'Holocauste est une punition méritée par certaines communautés juives.
Frimet Goldberger over at the blog The Sisterhood at The Jewish Daily Forward wrote about Mizrachi (and others) in her post Rabbis Gone Wild -- About Modesty and (Gasp!) Zumba:
... There is another, particularly intriguing, rabbi — let’s call him the Ladies Rabbi — Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi. This popular Sephardi rabbi travels from town to town, lecturing about anything that strikes his fancy (mostly women) and debating Christian ministers. His website is called Divine Information, clearly a sign that his is the word of God, and he purports to merge and make sense of the Torah and science and many other things besides.

In one of his most popular and fascinating speeches, Rabbi Mizrachi — in one fell swoop — manages to spew anti-Muslim invective while praising devout Muslim men who “don’t let” their wives dress as provocatively as Jewish men let their wives.

“Even the Muslim murderers,” he cries (around 27 minutes in), “who blow themselves up with suicide vests and kill babies don’t allow their women to go out dressed the way our women do. If she shows one inch of her body (pointing at his wrists) they’ll kill her in the village. We should cry from embarrassment, cry from embarrassment! If Muhammad and Mustafa the murderers from Hezbollah don’t let their wives dress like this — what they’re better than us?”

Much like the Satmar rabbi who studied Causative Holistic Medicine at the Institute of Blame Women the Ladies Rabbi, Yosef Mizrachi, believes that tumors and cancerous cells are direct results of sin.

“Today, the number one cancer by women is breast cancer,” he explains (at around 49). “Second cancer for women, womb cancer. Third, brain cancer. The three parts that women make sins with men — the breast, the womb and the head — cancer goes over there.”
Well said.

The TVA video report associated with the story ended off with Zappa asking just how far freedom of speech can go. I believe these men should be allowed to spew their nonsense because silencing them compromises the very value we wish to protect.

On the flipside, these men should be ready to receive healthy doses of criticism and ridicule.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Freedom of Speech Belongs to Everyone: Even Anti-Democracy, Anti-LGBT Imams

Hamza Chaoui (source)
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about ultra-conservative anti-democratic imam Hamza Chaoui, who was blocked by the city of Montreal from opening a Muslim community centre.
Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s minister of immigration, diversity and inclusion, said Mr. Chaoui’s views are “dangerous” and “unacceptable” in a democratic society like Quebec, where the rule of law applies and men and women are treated as equals.

“The city of Montreal, I am sure, shares our values, which are Quebec values,” Ms. Weil said. “They [his remarks] are dangerous.
Now, I find Chaoui's views repugnant as a pro-LGBT, feminist, liberal, secularist atheist. Here's a sample.
In postings on his Facebook page, Mr. Chaoui argues that Islam and democracy are “parallel lines that never intersect” because democracy allows for the election of “an infidel or a homosexual or an atheist who denies the existence of Allah.”
That said, it seems like the imam hasn't broken any laws. It's just that his views are (correctly) seen as in opposition and perhaps even threatening to the shared secular values of mainstream Quebec.

When I wrote that last piece, I was conflicted. If we are to be an open and democratic society where everyone has freedom of speech, can we really forbid and attempt to censor ideas which go against our own values? Is it then acceptable for the government to shut down unpopular anarchist groups? What about communist groups? So long as no actual crimes are committed, how can we justify doing this without being hypocritical ourselves? How can we be defenders of freedom of speech when we gladly silence ideas we find revolting or threatening? What would Voltaire think?

In a mostly ignored recent opinion piece over at La Presse, André Pratte echoed my concerns and came to the conclusion that it's actually in everyone's best interest -- even us secularists -- to let this imam have his centre and speak, even if he would gladly deny us atheists any say in our political system.

Pratte starts out, by quoting Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis, who ruled during La Grande Noirceur -- the low point before La Revolution Tranquille:
«Le gouvernement prendra des mesures pour se débarrasser de ceux qui distribuent ces circulaires. Celles-ci ne sont pas seulement blessantes pour le Québec et sa population, mais sont diffamatoires et séditieuses. Cette propagande ne peut être tolérée.» 
The government will take measures to rid itself of those who distribute these tracts. These are not only harmful for Quebec and its population, but they are defamatory and seditious. This propaganda can not be tolerated.
He was speaking in 1946 about Jehovah Witness proselytizing literature. Although I will concede that, to my knowledge, Witnesses were never prone to physical violence in the name of their religion, there are similarities to be found here.

After acknowledging that Duplessis' decision is all about protecting Quebec values, Pratte eloquently explains why attempting to silence this imam will be counter productive. It will ultimately drive the message underground where it cannot be properly monitored, countered, ridiculed -- and it is ultimately against our values of free speech for all, no matter how odious we find it.
Il s'agit donc de faire taire ceux qui s'opposent à nos «valeurs». Ce faisant, nos gouvernants adoptent le même raisonnement que Maurice Duplessis contre les Témoins de Jéhovah. Les valeurs ont changé, la méthode diffère, mais l'objectif est identique et tout aussi déplorable.

Cette politique est vouée à l'échec. À la suite de la décision de la Ville, Hamza Chaoui est devenu persona non grata. Régis Labaume a déjà annoncé qu'en son royaume, «on va s'organiser pour qu'il ne puisse pas s'installer.»

Par conséquent, Chaoui devra prêcher dans la clandestinité. Les risques de radicalisation n'en seront pas diminués, au contraire. Et il sera beaucoup plus compliqué d'avoir à l'oeil l'homme et ses fidèles.

Si la chasse aux terroristes est essentielle, celle aux imams est inutile et néfaste. Nos valeurs sont bien plus solides que ne semblent le croire les Québécois. Elles résisteront sans mal aux chiquenaudes de quelques religieux conservateurs, qu'ils soient musulmans, juifs, témoins ou... catholiques.
So, it comes down to silencing those who are in opposition to our values. In doing so, our politicians are adopting the same rationale of Maurice Duplessis against the Jehovah Witnesses. Values have changed, the method differs, but the objective is the same and it is just as deplorable.

This policy is destined to fail. Following the city's decision, Hamza Chaoui has become persona non grata. Regis Lebaum has already announced that within his power, "we will organize such that he will not be able to establish himself."

As a result, Chaoui will be forced to preach under the radar. Risks of radicalization will not be reduced; the opposite. So it will be much more complicated to keep an eye on this man and his faithful.

If it is essential to hunt terrorists, the hunt against imams is useless and harmful. Our values are much more solid than Quebecers seem to believe. These will endure unharmed the the slights of a few religious conservatives, whether they be Muslims, Jews, Witnesses or... Catholics.
I don't agree with what this imam has to say, but as a believer in the concept of free speech, I must protect his right to express his backward ideas. Our secular free-speech loving society is strong enough -- if not, then one wonders how worthy it is of saving.

Besides, how are retrograde beliefs to be properly challenged, ridiculed or protested if they are not out in the open -- on the free marketplace of opinion? Like those Westboro Baptist folks, who actively condemn American society and values, is it not best to shine a light on groups which preach repressive ideas against our values? I think so.

So, as much as it pains me to say so: let this imam have his centre and then scrutinize the hell out of it.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Montreal Mayor Invites Pope to City's 375th Birthday

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre inviting the Pope to Montreal. (source)
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, fresh from visiting the site of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, briefly met the Pope -- who, in the wake of the Paris attacks, reminded us that anyone who makes fun of one's religion deserves a good ol' punch! During the minute or so meeting, he invited the Pope to Montreal's 375th Birthday bash in 2017 -- cuz Catholicism has a long history in this city. Well, I cannot argue there.

Veronica Abbass brings up the Quiet Revolution in a piece reacting to this news over at Canadian Atheist. Quebec was literally a Catholic theocracy which brought it to a breaking point during the end of the socially conservative Maurice Duplessis government in the late fifties. This is a time referred to as la Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness). Oh yeah, Quebec and the Catholic Church go back a long way!

So, the head of Montreal handed the Pope this letter. Here's a few interesting extracts.
La Ville de Montréal fêtera en 2017 le 375e anniversaire de sa fondation qui a eu lieu le 17 mai 1642. La mission d'évangélisation et de conversion des Amérindiens qui a mené à la fondation de Ville-Marie... 
The City of Montreal will celebrate in 2017 the 375th anniversary of its foundation, which occurred the 17th of May, 1642. The mission of evangelization and conversion of the American Indians which led to the foundation of Ville Marie...
In the letter, the mayor seems convinced that the Pope is a symbol of loving tolerance for free speech and freedom of thought.
Mais les tristes événements récents de Paris, d'Afrique ou ceux qui se sont produits au Canada, entre autres, nous rappellent combien il importe que les gouvernants ainsi que les leaders religieux envoient des messages de tolérance et de respect de l'autre ainsi que du respect de la liberté de pensée et d'expression.

However, the sad recent events in Paris, Africa or those which occurred in Canada, among others, remind us how it is important that governments as well as religious leaders express messages of tolerance and respect of the other as well as respect of freedom of thought and expression.
You mean like this?
"One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith," Pope Francis said in response to a question about the Paris terror attacks during a press conference aboard his plane on the way to Manila, Philippines.

He was unequivocal that nothing could justify the massacre in Paris, but suggested the magazine had gone too far.

Using an analogy, the pope said if a dear friend were to utter "a swear word against my mother, he's going to get a punch in the nose. That's normal."

"There are so many people who speak badly about religions, who make fun of them... they are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to (my dear friend) if he says a word against my mother."
Or like this?
The Pope is “shocked” by Malta’s Civil Unions Bill, which will allow gay couples to adopt children, Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna has told The Sunday Times of Malta.
Or this?
As Slovakia gears up for a referendum on same-sex unions this coming weekend, Pope Francis gave his blessing to the country's efforts to block marriage and adoption rights for gay couples.
Or this?
“One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them’.

“How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”
Or this?
"It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day," he said in a section of the speech about the rights of children around the world.
 Or this?
Pope Francis has denounced the right to die movement, saying it's a "false sense of compassion" to consider euthanasia as an act of dignity when in fact it's a sin against God and creation.
Or this?
In advance of a vast rally on Sunday that could draw as many as 6 million people, the pope called on families to be “sanctuaries for respect for life”, and praised the church for maintaining its opposition to modern birth control, even if all Catholics could not live by such rules.
Sounds totally compatible with modern-day secular, multicultural 21st century Montreal, doesn't it? No, not really. Sounds more like a throwback to la Grande Noirceur.

While Quebec is definitely a secular province, it seems like mayors are a whole other breed. You've got the 2005 lighting of the Mont Royal crucifix purple to mark John Paul II's death and that guy in Saguenay.

via Veronica Abbass, Canadian Atheist

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Dennis Markuze Sentencing Delayed Until June

Dennis Markuze
Yesterday, Hemant Mehta reported that Dennis Markuze would finally be sentenced for his relentless online harassments and death threats against atheist bloggers and websites. Luckily, my little blog seems to have stayed well under his radar.

The sentencing was supposed to happen today, but it turns out -- regrettably -- it has been delayed until June!

The lawyers involved were prepared to make a joint sentencing recommendation in November but it was put off because Boyer had handled several other cases that same day and ran out of time to hear the recommendation. The hearing was rescheduled to proceed Thursday but the judge was informed that a psychiatrist at the Jewish General Hospital has asked to testify in the case before Markuze is sentenced.

Boyer agreed to set June 3 as a date to hear the psychiatrist’s testimony.
I get it. Markuze is clearly not mentally well. However, one needs to balance his right to a fair sentencing with the level of stress and safety worries of atheist bloggers out there. Although I've never been targeted by him, I do live in Montreal and it does concern me.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Montreal Blocks Anti-Democratic Imam From Opening Community Centre

Hamza Chaoui (source)
Morrocan-born imam Hamza Chaoui believes democracy is incompatible with Islam because voters might elect gay atheists:
In postings on his Facebook page, Mr. Chaoui argues that Islam and democracy are “parallel lines that never intersect” because democracy allows for the election of “an infidel or a homosexual or an atheist who denies the existence of Allah.”
“The Imam Hamza Chaoui has made radical statements in the past, including stating the democracy and Islam are not compatible and that the vote is a sin,” Ms. Maltais said. “We strongly denounce these medieval statements.” 
It turns out that the City of Montreal agrees -- at least when it comes to his version of Islam -- and has denied Chaoui's application for a permit to open an Islamic Centre in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve region.
Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s minister of immigration, diversity and inclusion, said Mr. Chaoui’s views are “dangerous” and “unacceptable” in a democratic society like Quebec, where the rule of law applies and men and women are treated as equals.

“The city of Montreal, I am sure, shares our values, which are Quebec values,” Ms. Weil said. “They [his remarks] are dangerous.
And...
Later, Agnès Maltais, the Parti Québécois point person on secularism, and the PQ’s Carole Poirier denounced the imam’s statements and called on authorities to do everything in their power to impede him.
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve has a reputation in Montreal for having a large and poor new immigrant population.
Despite being one of the poorest areas of the city, the district of 25.2 square kilometers is considered an up-and-coming one, with immigrants creating new businesses. It is a densely populated residential neighbourhood, with some industry. The Marché Maisonneuve and Promenade Ontario are affordable shopping areas for locals.

Edit 2015-02-01: Added 'at least it when it comes to his version of Islam.'

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.

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