Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Monday, 21 March 2016

Office of Religious Freedom Nearly Shut Down

ORF head man Andrew Bennett is leaving to go work at Cardus (where many others have gone before him)
I bet you thought this blog was dead, right? I sort of did too, but then this happened!
The Liberals all but flipped off the lights on Canada's Office of Religious Freedoms, voting Monday against a Tory motion to keep open the controversial post and saying that its stand alone status is over.
Not only the Liberals. The vote to not extend the office's mandate was very popular among the not-Conservatives. The godless(!!!!) NDP, Bloc and the Green Party were all about that. The motion to save the office lost 226 to 90.

The Edmonton MP who brought forward the motion to save the office blamed an allergy to religion. Garnett Genuis treated us to this buzzword salad, explaining why such a government body was necessary to protect religion - en particulier.
"Without specific centres of excellence, individual areas that need attention could risk getting lost in one murky interdependent and indivisible soup," he said.

He did not offer any explanation of how the rights of atheist Tweeters getting 2,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia were not lost in the murky soup. No real clear direction why just religion needed to be singled out as the vector deserving of such attention.

Listen, I believe that humans deserve to have their rights protected, not religions. This means people should be able to hold any point of view whatsoever about metaphysical questions. One's religion (or lack thereof) should not be the target of persecution.  I'm so happy to see the Liberals apparently think the same thing:
"Our goal is to build on and strengthen the good work of the office by including the protection of religious freedom as a fundamental component of a comprehensive vision of the promotion of human rights," Dion's parliamentary secretary, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, told the Commons.
You mean like the Rights and Democracy agency that the Conservatives took out behind the shed and drowned in a rusty bucket full of rainwater whilst the Office of Religious Freedom was mere a glint in the eye of then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird? Yes, let's bring back an agency designed to protect human rights regardless of religion, please.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bennett has gone off to Cardus.  I've written about that creepy lot before -- they've been involved in the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom since the very beginning.

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

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

Canadian Scientists Can Speak to the Media Again!

I've been stricken with the plague over the weekend so still catching up with news. However, Hemant Mehta over at his blog brings us the good news that Canadian scientists will be able to actually speak about their research to the media! The fact that they were not able to do this during the reign of emperor Harper shows us all just how insane things got.

Hemant links to the Toronto Star which brings us the news. Our new Prime Minister is leading the policy change.
The change in policy is being communicated across departments and ministries in the government. On Thursday, scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were told they were now free to talk to the media, said David Prince, director at the Canadian Hydrographic Service.
Of course, these fields of science relate directly to Climate Change - something the Conservatives seemed to have preferred to ignore.
Prince said the strict communications policies put into place while former prime minister Stephen Harper was in power “frustrated” his colleagues. The issue was a sticking point for federal scientist Tony Turner, whose comedy protest song Harperman jabbed that Harper was the one who “muzzles the poor scientist.”
I've written about this before. For years, Canadian scientists have been protesting against the Harper government. I've asked why the government was so against science or misunderstood science. Books have even been written about how the Canadian neo con fundamentalist religion is ultimately driving them against science.
For years, scientists who worked for the federal government were silenced by strict rules that made them seek departmental approval before speaking to the press. On Friday, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said that scientists are free to speak to the media about their work.
Well, scientists are now free to speak. We'll see if anyone will listen.

(Image source)

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.

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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.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Please! Bye Bye Harper! Good Bye!

I know this video appeared awhile back on Canadian Atheist, and I was going to post it here, but then the polls started saying that the Harperbots would be on track to forming the next government. I lost all hope in humanity and didn't post it.

I won't go into things, but just read up about his muzzling of scientists (especially climate), TPP, evil spying bills, evil 15 billion dollar deals with human rights crushing Saudi Arabia... etc. etc. etc.

Well now it turns out that the polls are saying the Liberals are in the lead and the poor NDP are down to only 24%. This is the fear vote kicking in. The Liberals are, of course, better than the Conservatives, but they are sort of like weak tea. That being said, I'm so overjoyed to see the possibility of Harper out, that I'll take pretty much anyone with a pulse (I'm not certain if Harper has a pulse).

So here's an nice folk song, Bye Bye Mr Harper Good Bye, which is a nice way to say: "Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."

Here's hoping this song rings true.

(Image source)

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.

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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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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.

(Image source)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image source)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

New Fundraiser to Combat State-Enforced Bible Study In Guatemala

Gail Miller from Atheist Alliance International has alerted me of some pretty nefarious things afoot in overwhelmingly Christian Guatemala.

Congressman Marvin Rocael Osorio Vásquez got a memo from the creator of the entire Universe saying everybody in his country needs to be taught the Biblical values, whether they like it or not.

(Or - assuming he's not merely pandering to his religious political base - he's hearing voices inside his head and basing legislation which affects others upon aural hallucinations.)
Over the course of the last 9 months, a congressman claiming he received "explicit instructions from God" during a "divine revelation," has been planning and writing a bill proposal gathering support from local Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and organizations. The proposed bill was presented to Congress last Wednesday (July 15th) in a religious act inside Congress.
Here's the sort of thing this mandatory course would require:
  • ALL schools in Guatemala, both public and private, are forced to teach a weekly "Biblical Values" class. They must employ special teachers to teach them and certified "chaplains" to serve as "spiritual guides" to students.
  • ALL students regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack of them, are required to attend these classes and obtain a passing grade. Effectively violating the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
  • Government must allocate resources to pay for all of this in its National Budget, thus violating the important principle of separation of Church and State. It means taxpayers end up paying for religious instructions that should be paid for by individual churches and interested parents, not everyone.
This is state-endorsed religion, effectively eliminating any pretense of secularism within the country. It bears a striking resemblance to borderline theocracies like Turkey or Egypt.
This eliminates every option for parents that want their children to get a strictly secular education. If this bill passes, ALL education in Guatemala will have a religious element, based on a "literal and grammatical" interpretation of a particular Protestant version of the Christian Bible.
The eagerness these Christian groups have to become state-sanctioned and ram their doctrine down children's throats is rather sickening.

There is a fundraiser to combat this evil law set up today by the Asociación Guatemalteca de Humanistas Seculares. The are trying to raise $8000 in the next month to support a legal and media defense in Guatemala for the sake of secularism and freedom of  and freedom from religion.

We aim to protect the rights of every parent to select and every child to receive a secular education, if that is what they want. This is what Secular States are all about: protecting the religious freedom of all individuals by not privileging any one religion over another. We already took our first step by presenting a formal complaint to our local Human Rights Commissioner. We are highly motivated to fight for these rights all the way to the end, but we need more monetary resources to cover everything we need to do so. 
This campaign is legit, you can read about it over at the National Secular Society as well.

Also, watch this video produced by the group. Make sure to turn on English subtitles, if you don't understand Spanish.

Five hundred has been raised in the first day. Let's keep the momentum going for the sake of secularism in Guatemala - for the sake of non-Christian religions and atheists and humanists in this predominantly Christian country which may sink into theocracy.

Help us keep education secular in Guatemala

(Image source)

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image source: @perfidiousPM)

Monday, 6 July 2015

16 Year Old Singaporean Atheist Blogger Sentenced to Four Weeks In Jail, But Is 'Free'

Amos Yee (source)
Amos Yee, 16 year old atheist and political blogger in Singapore, who uploaded a crude sexual image and wounded Christian religious feeling, is a free man today. He was found guilty and sentenced to 4 weeks in jail. However, the sentence was backdated to June 2 and he's spent over a month in mental hospitals.
The 16-year-old has spent more than 50 days in remand to date and his sentence was backdated to June 2, meaning that he can walk free from court.
Apparently, a private doctor has agreed to counsel Yee and his family. Although Yee doesn't appear to have any mental problems, nor autism (as was curiously suspected), the doctor believes some work is required lest he disrupt 'social harmony'.
Yee has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for the past two weeks to assess his suitability for a mandatory treatment order, after a doctor said that Yee may have autism-spectrum disorder. However, a doctor at IMH said Yee did not have Autism Spectrum Disorder or any other mental disorder.

The doctor's report noted that from an early age, Yee has been "trapped in the Net" and is "unable to discern untruths in cyberspace". The doctor's report also said Yee admitted to his guilt and promised not to reoffend, as he realised his actions were against the law and could disrupt social harmony. The teen also admitted he had used his intelligence in the wrong ways. 
Sounds disturbingly like the sort of explanations the Saudi government uses to justify their brutal suppression of freedom of speech in their country - this idea that social harmony must be maintained. Yee has apparently agreed to the counseling. Given his circumstances, who could blame him?

Yee had been rushed to hospital because he stopped eating for over 70 hours. Media seems to be downplaying the blindingly obvious cause for this - he was locked up in a mental ward for two weeks.

His lawyer has vowed to appeal:
"Let's not run away with the idea that just because he's remorseful and stuff, that is in relation to the social context. Whether this was a crime or not, still remains a question we want to determine in High Court," Mr Dodwell added.
All of this because a 16 year old posted a video criticizing Christians along with a silly ling drawing of the previous Prime Minister having sex with Margaret Thatcher. This is where the bar is in secular and democratic Singapore.

Of course, Yee is only 'free' so long as he keeps his mouth shut and refrains from freely expressing his opinions online. Freedom like that is pretty worthless and is only freedom in name.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

16 Year Old Singaporean Atheist/Political Blogger In Psych Ward, Sentencing Today

In late March, 16 year old Singaporean atheist blogger, Amos Yee,  made a Youtube video criticizing the recently deceased Prime Minister -- who is disturbingly idolized in his country. He also had sharp criticisms for many Christians in the country as well. He also posted a crude drawing of Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew having sexual intercourse with Margaret Thatcher. You can see both on my previous post about Amos.

If only Canadian teens were so politically involved.

The government was not impressed and he's been charged wounding religious feeling and dishonoring the former PM. The proposed punishment for his free expression seems to be months in a reformative training centre, which sounds ghoulishly Orwellian.

Even worse than that, Yee has recently been subjected to three weeks of psychological testing and two weeks of examination to determine whether or not he's autistic.  

Even more shocking was the news release which alluded to putting him on medication - perhaps while being at a reprogramming camp.

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Although there is no proven cure yet for autism, some medical care may help reduce their symptoms. For example, some medications are approved by US Food and Drug Administration to reduce irritability in children with autism. If the court decides that Yee must undergo MTO, it is not known what kind of ‘treatment’ the teen will receive.
What I didn't realize is that Yee has forcefully confined within the Institute of Mental Health for the past two weeks! After his lawyer was not able to obtain bail for Yee (obviously a dangerous criminal!) on Friday, Yee has apparently grown very depressed and has not eaten for the past 72 hours. This resulted in a trip to the emergency room after his blood glucose levels plummeted.
He is reported to be held at block 7 in the institution, believed to be the remand ward where mentally ill patients and the criminally insane are also held.

Mdm Mary Toh tells TOC on Sunday that her son’s blood glucose level has dropped and that he has also been feeling giddy.

Mdm Toh had earlier said her son had not been eating for several days, was also not sleeping well and was feeling depressed. She says he has lost weight too.

“Even this morning, he was asking me why he can’t be released,” Mdm Toh says.

“Amos pleaded [with me] to get him out soon,” Mdm Toh told TOC on Wednesday. “He can’t stand even another day in there. He said prison is better than IMH.”
Remember, this is all over a kid who posted a Youtube video and a racy picture. What the hell is going on in Singapore?

Yee is expected to be sentenced Monday (which is likely to happen within the next few hours, because Singapore is a day ahead of North America).

Here's Yee's last Facebook post, on July 2nd, from within the mental hospital:
Well my fellow viewers, I think until I am released from Prison, this is all I can manage to say.

In lieu of all of my news, and me being in remand, is centrally, the discourse on our rights to freedom of speech. And those rights, I still manage to uphold, as you can see, even when I am placed in jail. And the reason why is because maybe as of now, perhaps comparatively to most people, I know that my views can influence people, I know that my voice is powerful, and I should never be afraid of using it, especially when the primary aversion to my voice is formed by an unjust and corrupt Government.

But really my fellow viewers, you have a voice too, you always had a voice, and I urge everyone to never doubt the power of what a voice of just a single individual can hold, because a voice can convey ideas.

An idea is controversial, an idea is something we must stand behind, must answer for. An idea, a good idea, is more powerful that any Government or Cathedral. Will survive eras, will survive social and economic turmoil.

And if we allow the government, the police and the law, to continue to censor us, to use archaic laws to dictate our ideas and our views, to use fear to threaten us into not expressing our views, then though I am a prisoner, when freedom cannot be granted to me, you are a prisoner although freedom is granted to you. And that’s more saddening than any number of months or years in jail that I have to endure.

And if I am locked up in Prison and unable to continue posting pictures of Lee Kuan Yew buttfucking Margaret Thatcher, then I hope that there is a person out there, whoever you are, who will continue doing so. And believe me, there will be.

But don’t ever never aim to be the next Einstein, the next Gandhi or the next Amos Yee (Haha). But instead, focus on you, and become the best possible version of yourself. Because everyone, including you, are exceptionally unique, and it is the ones that embrace their uniqueness, that they become someone truly special and great.

So now alas I am done, I take my leave

Adieu my friends adieu… parting is such sweet sorrow…
It's hard to believe these are the words of a mere sixteen year old.

There have been protests within Singapore and Hong Kong for Yee's immediate release.

Petition is here.

Amnesty International demanding Yee's immediate release here.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Bangladeshi Politician Jailed For Hurting Religious Sentiment, Branded 'Atheist' & Life Threatened

Abdul Latif Siddiqui
Atheist bloggers aren't the only ones in Bangladesh who need to be very careful about what they say. Politicians also risk being murdered for expressing any opinion which could inflame the rage of Islamic terrorists.
“He will be killed wherever he is found. No atheist has been spared since the independence of Bangladesh,” the Dhaka Tribune quoted Maulana Junayed Al Habib as saying at an Iftar gathering at Jamia Madania Madrassa in Dhaka.
Apparently, Al Habib is a representative of an organization which represents some 70,000 religious schools - Islamic madrassas. The fact that he has the gall to speak this threat in public and that he's not immediately hauled off to jail for it, says a lot about the current state of human rights in Bangladesh.

In fact, Bangladesh is an excellent study case of what happens to a so-called secular nation in which religion has assumed such primacy that it has now effectively become a terrifying theocracy.
Slandering religion and “hurting religious sentiment” are illegal in Bangladesh. Vigilantes have also taken the law into their own hands. This year alone, suspected fundamentalists have killed three secular bloggers in separate machete attacks.
Murdering politicians who happened to say something impious is perfectly okay, though.

Siddiqui was fired by the Prime Minister while he was abroad in New York. He made the fatal mistake of pointing out that perhaps the Muslim Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the Hajj, might be a bit of a waste of money.
“It is sheer waste of manpower. Some 20 lakh [two million] people have gone to Saudi Arabia. They have no work to do. It is deduction, rather than production. They are spending and consuming. They are taking the country’s money to Saudi Arabia,” he said in alleged footage of the event posted on YouTube. 
They are taking the money of a rather poor country and transferring it en masse to Saudi Arabia - a mind-numbingly rich human rights abuser.

For this comment, he got seven months in prison. He is now on bail. Apparently, he lives in a secular country. His lawyer had this to say.
“Atheism is not illegal in our country and we do not have Sharia Law to demand [the] death sentence [for] atheists. The government should take stern action against all irrespective of their political or other identities in such cases,” Barua told the Dhaka Tribune. 
Keep repeating this and perhaps someone might believe you. It's been clearly demonstrated that atheism will get you murdered in Bangladesh by mouth frothing, machete wielding religious lunatics. The government appears to be taking stern action by apparently being scared shitless of the terrorists and making mealy mouthed excuses.
They say “it is a sensitive matter” and that they plan to persuade the groups not to stage confrontations during the holy month.

“The government is monitoring the situation carefully and nobody would be allowed to create any law and order situation during Ramadan,” a minister told BenarNews, requesting anonymity.
Sounds like they're handling this situation like a boss! Laying down the law in Bangladesh!

Meanwhile, protesters appear to still be in need of some delicate persuasion not to slice this politician - who is not even necessarily an atheist - to ribbons.
Members of Islami Oikyo Jote – also a part of Hefazat – marched in Dhaka’s Lalbagh area on Tuesday to protest his release.

“The atrocious atheists and murtads (infidel) are being patronized by granting Latif Siddiqui bail. They will not be allowed to live in this country,” Mufti Faizullah, secretary general of the Jote, said, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
Why are the authorities not throwing this man into jail? I guess jail time might further offend his delicate religious sensitivities. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Confederate Flag 'Brand': The Need to Critically Re-examine Symbols From Our Youth

A 1959 protest against admission of first 9 black students to an Arkansas white only high school. (source)
The following is a guest post by Phoebe Helen, a reader from Delaware, who is both an atheist and a Humanist. Due to her employment situation, she would prefer to use a pen name. It is about how we can be born and trapped into labels which mean very different things to different people.

I was frankly baffled over the past week to see one of my typically kind and tolerant facebook friends posting alarmist article after dismaying image after hyperbolic update defending the Confederate Flag and the protection of her Southern Heritage.  I watched with mounting agitation as day after day her passion on the subject grew. Where had this come from? Finally, I asked her.
I've been struggling with trying to understand why this is your issue, the thing you feel so strongly about that, as you said a few days ago, you are willing to take up arms (did you mean kill people?) over. I've not been arguing, I've just been trying to understand. But I don't. Please help me. What, exactly, is the heritage that you think this flag stands for, that you want to protect, other people's feelings be damned? I'm not getting it, and I know you are a nice person. Please define this "heritage" for me. Thank you.
I expected her response to include concepts like states’ rights and freedom of speech. Instead, I got:
It's first kisses, first dances. and first time falling in love. It's holding hands at the county fair and riding the upside down rides for the first time. It's football game noises and nachos accidentally spilled on a girl in a fur coat in front of me. It's hay rides in the fall. It's winter dances and the song Blueberry Hill. It's cutting classes and getting a burger at lunch. Every good memory I have as a young person has this flag in it. 
Ah-ha, I thought. This I understand. This is what kept me a Christian for so long. My “brand”. Wearing a cross necklace signaling to others, “I’m a good person.” Looking for symbols to find those ‘raised right’ the way I was, who could be trusted. My brand of people.

My friend’s thinking seems to be going something like this: She’s a good person. Her friends are good people. The flag is integrally woven into their collective childhood memories, and has become part of their identity. If we say, based on every available fact, that the flag is racist, her mind takes a dip in the pool of cognitive dissonance, where logic is lost in the murky depths. She does not self-identify as a racist. She has joyful images swimming through her mind with the flag as backdrop. Ergo, the flag is not offensive. The people attacking “us” and calling “us” racist are trying to associate our beloved flag with those crazies who have co-opted it into white supremacy. Get out the pitchforks to defend against this attack on our heritage, our memories, our very identities!

It’s a branding problem. The flag absolutely is racist. Those “crazies” using the flag are in fact following the ‘manufacturer’s instructions’ that came with the brand – Please use this flag to fight for superiority of the white race. Repeat as necessary until superiority achieved.

A similar thing is going on with Christianity. The most fundamental believers are considered by the religious moderates to be “the crazies” for trying to legislate six-thousand-year-old beliefs around values and science. They are following ‘manufacturer’s instructions for use of Bible’. Moderates and fundamentalists want to use the Christian cross to convey very different meanings, and each group thinks the others are not real Christians:
God is angry and vengeful, the cross is a battle flag, woe to the non-believer.

God is loving and tolerant, the cross is about acceptance, we adapt to changing times. 
Here is the thing about brands, which corporations know and fear – You don’t get to tell people what your brand means. They figure it out on their own, based on what they read and what they know about history and actions. If you fly your Confederate flag based on feel-good nostalgia, I am going to look at you and see a racist. If you wear your cross necklace based on warm-fuzzy feelings about love and forgiveness, I’m going to see you and get all jittery about right-wing extremists preaching intolerance and unconcerned with issues of social justice.

An important part of becoming a better society is coming to an understanding that some of the things that divide us are due to our tying our own self-identities to logos that don’t actually mean to others what we intend them to mean. Our ties to these brands weren’t consciously made based on our logical analysis of what this symbol stood for, comparing it to all other available symbolism, and choosing a banner that best suited our adult selves. You were most likely born into the symbols and raised to think everything that you love about yourself can be credited to the brand.
I’m a good Christian.

I’m a Southern Belle.

I’m a Southern Gentleman. 
Better would be:
I’m a good Person. I can read, think and understand exactly what a symbol stands for, and decide whether I actually do stand for what it really represents. 
The good news, as Bob Dylan would sing, is that the times, they are a changing. People are increasingly abandoning their associations with these symbols as a conscious decision to no longer lend their credibility to those who are “crazy”. Many are coming to understand this basic concept -- If others have a high likelihood of incorrectly interpreting my brand and thus developing a negative feeling about me, if I myself am appalled by what these “true believers” represent, then it is time for me to leave behind these brands to the ‘crazies’ and move forward. 

Minds once unthinkingly occupied by symbols are activating; people are waking up. They are dealing with the dissonance, and emerging intact. They still have their memories, their good behaviors, kindnesses and positive self images.  Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they never needed their ruby slippers. They had the goodness inside of them all along.

Monday, 29 June 2015

16 Year Old Singaporean Atheist Blogger May Be Sentenced to Reeducation Camps & 'Autism Treatment'

Amos Yee (source)
Remember that Singaporean sixteen year old blogger, Amos Yee? He was found guilty of wounding religious feeling and then sentenced to reformative training -- which I can only imagine is some sort of juvenile reeducation camp.

Straight Times lets us know that:
A stint at the Reformative Training Centre lasts between 18 and 30 months, and includes structured rehabilitation programmes, foot drills, and counselling. Offenders will not have contact with adult prison inmates.
Yee is in trouble for making this video:

He also posted this picture on his blog (now taken down):

Well, his conviction has been delayed already for three weeks for a psychiatric evaluation.  Most recently, his conviction has been delayed another two weeks due to suspicions that he's autistic!
Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Although there is no proven cure yet for autism, some medical care may help reduce their symptoms. For example, some medications are approved by US Food and Drug Administration to reduce irritability in children with autism. If the court decides that Yee must undergo MTO, it is not known what kind of ‘treatment’ the teen will receive.
Does this mean they're going to put him on mind altering drugs while he's in a government reeducation camp? All this for posting a video offending Christians and fans of the prior prime minister.

No word yet as to whether or not they diagnosed him with autism. Presumably, the suspicion is due to a misunderstanding that all autistic people lack empathy for... say... religious and patriotic sensibilities.

Al Jazeera Plus released this video summing up the situation:

Singapore Teen Makes Fun of Ex-Leader and Gets Arrested
A teenage blogger made fun of Singapore's late leader and was arrested. Now, he's being held for psychiatric review.
Posted by AJ+ on Thursday, 25 June 2015

Yee is due back in court July 6th.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

More Information on CFI Canada's Membership in ORF External Advisory Committee

Last Monday, we learned that the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) just got a new external advisory committee composed of some 23 religious leaders - none of which were named at the time. Then, a day later, we learned that it's actually a committee of 23 religious leaders and a single agnostic. Furthermore, that agnostic is actually Eric Adriaans, the national director of CFI Canada.

Eric posted a short report on the inaugural meeting of the new committee over at the CFI blog.
Eric Adriaans says of the appointment, “My inclusion on this committee is a significant demonstration of the Office of Religious Freedom’s recognition of the diversity of perspective to be found in Canada on matters of religious freedom.  Canada’s free-thinking, non-believing community should be encouraged to see evidence that the ORF has taken steps to include and welcome a representative from the growing non-believing community.  It is an honour to have been appointed and an honour to represent the perspectives of the significant and growing community of individuals who may variously self-identify with such terms as humanist, secularist, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, free-thinker or skeptic.
That last highlighted part ties very nicely into a question I had for Eric. Namely, why did Fr. Raymond J. de Souza call him an agnostic in his revelatory article and why does Adriaans' bio on the official committee webpage lack the word atheist, agnostic or non-religious, settling only for secular humanism? I couldn't help but think perhaps he was watering down certain important facets of the organization to make it more palatable to committee members perhaps.

I asked Eric directly concerning this via email and here's the relevant response:

Was there any hesitation to use the word "atheist" in the bio or article to de Souza. Asking because by saying "agnostic" vs secular or humanist or atheist it may be interpreted by some readers as whitewashing.
If your question is whether I'm afraid to be identified as atheist, the answer is no.  I chose "agnostic" for strategic reasons:

1) it is unexpected
2) it forces the kinds of questions you are asking
3) it doesn't sit comfortably and contentedly
4) as these things go, it is a contrarian term

I also don't want anybody thinking they know my (or CFICs) agenda before I have a chance to speak.  I want people to listen - both on the committee and in the broad community.... not just shut down due to an arbitrary and partial label.

I embrace both atheist and agnostic.  In fact, like you've done, I think the two should be paired more frequently.  I wish I had thought of that when I was speaking with DeSouza.

On any given day you could accurately say I'm a pragmatic atheist-agnostic with an assertively anti-authoritarian streak who is trying to accomplish progressive humanist-humanitarian changes; I admit that my skeptical approach is tainted by a slightly cynical attitude but I'm stoic enough not to worry myself over it. 
Adriaans is referring to a previous email where I identified myself as an agnostic atheist, which I believe is truly the honest position. In a very real sense, we're all agnostic... even the other 23 committee members. I'm also a big cynic too!

It's a shame there isn't an umbrella term which could be used -- perhaps an acronym comparable to LGBT. As it stands though, Eric did remind me that this was from a single article, by someone else, completely in passing, in an article about a completely different topic. So I don't think we should make much of this right now.

All this said, the most important thing is what can be achieved for atheists being oppressed by religious groups, governments and majorities across the globe. 
“Working for change in Canada and around the world requires CFI Canada to earn trust and respect across a variety of communities -  within the diverse secularist community and with those who continue in a religious or spiritual community,”  said Adriaans, ” We must take the opportunity to engage on equal footing and with full commitment to processes such as the ORF’s External Advisory Committee if we wish to see positive change on religious freedoms – and freedom from religion.”

The Office of Religious Freedom recently announced the launch of an International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief with Canada as a Chair.  Meanwhile, CFI Canada was a driving force behind the formation of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws earlier in 2015.  It is clear that Canadians have much to offer to the world when it comes to bringing diverse voices together – and that CFI Canada is unique in Canadian history as an advocate for secularism, free-thinking and non-belief in all of (its) diversity.
I'm all for working with religious leaders to improve the situation of those being oppressed in the name of religion. I'm looking forward to see what can be achieved over the committee's first one year mandate!

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