Delta Police Interfaith Symposium is "endorsement by exclusion"

Update (May 1, 2017): The Chief's response and our take can be found below.

The BC Humanist Association has accused the Delta Police Department of religious "endorsement by exclusion" over a recent Interfaith Symposium on drug addiction.

The event, held on March 30 at Baitur Rahman Mosque in Delta, was the second annual Interfaith Symposium held by the Department. This year's focus was on addictions and the role religion plays in addictions recovery.

Delta Police Chief Neil Dubbord reportedly said at the symposium:

Whenever I have spoken to anyone who is making the journey, faith is a major part in what they believe in. Consider these statistics from people who accepted a religious faith into their lives: two times more likely not to smoke, three times more likely not to binge drink, four times more likely not to use illicit drugs and six times more likely not to smoke weed or pot. Without faith nothing is possible and nothing is impossible, so it is clear that faith plays a most important role in drugs and drug addiction.

The BC Humanist Association challenges the constitutionality of excluding non-religious voices from the event and the evidence for Chief Dubbord's comments.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

We're extremely concerned by Chief Dubbord's comments. Even if faith-based treatments worked, and the best evidence suggests they don't, it's incredibly inappropriate for a police chief to be endorsing religious programs. For decades, religion has been forced upon indigenous and other marginalized communities in this province, in particular through faith-based recovery programs. We hope that going forward the Delta Police will seek secular voices for these symposia and observe its duty of religious neutrality.

The BC Humanist Association has previously called on the BC Legislature's health committee to prioritize secular and evidence based recovery programs and has supported a human rights complaint over mandatory AA.

Read the letter.


Update: May 1, 2017

We received Delta Police Chief Constable Neil Dubbord's response to our letter on April 26. Read his response.

Ian Bushfield responded:

We made two simple requests in our letter. First, that there be non-religious representation at future interfaith events that the Delta Police Department takes part in, and second, that Department representatives do not endorse one religion over another or over non-belief. Unfortunately, Chief Dubbord's letter ignores both these requests.

While I stand by our applause for the Delta Police's proactive efforts to tackle the opioid crisis by engaging the broader community in the discussion around prevention and harm reduction, it's disappointing that Delta's non-religious community are still being left at the sidelines.

Banner credit: Ian Jacques, Delta Optimist


April 10, 2017

Re: Interfaith Symposium on Drug Addiction

Dear Chief Dubord

While we applaud the Delta Police Department’s recent efforts to foster a broad conversation to tackle the fentanyl crisis, we are concerned about your recent Interfaith Symposium on responding to drug addiction and the role of religion.

The challenges posed to our communities by drug addiction, fentanyl and the opioid crisis are well documented and demand innovative solutions. Bringing community leaders, including faith leaders, into the conversation is an important step. Solving these crises require thinking beyond the outmoded “war on drugs” ideology and we’re encouraged to see a local police department lead this effort.

However, we would be remiss not to push back against the inherent exclusionary aspects of this event. While there were a diversity of theistic faiths at the table – Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains and Mormons – there was no representation for Delta’s sizable non-religious constituency. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 47% of Metro Vancouver residents said they have “no religion”. Our own 2016 poll suggests as many as 70% don’t practice a religion or faith and 26% don’t believe in a higher power.[1] Any way you slice it, this event needlessly excluded a significant portion of the community.

This endorsement by exclusion is problematic enough but, on the specific topic of addictions recovery, it also fails to recognize the long history of faith communities using recovery programs for proselytization. Notably, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) considers addiction “an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer” and requires adherents to submit to a “higher power.” You seem to reflect on this in the statistics you cite in your comments in the Delta Optimist regarding relapse rates among “people who accepted a religious faith into their lives.”[2] While the coverage didn’t provide a reference for your statistics, let us be clear: The most thorough analysis of AA concluded that, “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step program] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”[3] Similarly, the BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Health emphasized addiction treatment programs “that have proven to be effective and that have demonstrated positive long-term outcomes” in its recent report.[4],[5] There are a growing number of secular options for addictions treatment in BC, including SMART Recovery and LifeRing.

Even beyond the statistics, for an atheist suffering from a substance use issue, faith-based programs represent a coercive and harmful attempt to evangelize to vulnerable populations. Nevertheless, AA remains a standard part of treatment plans prescribed by doctors, employers and the courts.[6] In this light, I hope you can see how your non-religious constituents might see your comments as marginalizing their worldview.

Finally, the Supreme Court of Canada has said, “The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.” [7] We hope you will consider your future comments and your Department’s role in future interfaith events in light of this duty.

We are always happy to work with groups that want to include a secular perspective. We can typically find a representative to provide a thoughtful and respectful contribution to these events, which can help bridge different worldviews and communities. We would ask, however, that as a Police Department, you only recommend secular and evidence-based treatment programs going forward.

We hope you will receive these suggestions as a path toward a constructive relationship with Delta’s non-religious community.

Sincerely

Ian Bushfield
Executive Director
BC Humanist Association
exdir@bchumanist.ca

[3] Ferri M, Amato L, Davoli M. “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes for alcohol dependence.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD005032. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005032.pub2.

[4] The Committee’s Report: http://bit.ly/LegReport

[5] Read The BC Humanist Association submission: http://bit.ly/BCHAHealth

[6] Read about the case of Byron Wood here: http://bit.ly/ByronWood

[7] Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), 2015 SCC 16, [2015] 2 S.C.R. 3



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