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Oct 17, 2016 Newsletter

Every November 11, people across BC and Canada take a moment to remember those who've lost their lives in war, and that includes the many atheists and non-religious people who've served.

Yet every year, we receive reports that various public Remembrance Day Ceremonies, which are run by local Legions, feature explicitly Christian prayers and invocations to the exclusion of any other worldviews.

The BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion has said that they "do not have rules which force branches to use specific prayers or invocations."

This year, we've already helped challenge religious content in the Port Coquitlam Legion's ceremony and we'll be paying attention for any other stories.

We're also helping Vancouver Peace Poppies organize a special event in the afternoon on November 11 to remember the civilian casualties of war and conflict. Please let us know if you're able to volunteer for that event.

Finally, please also let us know if you're a veteran so we can help debunk the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes.

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Religion in Remembrance Day Ceremony challenged in Port Coquitlam

The Port Coquitlam Legion is ignoring a local resident’s concerns that its 2015 Remembrance Day ceremony was too Christian.

In a June letter to the Legion, Rhamona Vos-Browning said the 2015 ceremony “left me somewhat saddened.”  He described how despite the “small, diverse sea of people” in attendance, the ceremony “ended with a clearly sectarian closing prayer” and included a blessing “May the Lord bless and keep you.”

If the Legion insisted on maintaining the prayer, Vos-Browning offered to help the Legion find a Humanist officiant, such as one from the BC Humanist Association, to provide a secular invocation too.

Two months later, after following up his letter with several phone calls, Vos-Browning was told by the Legion that the agenda is set by the BC/Yukon Command. But when Vos-Browning spoke to the Command, he was told there are no rules to “force branches to use specific prayers or invocations” and that Command would inform the Port Coquitlam branch of this fact.

Despite this assurance, Vos-Browning has not been able to confirm whether the Port Coquitlam Legion plans to include a sectarian prayer again in its 2016 program.

Mr Rhamona Vos-Browning said:

My objective is not to embarrass the folk who organize our local event - they put in a lot of time and effort and they do a good job - however, Port Coquitlam is a diverse community and our public ceremonies need to reflect that.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association:

Men and women of all faith and none have fought and died for this country. Public ceremonies like those run by the Legion in communities across Canada should be sensitive to this, particularly as Canada has veterans of all faiths and none. Sectarian prayers dishonour the atheists and members of minority religions who have served the country.

In November 2015, Humanist veterans wrote to the Grandview Legion in Vancouver over concerns that its ceremony excluded non-Christians.

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Why do science issues seem to divide us along party lines?

By Lauren GriffinUniversity of Florida

Much has been made about the predictable partisan split between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on issues of science and public policy. But what about their supporters? Can Americans really be that far apart in terms of science?

That liberals and conservatives have different opinions toward science is taken as a given. Typically, conservatives are painted as anti-science, with some studies suggesting their mistrust of science is increasing. Liberals, on the other hand, are usually assumed to be more receptive to science in general and more supportive of using science to shape policy.

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Oct 11, 2016 Newsletter

While medical assistance in dying is now legal and available for some, too many hurdles remain and are causing too many Canadians to endure needless suffering.

The biggest challenge here in BC might be the fact that many religious hospitals (who receive around $1 billion in public funding) are refusing to even allow conversations to happen about a patient's legal right to an assisted death.

This is why Dying With Dignity Canada is asking you to write an email to Premier Christy Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake, asking them to remove this unjust barrier.

The other barrier is the restriction put in place by Bill C-14 that restricts access to those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable."

We spoke against this at the time and now BCHA Honorary Member Gary Bauslaugh has launched a petition to repeal that section of the law.

Visit our website to read more about these two easy actions and then:



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Take action to expand access to medical assistance in dying

Canadians in suffering earned the right to an assisted death in June, but too many barriers remain in the way.

Last week, news broke that a dying Vancouver man was denied a peaceful assisted death at St Paul's Hospital and was required to endure a brutal patient transfer to Vancouver General to fufil his constitutional right.

This happened because our government allows entire publicly-funded hospitals to decide a patient's treatment based on the will of a few Bishops instead of the wishes of that patient.

While Ian Schearer was ultimately able to see his choice respected at VGH, not everyone will have that chance. BC spends around $1 billion on religious healthcare institutions and in some communities, a person's only choice is a religious hospital.

To challenge this threat to access, Dying With Dignity Canada has launched a new tool to ask the Government of BC to respect patients' rights.

Please use their tool to send an email today.

And make sure to tell Premier Christy Clark that over 70% of British Columbians oppose publicly-funded healthcare institutions being able to refuse to provide treatments on religious grounds.

Catholic hospitals aren't the only threat to access however.

Bill C-14 was the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous Carter decision. That ruling said that medial assistance in dying should be available to competent, consenting adults with "a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual." Yet Bill C-14 callously restricted access to those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable."

Now, a new e-petition is calling on the federal government to remove that restriction.

Sign the petition 

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The Province covers AA human rights complaint

Update (Oct 7, 2016): See below for our letter in today's edition of The Province.

The front page story of The Province today covered Byron Wood's human rights complaint over being forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous over secular alternatives.

Wood told The Province:

If I questioned the 12-step philosophy or tried to discuss scientific explanations and treatments for addiction, I was labelled as ‘in denial’. I was told to admit that I am powerless, and to submit to a higher power. It was unhelpful and humiliating.

There was a mentality among staff that addiction is a moral failing in need of salvation. We were encouraged to pray.

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Oct 3, 2016 Newsletter

Our group has existed in one shape or another since 1982 and since 1990 we've gone by the name British Columbia Humanist Association.

That said, like many "BC" organizations, we are likely guilty of spending much of our focus on Metro Vancouver to the exclusion of the rest of the province.

In an effort to address this concern, your Board of Directors has created a survey to collect your feedback on whether we're adequately serving your needs.

We'll collect these responses over the next few weeks and use them to inform and build upon our ongoing work.

So please take a couple minutes and let us know what you think.

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International Blasphemy Rights Day 2016

Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day – a day to remember the publishing of the Danish Mohammed cartoons ten years ago that sparked several violent protests across the world.

It’s still an important day for advocates for freedom of expression as people are still being imprisoned and murdered for criticizing beliefs and art critical of religion is still being censored. And blasphemy is still a crime in Canada.

This is why we were very proud to see the City of Victoria support our proclamation recognizing the day.

Victoria International Blasphemy Rights Day proclamation
Photo credit: Sarah Hayes

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Sep 26, 2016 Newsletter - End Blasphemy Laws

Yesterday, an atheist writer was gunned down on the courthouse steps in the capital of Jordan.

He was set to stand trial for offending Islam by sharing a comic satirizing Mohammed on his Facebook page. The suspected shooter, a local imam and extremist, was allegedly motivated by anger over the blasphemous cartoon.

Meanwhile, a new film by atheist Louis Theroux critical of Scientology will not be shown in Ireland because publishers are afraid they'll be sued under the country's new libel laws that include "blasphemous matter."

These two cases highlight the continued relevance and importance of events like Banned Books Week (this week) and International Blasphemy Rights Day, which is September 30.

It is also why it was so encouraging to learn last week that the City of Victoria had agreed to proclaim International Blasphemy Rights Day. Although that proclamation only came after some debate, further highlighting how precarious our right to free speech is, even here in Canada.

While we don't have any festivities planned for either event this year, I do strongly encourage you to sign the e-petition calling on the federal government to repeal Canada's blasphemy law and to make sure you share that with as many people as you can.

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Doctors have no right to refuse medical assistance in dying, abortion or contraception

Editor's note: This editorial was originally published in the journal Bioethics under a Creative Commons license. It's a follow up to an article first published by Udo Schuklenk in May 2015 and responded to by Christopher Cowley in December 2015. Unfortunately, both of those articles are behind paywalls.

The debate is over whether doctors should be able to refuse to provide certain legal medical procedures, such as medical assistance in dying or abortions. Schuklenk argues that the rights of patients and a doctors' professional obligations should outweigh any individual moral attitudes. The BC Humanist Association made a similar (albeit significantly more abridged) argument in our submission to the Parliamentary committee that studied medical assistance in dying earlier this year.

By Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk


In an article in this journal, Christopher Cowley argues that we have ‘misunderstood the special nature of medicine, and have misunderstood the motivations of the conscientious objectors’.1 We have not. It is Cowley who has misunderstood the role of personal values in the profession of medicine. We argue that there should be better protections for patients from doctors' personal values and there should be more severe restrictions on the right to conscientious objection, particularly in relation to assisted dying. We argue that eligible patients could be guaranteed access to medical services that are subject to conscientious objections by: (1) removing a right to conscientious objection; (2) selecting candidates into relevant medical specialities or general practice who do not have objections; (3) demonopolizing the provision of these services away from the medical profession.

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