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Repealing Canada's other blasphemy law

For over a decade, supporters of free expression have been calling for the repeal of section 296 of Canada’s Criminal Code. This section is colloquially called Canada’s blasphemy law as it prohibits “blasphemous libel”. While no one has been charged under the section in eighty years, it remains a symbol that theocratic regimes can point to justify their own punishments.

Last year, over 7400 freethinkers across Canada signed a petition calling on the government to repeal this section. And recently the federal government has introduced a bill to repeal this section.

Bill C-51 also repeals a number of other outdated sections of the Criminal Code and makes a few other amendments. The majority of these changes are uncontroversial as they merely codify existing judicial precedent. But Hansard records of the first debate on the bill reveal one surprisingly contentious issue among some Conservative MPs.

Specifically, they are concerned that the bill would repeal section 176 of the Criminal Code. This section criminalizes obstructing a “clergyman or minister from celebrating divine service” and disturbing religious worship. What follows is a look at what the courts have said about this law and some analysis on whether Humanists should be in favour or opposed to its repeal. The full text is copied at the end of this article.

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June 19, 2017 Newsletter

For the second year in a row, we'll be at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. Drop by on Sunday, July 9 between noon and 7 PM and say hi to us at our tent.

As soon as we have our specific location, we'll let you know. In the meantime, if you're able to help at our table, sign up for a shift on our website.

We'll also be in the Vancouver Pride Parade and the Pride Festival on Sunset Beach again this year on August 6. We'll have more details on those soon but you can already register your interest on our website.

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June 12, 2017 Newsletter

Last year, over 4500 Canadians, including 1500 British Columbians, signed a petition calling for Canada's blasphemy law to be repealed.

In January, the Minister responded to say the law was under review and last week presented a bill to remove blasphemous libel from Canada's Criminal Code.

While this section is mostly dormant, repealing it will ensure it can't be reactivated, as happened recently in Denmark, and can send a signal to theocratic states that are prosecuting their citizens for blasphemy.

The bill also includes a number of other provisions to clean up the Criminal Code and strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault.

This is a good first step but we'll need to keep pressure up until this bill receives Royal Assent.

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Canadian Government tables bill to repeal blasphemy law

Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould today introduced a bill to repeal Canada's blasphemy law. The bill would also remove other outdated and unconstitutional provisions of the Criminal Code, strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault and require new government bills to include a Charter Statement explaining its impact on Canadian's rights.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code states that anyone who publishes a "blasphemous libel" could face up to two years imprisonment. In 2016, nearly 7500 Canadians signed an e-petition calling on the government to repeal the law. In her response, the Minister promised to address the provision as part of the Liberal's election commitment to reform the justice system.

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Jun 5, 2017 Newsletter

Barely two weeks after the attack in Manchester and we're watching another Islamist attack unfold in the UK.

This time the tragedy hits home for us here in British Columbia, as one of the victims, thirty-year old Chrissy Archibald, was originally from Castlegar. As described in the statement from Humanists UK, Chrissy's values and commitments reflect some of the best in humanity. 

The only named victim so far is Canadian woman Chrissy Archibald, who lived her life according to a belief ‘that every person was to be valued and respected’, who spent much of her adult life volunteering to help the homeless, who was a contributor to human happiness and welfare and wellbeing.

Our thoughts are with her friends and family here in BC, as well with those of the other victims of this tragedy.

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May 23, 2017 Newsletter

It feels like every few months we face another tragedy, another senseless loss of life and another cycle of emotions.

This time it's the loss of 22 lives, many teens and children, at a concert in Manchester, UK. The attack - and the Humanist response - is reminiscent of Paris in November 2015Brussels in 2016Quebec in 2017 or any number of other acts of terrorism.

Those sentiments remain true. We must remain steadfast in our support for an open, tolerant and peaceful society in the face of extremist violence and intimidation.

This is how we demonstrate the universality of Humanist values against a backdrop of those few who reject them.

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Act now for clinical trial transparency

As Humanists, we want to create compassionate world using the best available evidence.

Unfortunately, the policies that govern our pharmaceutical medicines rely on neither our compassion nor the best evidence.

The AllTrials Campaign, which I worked with Sense About Science on from 2013-2015, calls for every clinical trial to be registered and the results of all trials to be reported. Otherwise, we can't know whether the medicines we take work and we betray the trust of patients who participate in those trials.

This video and have more information on the importance of this campaign.

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Christian sex advice websites offer a peek into evangelical politics

By Kelsy BurkeUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

On May 4, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows churches and religious leaders to explicitly endorse or oppose a political candidate without penalty to their nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Responses from white conservative evangelicals showed that this wasn’t what they were looking for. What they wanted, it seems, was legal protection for religious institutions and business owners to deny services to same-sex couples and transgender persons.

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May 15, 2017 Newsletter

Last week, some of the largest communities on Facebook for ex-Muslims and the non-religious were blocked.

The move came after coordinated campaigns to report the pages as offensive triggered Facebook's algorithms to unpublish the pages. This included Atheist Republic, which was started by Vancouver ex-Muslim Armin Navabi and has over 1.6 million likes, including many in Islamic countries.

While Facebook eventually reactivated the pages and apologized, this incident put the page administrators under extreme stress and risked silencing entire communities.

I hope you'll join me in signing the Ex-Muslims of North America petition asking Facebook to take steps to prevent this from happening again.

Sign the petition

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Blasphemy isn't just a problem in the Muslim world

Ireland’s state police recently concluded their investigation of comedian Stephen Fry, who stood accused of criminal blasphemyThe Conversation

In an interview that aired on Irish public television, Fry had described God as “capricious, mean-minded, stupid,” and “an utter maniac.” And Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009 clearly prohibits the “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.” Yet on May 8 the police closed the case, explaining they’d been “unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.”

The mild resolution to this incident stands in stark contrast to recent news out of Pakistan – which has seen a spike in blasphemy-related violence – and Indonesia, where the outgoing governor of Jakarta was just sentenced to two years in prison for speaking irreverently against Islam.

The Irish case is also a timely reminder, though, that anti-blasphemy laws are hardly unique to the Muslim world. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one-fifth of European countries and a third of countries in the Americas, notably Canada, have laws against blasphemy.

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