This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a freedom of religion case launched by the Ktunaxa Nation that sought to block development of a year-round ski resort in the East Kootenays.
The Ktunaxa believe that Grizzly Bear Spirit inhabits Qat’muk, the Jumbo Mountain region where Glacier Resorts sought to build their resort. Construction of permanent structures on the mountain would drive the spirit away. In this way, the Ktunaxa, like many other indigenous spiritualities, see the land itself as sacred or as part of the divine. This is in contrast to Western religions that typically separate the spiritual and physical realms. As such, the Ktunaxa argued that allowing development on the sacred land would destroy the focus of their worship and render their religious views moot. You can’t pray or worship what is no longer there.
This case was one of the first tests of religious freedom claims by an Indigenous group in Canada. The Ktunaxa lost at trial and the BC Court of Appeal, with both courts dismissing the freedom of religion claims and stating that the government had fulfilled its constitutional requirements to consult with the Nation.Read more
The BC Humanist Association filed our arguments at the Supreme Court of Canada today in two cases over the proposed law school at Trinity Western University.
In our factum, we argue that only individuals, and not organizations, should be able to claim to have religious rights. Canadian courts have repeatedly refused to recognize an organization's religious rights and to do so could open a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences. In the USA, rulings such as Citizen's United and Hobby Lobby have resulted in a dramatic expansion of the power of corporations over individual citizens.Read more
UPDATE (July 31, 2017): Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has just released an order reversing Justice Wagner's initial decision and approved all group's applications to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Trinity Western University cases. She also extended the hearing to two days to accommodate the numerous groups.
This means that the BC Humanist Association will be in Ottawa in November to argue for limits to what religious rights an organization can claim.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler were found guilty yesterday of polygamy. The two are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Bountiful BC and have over thirty wives between them.
Blackmore has welcomed the verdict, arguing it opens the opportunity for him to challenge the constitutionality of the law.Read more
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.Read more
Ex-staffers have told HuffPost Canada that Senator Don Meredith forced them to pray with him and draft sermons while on the Parliamentary clock.
Meredith is a Pentecostal pastor at the GTA Faith Alliance church in Richmond Hill, Ontario and is facing expulsion from the Senate following a separate investigation into a sexual relationship with a teenage girl.Read more
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.Read more
BC's Select Standing Committee on Health released a report last week calling for the province to fund evidence-based addiction recovery programs and expand harm reduction services.
The recommendations were part of the report, Looking Forward: Improving Rural Health Care, Primary Care, and Addictions Recovery Programs, which follows consultations that the BC Humanist Association took part in last June.
Specifically, the BC Humanist Association called on the province to end its tacit endorsement of religious based addictions recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).Read more
Canada's highest court announced last week that it will hear appeals on the proposed law school at Evangelical Christian Trinity Western University.
Law societies in BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia had denied accreditation to the school on the basis that the Community Covenant it forces students to sign excludes same-sex couples. Appeal courts in Nova Scotia and BC sided with TWU, while the Ontario court sided with their law society. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the appeals to the BC and Ontario decisions together later this year.Read more
In a unanimous decision released today, the BC Court of Appeal sided with Trinity Western University over the Law Society of BC.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the BC Supreme Court that the steps taken by the Law Society of BC’s to reject TWU’s proposed law school were flawed. The appeal court went further by declaring that TWU’s religious freedoms outweighed the discrimination against LGBTQ law students would face.
TWU excludes LGBTQ students by requiring all students to sign a Community Covenant that forbids sex outside a heterosexual marriage and abortion.
In June, the BC Humanist Association and Canadian Secular Alliance argued in a co-intervention that religious freedom doesn’t protect the creation of a secular law school. We further argued that the Community Covenant coerces TWU students into following a narrow Evangelical Christian worldview, when TWU, by its own admission, welcomes students of all faiths and none.Read more