Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.

Rebuilding science capacity in Canada after a decade of destruction

Canada is emerging from a decade in which our government systematically dismantled the research capacity of our nation.

The Liberal government has touted their support for science and evidence-based policies. One of their first actions was to put together an expert panel to review how fundamental research is funded in Canada to take stock of the current ecosystem and see where improvements are needed.

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July 31, 2017 Newsletter

We will not be going to the Supreme Court of Canada this fall.

Last year, we joined an intervention with the Canadian Secular Alliance at the BC Court of Appeal over the proposed law school at evangelical Trinity Western University. The court ultimately ruled with TWU and didn't address the arguments we made.

We had hoped to expand upon those arguments - that there are strict limits to what religious rights an organization can claim - at Canada's highest court but ultimately only a small number of the dozens of groups that had asked to intervene were allowed through.

We'll continue to look to promote secular values in Canadian law and will watch this potentially landmark case when it's heard in November but unfortunately we have to do so from the sidelines this time.

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July 24, 2017 Newsletter

Later today a BC court will decide whether to convict fundamentalist Mormons Winston Blackmore and James Oler with polygamy. They are alleged to have married over 30 women between them.

This trial brings into conflict some of the values at the core of Humanism.

On the one hand, the principles of liberty ask us to support the free association of individuals, including in non-traditional relationships (for example, same sex couples or polyamorous relationships). In fact, we had UBC Philosophy Professor Carrie Jenkins talk to our Vancouver group last month about the evolution of the societal concepts of love. Similarly, our allies at the BC Civil Liberties Association have argued vociferously that the polygamy law is unconstitutional.

On the other hand, Humanists have a deep concern over how religious dogma leads to exploitation and violence against women and girls in this community. We have a duty to fight for the oppressed and to seek to reduce injustice in the world.

Whatever today's verdict, it is not likely to be the final word on this case.

If you are interested in hearing more about the details of this case, follow Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham, who has been covering this story for years and will be speaking at our Vancouver meeting in August.

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July 17, 2017 Newsletter

Already 40,000 people across this province have been forced to evacuate their homes as wildfires rage across the province. While firefighters are making heroic efforts to hold back the spread, there's still no rain in the forecast.

Last year, when thousands evacuated Fort McMurray, Alberta, you responded with thousands of dollars to support the Red Cross' relief efforts. If you're so moved again, consider volunteering to relief centres across the province or donating to the Red Cross' BC Fires appeal.

If Humanism compels us to do anything, it's to help others in their time of need.

And if you're in one of the affected areas, please let us know that you're okay and if there's anything the Humanist community in BC can do for you. Even if you have a positive story in the midst of this crisis, we'd love to share it.

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Canadian media relies on fear in refugee coverage

By Sandra M. Riano, Royal Roads University

Anti-migrant sentiment has been big news in Canada and around the world in recent years, and new research suggests that although media coverage of refugee issues has improved, it still needs work.

Racist, anti-refugee and Islamophobic views have been blamed for the mosque shooting in Quebec City, the travel ban in the United States, Brexit and increasing support for far-right nationalist political parties. Some observers argue that the media encourages fear and hate towards refugees, while others counter that news outlets do their best with the information and resources at hand.

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Public health at risk when opinions trump evidence

By Nicole Letourneau, University of Calgary

In the Trump era, we have seen dramatic reductions in dialogue on important issues of the day. We have seen attacks on the legitimacy of science. We have seen attacks on trusted news sources, derided as fake. On social media, one person’s opinion, whether expert or not, often seems to outweigh all other forms of evidence. Belief in an opinion is treated as a legitimate form of evidence. For many people today, beliefs about vaccination or breastfeeding or marijuana inform everyday important decisions that affect their health and the public’s health.

This is dangerous.

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Should medical assistance in dying be available for people with existential suffering?

By Xavier Symons, University of Notre Dame Australia and Udo Schüklenk, Queen's University, Ontario

Euthanasia debates often focus on people experiencing unbearable physiological or psychological suffering. But research suggests “loss of autonomy” is the primary reason for requesting euthanasia, even among patients with terminal cancer. There have also been suggestions existential suffering could be one of the main motivations behind such requests.

Existential suffering refers to an individual experiencing a lack of meaning or sense of purposelessness in life. Such sentiments bring feelings of weariness, numbness, futility, anxiety, hopelessness and loss of control, which may lead a dying patient to express a desire for death.

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July 10, 2017 Newsletter

We had a great time introducing Humanism to so many eager people at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive again this year and were equally happy to talk to so many people who've followed us for many years.

For those who are newer to the organization, let me take a second to introduce us.

Since 1984 we've aimed to provide a community and a voice for the non-religious in BC.

Here in Vancouver, we offer weekly Sunday meetings on a variety of topics - and I strongly recommend listening to some of our fantastic recent speakers on our podcast. But we also know that over half our membership lives outside Vancouver, so we're looking to work with small and large groups across the province to build that community from Victoria to Fort St John.

As the largest voice for Humanism in Western Canada, we seek to advocate for progressive and secular values. We successfully ended the distribution of Gideon Bibles in BC public schools, we've spoken out for medical assistance in dyingagainst blasphemy laws, for secularism and the right to perform marriages. As part of those efforts, we've applied to intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case over evangelical Trinity Western University's proposed law school.

All of this is funded entirely by individual members and donors. So consider joining the association, which gives you a vote at our AGM, setting up a monthly donation (thanks to the three people who did so in the past week!) and volunteering to help out.

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The strategies that drive our morality

By DB Krupp, Queen's University, Ontario

Our lives are plagued by controversy. We argue about immigration, gun control and gay rights. We argue about climate change, economic inequality and vaccines. We even argue about the geometry of the Earth.

To make sense of this, pundits often appeal to beliefs — lumping people together as “liberal” or “conservative” blocs, say, or as “religious” or “secular” factions. In naming these beliefs, we are given the impression that something has been explained, even when it hasn’t. Labels don’t tell us why we choose sides, and they don’t tell us how to bring those sides closer together.

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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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