Blog

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


Barriers for Humanist refugees - Jan 22, 2018 Newsletter

As a Humanist, Hamza bin Walayat fled Pakistan for the UK fearing that he could face execution or vigilante attacks for his "apostasy."

The UK Home Office recently denied Walayat's asylum application, however, as they claim he couldn't identify Plato and Aristotle as Greek Humanist philosophers and that he contradicted himself by saying Humanism both is and isn't a religion.

The case is frankly baffling. While Greek philosophers laid the groundwork for Humanism in Europe, it's hardly the only path to freethought. Similarly, whether Humanism should be considered a "religion" or not is a philosophical and semantic question; it's not a sensible basis to reject a refugee application. There's more information about the case at the International Humanist & Ethical Union and Humanists UK.

What this story highlights is the ever present threat faced by atheists and Humanists in theocratic states around the world. It also shows the importance of programs to support refugees fleeing those situations.

In 2016 we started a process to sponsor a Syrian refugee family to come to Canada. That application is still working its way through the bureaucracy. We're hopeful that we can welcome those people to Vancouver later this year.

But we're just one small organization with neither the resources nor the capacity to meet the demand. Luckily, we're not alone and this recent feature in The Atlantic discusses some of the other important work being done.

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Our arguments from Ottawa - Dec 4, 2017 Newsletter

I just got back from my week in Ottawa last night. There I was supporting our lawyers in our intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Throughout the two days of hearings, I provided a running commentary from our Twitter account and did Facebook live recaps with our legal team.

You can find all of that content, along with the webcast of Wes McMillan, our lead counsel, arguing before the court on our website.

We can never know in advance what way a court will go. That said, I was encouraged by the fact many judges, particularly Justice Rosalie Abella, were engaged with the issues we planned to raise, namely whether a law school can even claim to have religious rights. No lower court has yet considered these questions in their decisions.

There's no timeline for when the Court will make its decision, though it will almost certainly be before June 15, 2018 which is the last day retiring Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is able to contribute to a decision.

What this shows is that our efforts are being paid attention to. We were only able to do this, however, with generous pro-bono support and donations from dozens of you. Please read our 2018 case for support and consider making a donation to our year end campaign if you haven't yet.

To everyone who's supported our work thus far: Thank you.

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Tweets from the Supreme Court of Canada TWU hearings

On Thursday and Friday last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the cases surrounding evangelical Trinity Western University's proposed law school. We were there as an intervenor and live-tweeted the hearings.

If you missed those tweets, we've collected the highlights below. Unfortunately, the service we used to collect our Tweets (Storify) was removed in 2018. You can still watch the webcasts of the hearings below.

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At the Supreme Court this week! - Nov 27, 2017 Newsletter

I don't have much time for the newsletter today as I'm finishing off a number of tasks before I head off to Ottawa tomorrow morning. There I'll be meeting up with our lawyers from Hakemi & Ridgedale to prep for our arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday and Friday.

Our first appearance at the country's highest court is in the cases over evangelical Trinity Western University's proposed law school. We're specifically arguing that TWU can't claim religious freedom as organizations don't have recognized beliefs in Canadian law.

You can read the full arguments that we submitted in our factum.

If you are interested in watching the hearings at home, they'll be live broadcast on CPAC. Unfortunately, we don't know what time we'll be presenting, so your best bet will be to follow our Twitter account, where I'll be live-tweeting the hearings. You can also follow #TWUlaw for everyone's running commentary on the hearings (you should be able to view those links without a Twitter account).

Finally, after each day's hearings, I'm going to debrief with our lawyers on Facebook live. Look for those videos on our Facebook page around 5pm EST on Thursday and Friday. I'll share links to those next week (I'll make sure you can see them without a Facebook account then).

If you want to help, please add to the conversation on social media and consider making a donation to our year-end campaign.

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Help us continue in 2018

We need your help in 2018 to keep the BC Humanist Association afloat.

This last year we've seen tremendous growth in our movement. We started 2017 with 1000 email supporters, now we have 2000. In the same period, we increased our membership by almost 50%. We’ve worked with people and groups from Kimberley to Prince George to Courtenay.

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Human rights & blasphemy laws - Nov 20, 2017 Newsletter

The bill to repeal Canada's blasphemy law has passed the House of Commons justice committee and is on track to become law by the end of this year or early next. While all parties agreed to repeal section 296 (the explicit blasphemy law) of the Criminal Code, MPs decided to amend rather than repeal section 176.

This latter section prohibits disrupting a religious service. Many conservative religious groups lobbied hard to keep it and that effort proved successful as MPs on the committee cited those letters as the reason for their change of heart.

This just shows how much more work we still have to do.

But we're getting there. Last week, I was able to present our petition with over 1000 signatures to add nonreligion to the BC Human Rights Code to the government in person. That meeting went well and you can read our full submission online.

In the meantime, help us continue to build our movement by sharing our updates with any friends or colleagues who might be interested.

Each email we send goes out to more and more supporters. When we launched our new website two years ago, our newsletter went out to 500 people. Today we can reach nearly 2000.

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Speaking out for nonreligious rights - Nov 14, 2017 Newsletter

It's a busy week for our efforts to promote human rights and challenge religious privilege.

This afternoon, I'm meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Ravi Kahlon as part of the Government of BC's consultations on its new Human Rights Commission.

I'm going to present him with a copy of our petition to add "nonreligion" as a protected class to the Human Rights Act. Right now that petition has 947 signatures but I want to have 1000.

Will you add your name if you haven't already?

Once you've signed, please email the petition to your friends, or share it on Facebook or Twitter.

Last week, meanwhile, we submitted a brief to the House of Commons Heritage Committee's study on systemic racism and religious discrimination. In that brief, we raised a litany of concerns around religious privilege and the importance of protecting the rights of the nonreligious in Canada.

All of this is made possible by your support. We're approaching the end of the year, so if you haven't recently, please donate to help us continue this work into 2018.

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Secular Remembrance - Nov 6, 2017 Newsletter

November 11 is a chance for us to reflect on the cost of global conflicts. As British Historian Dan Snow wrote in 2014:

There is no greater sacrifice than giving one’s life for one’s fellow citizens, and, correspondingly, there is no greater responsibility we have as voters than to send our armed forces into harm’s way on our behalf.

The importance of remembering those sacrifices is tainted when some organizers choose to put religion front and centre in official Remembrance Day ceremonies. Snow pushes back against that infringement of secularism in his op-ed, and we've done the same over the past two  years.

We'll continue to work to support secular and inclusive Remembrance ceremonies, as well as raising awareness of other civilian casualties and the importance of peace through our partnership with the Peace Poppies memorial.

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Ktunaxa ruling poses challenges for secularists

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.

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Peace Ceremony - Newsletter

On Saturday, November 11, we will once again be co-hosting Let Peace Be Their Memorial at Seaforth Peace Park in Vancouver.

The event commemorates refugees and other civilian victims of war, who aren't normally included in traditional ceremonies.

The event starts at 2:30 PM and you can find more details on our website.

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