At its council meeting yesterday, the City of Victoria agreed 3-2 to proclaim September 30, 2016 as International Blasphemy Rights Day.
The BC Humanist Association requested the proclamation as part of its support for freedom of expression; however, the council did amend the proclamation to remove a section challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Code prohibition on blasphemous libel.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
Nearly every week, from around the world we hear about another person sentenced to jail or even death for writing or saying something that someone considers blasphemous. Proclamations, like this one from the City of Victoria, are an invaluable way to send a message that Canadians are willing to stand behind the right to freedom of speech and the council should be commended for their courage. However, the fact that councillors had to debate this proclamation goes to show just how controversial free speech can be.
The Government of BC rejected a similar proclamation request, citing the fact the Criminal Code was under federal jurisdiction.
In June, the BC Humanist Association helped launch an official e-petition calling on the federal government to repeal Canada’s prohibition on blasphemous libel. Since then, the petition has received over 4600 signatures, including nearly 1000 from British Columbians. The petition closes for signatures on October 20, at which point the government will have 45 days to provide an official response.
International Blasphemy Rights Day is held every September 30 to commemorate the publishing of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, which resulted in some religious believers around the world expressing their disapproval with violent protests, riots and in some cases, murder. The day was started in 2009 by the US Center for Inquiry as part of its Campaign for Free Expression.
The full proclamation is below. The deleted section of the proclamation said:
Section 296 of Canada’s Criminal Code (blasphemous libel), though latent, violates the fundamental rights of citizens with opinions different than that of the majority;
Watch the council meeting (debate starts at 10:00)
Banner image: Councillor Ben Isitt speaks in favour of proclaiming International Blasphemy Rights Day.
Watch the debate
“INTERNATIONAL BLASPHEMY RIGHTS DAY”
WHEREAS freedom of speech is an inseparable element of a democratic society; and
WHEREAS Canada is a nation whose founding principles stand for inclusivity, multiculturalism, and free speech; and
WHEREAS the Charter of Rights and Freedoms entitles citizens to the fundamental rights and protection of freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expressions; and
WHEREAS currently in some theocratic nations, free speech is met with punishments ranging from detainment to execution;
NOW, THEREFORE I do hereby proclaim the day September 30th, 2016 as “International Blasphemy Rights Day” in the CITY OF VICTORIA, CAPITAL CITY of the PROVINCE of BRITISH COLUMBIA, the TRADITIONAL TERRITORIES of the ESQUIMALT AND SONGHEES FIRST NATIONS.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I hereunto set my hand this 22nd day of September, Two Thousand and Sixteen.
City of Victoria