Issues Summary

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Since 1984, the British Columbia Humanist Association has campaigned for progressive and secular values. Humanism is a worldview that promotes human dignity without belief in a higher power. Humanists have a long commitment to democracy and human rights. We support the principles of social justice and fighting against discrimination. Documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and various Human Rights Acts across Canada exemplify Humanist values. Henry Morgentaler founded Humanist Canada during the fight for reproductive freedoms and we have been involved in campaigning for secularism in schools, supporting LGBTQ rights and the right to die with dignity.

We have adopted the Amsterdam Declaration (2002) as our definition of Humanism and interpret it in context of the manifestos and declarations that preceded it. The following is a non-exhaustive list of how we put those principles in practice and is inspired by the resolutions of Humanists UK and the American Humanist Association. In some cases we have adopted those resolutions verbatim.

1 Human Rights and Civil Liberties

We are firmly committed to the protection and promotion of human rights, as exemplified in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These rights represent shared values rooted in our common humanity and our shared human needs, transcending cultural and religious traditions. This regard for human rights and for the equal dignity of all human beings underpins many of our policies.

We take an intersectional view of social justice issues, recognizing that working to liberate all marginalized communities is the best way to lift the prospects of any one group. Humanism motivates us to act on a moral imperative to transform systems of oppression because they are incompatible with the aspirations of humanism.

1.1 Realizing Human Rights and Equality

Humanist principles of justice and of valuing the dignity of each individual lead us to support equality and oppose unwarranted discrimination. Humanists have been deeply involved in campaigning against discrimination – from homophobia to racism – for decades. Humanists have also been in the forefront of developing modern ideas of human rights, and have been prominent human rights defenders.

We support efforts to reduce systemic discrimination and believe all efforts should be based on the best available evidence. Where there is an absence of evidence, agencies and organizations should follow best practices in collecting data to inform future activities, while respecting the privacy rights of individuals.

We have supported the efforts to re-establish BC’s Human Rights Commission. Specifically, we recommend that “nonreligion” be made a protected ground, the Human Rights Commission’s mandate be restored, the use of evidence be enshrined in the human rights system, that loopholes in the Human Rights Code be closed and that the system be streamlined and properly funded.

1.2 Discrimination against the nonreligious

As British Columbia’s community for Humanists and voice for the non-religious, we are particularly concerned with discrimination against the nonreligious and the effects of religious privilege in society (see Section 2 – Secularism). We work to bring about a progressive society where Humanists and atheists are accepted equally with the religious.

1.3 Minority within a minority

Stereotyping indigenous and minority ethnic communities as religious monoliths obscures often rich traditions of freethought and religious dissent and can translate into increased pressure to conform to religious dogma. We stand in solidarity with ex-Muslims, Indian rationalists and the nonreligious in indigenous and immigrant communities.

1.4 LGBTQ2+

We actively support the pursuit of equal rights for individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While many discriminate against these groups on the basis of religious ideology or so-called “traditional values,” a growing majority rejects the idea that LGBTQ2+ individuals and families are second-class citizens, and encourages tolerance and public sector reform of their rights to marry, adopt children and live free from intimidation, hate speech and violence.

We have regularly participated in the Vancouver Pride Parade, supported moves to include gender identity and expression as a protected ground in federal and provincial human rights legislation and have spoken out against so-called “conversion therapy” and support efforts to ban the practice.

1.5 Colonialism & Systemic Racism

Humanists share the concern of anti-racist advocates about continued discrimination against indigenous peoples and people of colour. In Canada, there are disproportionate numbers of indigenous people and people of colour in our corrections systems, there have been recent spates of white supremacist propaganda on Canadian campuses and we still live with the legacy of Residential Schools. We support the efforts of those groups that speak to these continued injustices and their effects.

We support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

1.6 Women’s equality and reproductive freedoms

Humanism does not eliminate the need for feminism in the struggle for women’s equality.

Humanism’s commitment to personally autonomy leads us to be unambiguously pro-choice and this is reflected in the history of Humanism in Canada.

Henry Morgentaler, inspired by his Humanist morality, took his fight to make abortions available all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. That case struck down Canada's abortion law in 1988 and since then it has been a decision between a patient and their doctor.

Today, we fight to make sure people continue to have that choice and that contraceptives are accessible to all who want them, in Canada and around the world.

We also support efforts to end the gender-based violence, to close the gender pay gap and policies that discriminate against women. Religion, tradition, and culture can no longer be excuses for the systemic oppression of half of humanity.

1.7 Children’s rights

We support the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A parent’s religious beliefs should not trump a child’s right to an education, friendships or their personal safety.

We support the bodily integrity of all people as an inalienable human right and want to promote respect for the autonomous choices of individuals wherever possible. We therefore do not support non-medically necessary procedures to remove parts of the genitals of boys and girls and want to see all laws allowing such procedures repealed and the procedures themselves outlawed when conducted without consent.

Spanking or corporal punishment violates the bodily autonomy of a child and there is no scientific evidence that corporal punishment is effective and ample evidence of its harmful effects. We therefore support the repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code.

1.8 Medical assistance in dying

Medical assistance in dying should be available for any Canadian who freely chooses it, even if they are not terminally ill. There is no moral argument to limit access to a physician-assisted death to individuals with “a grievous and irremediable medical condition.” Safeguards should ensure that decisions are free, voluntary, and informed but should not make access unjustly difficult. Medical assistance in dying should be guaranteed through the publicly funded healthcare system and institutions that refuse should see their funding removed.

1.9 Freedom of expression

We work for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief, speech, and expression. We believe that free expression is an essential liberty without which societies can easily slide into a culture of oppression, suspicion and fear. Freedom of expression has occupied an important part in Humanist thinking for centuries and Humanist organisations have always been active in campaigns for it.

We campaign for the repeal of Canada’s blasphemy law and support efforts to repeal blasphemy laws around the world.

We recognize there is a wide range of perspectives among Humanists as to the legitimacy of laws designed to sanction hate speech that incites violence or hatred against an identifiable group. We agree that these laws should be narrowly focused to minimally infringe upon freedom of expression and there should not be a specific exemption for religious-based hate speech.

1.10 Charities freedom of expression

The rules governing Canada’s charitable sector are seriously outdated, restrict freedom of speech and discriminate against the non-religious. We have campaigned for new legislation to modernize the rules.

1.11 Prison reform

BCHA Honorary Member Claire Culhane spent over two decades advocating for the rights of the incarcerated. We honour that legacy by supporting efforts to improve conditions for inmates, end the use of solitary confinement and incorporate forms of restorative justice.

Humanists have long opposed the death penalty and we support efforts to end the practice around the world.

1.12 Socioeconomic rights

We endorse the recognition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that civil rights, such as the right to free speech and the right not to be discriminated against, need to be accompanied by socioeconomic rights such as basic human rights to health and well-being, food and clothing, housing and education and medical care. We support the inclusion of socioeconomic status as a protected ground in human rights legislation and support the efforts of secular organizations that work to promote these rights.

1.13 Sex work

We support the rights of sex workers to be free from human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination. We support the decriminalization of sex work for those over the age of 18 and prohibitions on exploitation and trafficking in commercial sex (including children).

1.14 Drug decriminalization

Humanist values of personal autonomy and liberty are incompatible with the criminalization of activities that do not infringe on the health, safety or freedom of others. Further, the decades-long War on Drugs has resulted in the needless incarceration of many otherwise law-abiding citizens. This criminalization violates fundamental principles of justice, wastes public resources and disproportionately affects racialized and indigenous communities. Both the broad criminalization and the systemic racial effects of the War on Drugs are antithetical to Humanist values.

We are therefore supportive of moves to decriminalize the personal possession of cannabis and other drugs. We support instead taking a public health approach and putting more effort into tackling the systemic issues around substance use through education, harm reduction, rehabilitation and treatment. These approaches should be informed by the best available evidence and respect the fundamental legal rights enshrined in the Charter.

2 Secularism

We support a secular society that affirms: the right of every individual to practice any religion or none, free from coercion by the government, private institutions or their community; and that the state has a duty of religious neutrality, meaning it must neither endorse nor prohibit any belief or non-belief.

2.1 Freedom of and freedom from religion

Freedom of religion is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and various UN declarations. We recognize the importance of this freedom to ensure each individual’s ability to hold and manifest their personal beliefs. Freedom of religion is an inherently individual right and, while there is a communal aspect to many religions, we have argued that the right does not extend to corporations, organizations or other institutions. We see freedom of religion as inclusive of the right to freedom from religion.

2.2 Symbolic religious privilege

We support removing the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the religious references from the national anthem. Both exemplify the symbolic privilege afforded to religion in Canada.

We also support ending the practice of Parliament and the BC Legislature of beginning each day with a prayer. Efforts to include prayers by non-Christian faith leaders and secular invocations are an improvement; however, as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, “Even if [governmental prayer] is said to be inclusive, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers.”

We also call for private, secular organizations, including Scouts Canada and the Iron Ring, to remove pledges to God.

2.3 Census

As part of the long-form census and National Household Survey (2011), Statistics Canada asks “respondents to indicate a specific denomination or religion even if the person is not currently a practising member of that group.” This conflates religious identity with active religious participation. We support changing the question to better measure the religious diversity of Canada. Good public policy requires good evidence.

2.4 Human Rights Acts

We recognize the importance of exemptions from human rights legislation to protect the rights of individuals to associate to advance the interests and welfare of an identifiable group; however, these exemptions should be narrowly tailored and sensitive to the context. For example, a religious school may justifiably require their teachers to agree to a statement of faith, but such a requirement is not justifiable for the janitor who cleans the school.

2.5 Criminal Code provisions

We argue for the repeal of Criminal Code protections that are available only to religious Canadians. For example, section 296 criminalizes blasphemous libel and section 176 criminalizes obstructing a clergyman or disturbing religious worship.

We support the repeal of the exemption for “an opinion based on a belief in a religious text” from section 319 of the Criminal Code, which deals with hate speech.

2.6 Clergy residence deduction

We support the repeal of Section 8(1)(c) of the Income Tax Act, which provides deductions for individuals who are “a member of the clergy” to deduct the costs of their residence. There is no equivalent benefit available to leaders of Humanist or other nonreligious organizations.

2.7 Charitable purposes

We call for a legislated definition of charities that either removes advancement of religion entirely or follows England and Wales’ decision to explicitly permit religions that “do not believe in a God.” In either case, we support a public benefits test that is applied equally to secular and religious charities.

2.8 Healthcare system

British Columbia provided approximately $1 billion to religious healthcare institutions in 2015. Many of these facilities refuse to provide even referrals for medical assistance in dying or abortion. We support phasing this funding into secular institutions and an immediate end to institutional objections at publicly funded institutions.

2.9 Secular recovery programs

It’s entirely within the rights of individuals and private organizations to create and attend voluntary religious-based recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). However, programs supported and mandated by government bodies should be inclusive of people of all faiths and none. We have called on the Government of BC to:

  1. Remove links to AA and 12-Step Programs from its HealthLink BC website and to suggest secular alternatives instead,
  2. Establish addictions recovery guidelines requiring all licensed treatment facilities to be evidence-based and attendance in religious-based meetings be voluntary,
  3. Require that any addictions recovery programs that receive government funding or that are mandated by courts or employers be secular and evidence-based,
  4. Inform physicians, counsellors and addictions specialists of their duty to ensure that patients receive culturally sensitive and evidence-based treatments, and
  5. Monitor addiction treatment programs to ensure patients’ religious freedoms are upheld.

2.10 Property tax exemptions

We support the repeal of the section 220(1)(h) of the Community Charter and section 369(1)(c)(iv) of the Vancouver Charter, which provide exemptions for buildings used for “public worship” by religious organizations. We also call on municipalities to end permissive exemptions for other property owned by religious organizations. These provisions can be replaced with a broader exemption for all registered charitable organizations who pass a local benefits test.

2.11 Marriage solemnization

We have campaigned for the Province of British Columbia to recognize Humanist officiants as religious representatives for the purposes of the Marriage Act. We call on the government to amend the Act to recognize marriages performed by Humanists.

2.12 Reasonable accommodation

There is ample jurisprudence in Canada demonstrating that when a neutral law conflicts with an individual’s religious freedoms, that individual can generally be accommodated, preserving both the intent of the law and the individual’s rights. We therefore do not oppose in principle such reasonable accommodations; however, we call for non-religious beliefs and viewpoints to receive equal treatment. We further reject suggestions that positive government action may be required in some cases to make such an accommodation.

2.13 Religious headgear bans

Blanket bans on the wearing of religious headgear or symbols in public, or as a requirement to receive public services, are an infringement of an individual’s freedoms of religion and expression that is not consistent with our view of secularism. Where there is a legitimate requirement for facial identification or safety, restrictions on face coverings and other headgear may be reasonable.

3 Scientific Integrity

3.1 Evolution and creationism

We supported efforts to end the teaching of creationism in BC in the 1990s and support the inclusion of evolution as a central feature of science and biology in the BC curriculum. Independent schools should not be able to include creationism in science classroom.

3.2 Climate change

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human actions are driving climate change and that we must stabilize global temperatures at the two degree Celsius target to prevent dangerous impacts to humans, flora, and fauna. The consequences of our actions—and inaction—regarding the destruction of our environment for ourselves and future generations mandate a naturalistic social responsibility inherent to humanist values.

As Humanists, we acknowledge the damage done to our environment has been caused by human action and we understand that only humans can save ourselves from the climate crises we have created. We call on all Humanists to take personal and collective action to save our planet.

On a personal level, we call on Humanists to reduce our impact on the climate through moving to plant-based diets and reducing consumption and energy usage.

As a society, we support efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. This may include political and financial incentives like BC’s carbon tax. All of our policies should be guided by the best available evidence and developed in an open and transparent manner. They must also recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.

3.3 Addictions recovery

In addition to our support for the decriminalization of the personal possession of all drugs (1.14) and our support for secular recovery programs (2.9), we support evidence-based and harm reduction policies. Our response to ongoing opioid, overdose and fentanyl crises must be informed by the best available evidence.

3.4 Complementary and alternative medicine

We endorse scientists’ and researchers’ quest for knowledge and the improvement of human health and wellbeing that can follow it. Equally, we reject the endorsement of remedies for which no evidence is provided.

Much evidence has been produced to refute claims made for many ‘complementary’ and ‘alternative’ medicines and treatments. We oppose state funding of such treatments, including homeopathy. We oppose further funding research on treatments when the evidence that they work no better than a placebo is overwhelming. We support a requirement that pharmacists who sell such products make clear the lack of evidence supporting the efficacy of these products. We also support requirements that advertising about such products and claims made on packaging be clear and scientifically accurate.

While there might be a place in healthcare for so-called ‘ethical placebos’, complementary and alternative medicines are unethical because their practitioners typically claim that they are efficacious for conditions in which more than a mere placebo is required.

We also support wider public health campaigns that are often opposed by proponents of complementary and alternative medicine but that are strongly supported by scientific evidence, for example: vaccinations being offered in all schools; fluoride being present in tap water; and folic acid being included in flour.

3.5 Ethics in research

We recognize that science is a human practice and is therefore susceptible to the biases and limitations of all humans. The advancement of scientific exploration and study must be tempered by humility, compassion, and constant care for all life and our environment.

We call for the greater recognition that science has often been a tool of colonialism and racism in Canada. For example, several provinces, including British Columbia, maintained eugenics programs, the last of which was repealed in Alberta in 1972. Throughout the 1940s the Canadian Government also experimented on students in residential schools, which included starving children.

We support the calls of the AllTrials campaign that all clinical trials be registered and all results reported.

3.6 Stem cell research

For reasons of belief and doctrine, some religious groups and individuals attempt to restrict the use of human tissues and other remains, such as embryonic stem cells or historic human remains, for scientific research, impeding medical progress.

We want the primary ethical consideration in scientific matters to be the benefit to human beings so that research, such as stem cell research, can yield the maximum return in terms of technologies and treatments for diseases.

Scientific research that involves the use of human tissues is continually developing and it would be impossible for us to develop policy that keeps up with these developments. However, in broad terms we believe decisions as to whether to permit any such research should be based entirely on secular ethical considerations and not in any way on religious considerations.

3.7 Conversion therapy

We reject the dangerous claim that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed through therapy. We support efforts to ban the practice.

3.8 Public science

We support the science pledge:

We believe that all Canadians benefit when governments solicit, collect and use the evidence and expertise needed to make smart policy decisions that safeguard the health, safety and prosperity of Canadians. We support actions that invest in public-interest science; ensure open, honest and timely communication of scientific information; and make public the evidence considered in government decisions.

We support the Voices-Voix Declaration 2016.

4 Education

4.1 Secular Schools

British Columbia’s School Act explicitly requires all public schools to be “strictly secular and non-sectarian”. We support similar protections being adopted across Canada.

We oppose public funding going to faith-based education. We actively support efforts to amalgamate publicly funded Catholic school systems in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta with the secular public system. We support ending funding to faith-based independent schools in BC and other provinces.

We oppose schools leading students in prayer, which is still legal in Alberta. We have successfully campaigned for the end of the distribution of Gideon Bibles to students in public schools. We oppose public schools promoting religion or religious groups to students, for example through Christian songs during the holidays or through special access to poster boards.

We support individual students’ right to freedom of religion. For example, through the creation of student groups, but any student faith groups should not be lead by teachers or staff.

4.2 Independent schools

We support the principle of public funds for public education and call for the phase out of public funding to all independent schools in BC. We support greater innovation in the public education system. We call on the Government of BC to ensure the religious neutrality of the Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools, independent schools meet comparable curriculum standards and students in independent schools are free from discrimination.

4.3 Sex and relationship education

We support comprehensive, consent-based and inclusive age-appropriate sex and relationship education. Such education should be guided by the best available evidence, encourage healthy relationships and be inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

4.4 Inclusive schools

We support efforts to reduce homophobia and transphobia in schools and the greater inclusion of LGBTQ2+ students through initiatives like the SOGI 123 curriculum, GSAs and explicit anti-LGBTQ2+ bullying policies. These programs should be available in both public and independent schools.

4.5 Comparative religions and ethical systems

We support objective comparative religion classes where secular worldviews, including Humanism, are included. Such classes should treat all worldviews equally and participation in any demonstrations should be optional for all students.

4.6 Critical thinking

We support modern pedagogical techniques that promote critical thinking and inquiry over rote memorization.

4.7 Indigenous education

We support the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to end educational gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians and to promote understanding of local indigenous cultures in public schools.

5 Public Ethical Issues

5.1 Peace and diplomacy

Despite their societal, ethical, philosophical, and geographical differences, we recognize the freedom, value, and respect to which all of the world’s individuals are entitled. The pursuit of peaceful and non-violent strategies for resolving the world’s most dire conflicts, which too often result in genocide, war, and autocracy, is paramount for human coexistence and progress. Pre-emptive war, unilateral conflict, arms proliferation, terrorism, and indiscriminate use of force all threaten the common bonds of humanity that we all share.

We believe that cultural exchange, cooperation, peaceful conflict resolution and diplomacy through multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, are the most appropriate ways to respect human rights and make the world a safer place for all of its inhabitants.

5.2 Organ donation

We support medical advances for the improvement of human health and wellbeing. Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes any reason to object to allowing deceased humans’ organs to be used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish.

We believe that better public education about organ donation and transplantation is essential, and that policy actions are needed to increase the number of organ transplants and so save more lives. We are concerned that the low number of organs donated across Canada is contributing to unnecessary suffering, many unnecessary deaths, and to a market in organs and even trafficking in human beings for the purpose of removing organs.

British Columbia operates ‘opt-in’ donor schemes where people must register themselves. However, it is often the case that those who would be happy to donate their organs fail to register or have never discussed the matter with their friends and family, so medical staff and close relatives may not be aware of their consent to help others after their deaths. This contributes to the low number of organs available.

We support calls for a ‘soft’ system of ‘presumed consent’, whereby organ donation (for those over the age of 16) would be the default position, but individuals could opt-out while alive. Next of kin would be informed after death that the individual had not opted out and asked if they are aware of any unregistered objection: this would make their decision easier than at present. If not, organs could be transplanted. We support campaigns to encourage the public to discuss their wishes for the end of life, including organ donation, in advance.

5.3 Animal welfare

We support the reduction of animal suffering resulting from human behaviour and see compassionate attitudes to animal suffering as a hallmark of a humane society. For this reason, we support restrictive laws on experiments on animals, while recognising that some such experiments are justified in the cause of finding cures for diseases.

As we wish to reduce suffering, Humanists are concerned about the treatment of food animals, both during their lives and when they are slaughtered. We support the position of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association calling for an end to slaughter-without-stunning. We do not support religious opt-outs to stunning requirements.

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