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Don't stop with Delta hospice

Following the announcement that the province will cut $1.5 million in funding to the Delta Hospice Society for refusing to provide medical assistance in dying (MAID), the BC Humanist Association is urging the province to apply the same standards to all publicly-funded healthcare facilities in the province.

As reported by Rob Shaw in the Vancouver Sun, the Delta Hospice Society's board was taken over by groups opposed to MAID following a membership drive. The Society, which operates Irene Thomas Hospice, violated a provincial policy that requires healthcare facilities that receive at least half of their funding from the province to provide MAID. Religious facilities, such as Providence Healthcare, are exempt from the policy and merely have to provide a referral to another facility.

In an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun over the weekend, Health Minister Adrian Dix defended the move as putting "patients first" but reiterated that publicly-funded faith-based facilities can operate according to a different set of rules.

The BC Humanist Association (BCHA), who work toward a secular society and support assisted dying "for all who choose it", is renewing its call for the province to end the exemption for faith-based facilities.

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Government tables bill to expand MAID

Humanists in British Columbia are reacting with skepticism to some of the provisions contained within a new bill purported to expand access to medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Canada's Justice Minister David Lametti tabled Bill C-7 today, which amends the Criminal Code restrictions on who can access MAID. The bill permits those whose deaths aren't reasonably foreseeable to access MAID and allows those whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable to make an advance request for MAID. It also restricts those with mental illnesses from being eligible.

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Fort St John overhauls permissive tax exemptions

In November, the northern British Columbia community of Fort St John approved a new Financial Policy Framework that will require organizations "provide broad community benefits" to be eligible for property tax exemptions.

Under the Community Charter, municipalities are required to exempt certain property like houses of worship from property taxes but can provide additional permissive exemptions to certain other properties. The City provides nearly $800,000 worth of exemptions to various organizations, with religious groups receiving over $255,000 of those exemptions.

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BCHA ED Ian Bushfield named Canadian Atheist Person of the Year

The editor of Canadian Atheist has named the BC Humanist Association's Executive Director Ian Bushfield as the 2020 Canadian Atheist "Person of the Year." The award goes to the person "who had the greatest positive impact in Canadian secularism, humanism, atheism and freethought in 2019."

Canadian Atheist describes itself as an independent blog by Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists and freethinkers. The awards are run by editor Mark Gibbs who solicited input and submissions for nominees from readers. Bushfield was one of the blog's first contributors and still occasionally writes for the publication.

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Tell the Government to expand access to MAID

Following a Quebec Supreme Court ruling that the existing restrictions on medical assistance in dying in Canada are unconstitutional, the federal government is looking to expand the eligibility requirements.

In line with our position on medical assistance in dying, the BC Humanist Association has created the following guide to help you respond to the government's questionnaire that will inform the coming changes.

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Enshrine evidence-based medicine in healthcare professions

The BC Humanist Association is calling on the government to end the recognition of chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners as part of planned reforms to the regulation of health professionals.

An all-party committee is considering changes to the Health Professions Act. The review follows a previous inquiry that called for a major overhaul of the Colleges and regulatory bodies that oversee medical practitioners in the province.

The committee's current proposal considers merging the province's 20 regulatory colleges to just five. This would mean the abolition of the Colleges of Chiropractic, Naturopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture; however, those practitioners would most likely be governed by a new College of Health and Care Professionals instead.

The BCHA's reply to the consultation calls for evidence-based medicine to be a core mandate of each of the five new colleges, which would preclude the inclusion of such unscientific alternative treatments.

Download the reply [PDF]

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Secular treatment options available for nurses following AA complaint settlement

Vancouver Coastal Health has agreed to change its policy to permit healthcare professionals to opt for a secular addictions treatment option. The move comes as part of a settlement agreement with Byron Wood, who had filed a human rights complaint after being forced to attend religious based Alcoholics Anonymous by the health region.

The BC Humanist Association had been following Byron's case and has been campaigning to ensure people have access to secular and evidence based addictions treatments.

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Prayers replaced by 'prayers and reflections' in BC Legislature

Starting in 2020, the British Columbia Legislature will begin each day with "prayers and reflections" instead of "prayers."

The change comes after Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia unanimously supported a motion from Government House Leader Mike Farnworth to make the change in the Standing Orders.

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The Cost of Religion in Canada Part 1: Canadian Taxpayers Funding the Advancement of Religion

Governments in Canada provided subsidies of up to $2.6 billion for the advancement of religion in 2017, according to a new analysis by the Centre for Inquiry Canada. The Government of British Columbia alone provides as much as $156 million.

The numbers come from the first part of The Cost of Religion in Canada, a report produced with support from the BC Humanist Association. Using data obtained from returns submitted by charities to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), it estimates the cost to taxpayers of providing tax receipts for donations to charities that "advance religion."

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Report shows prayers in BC Legislature overwhelmingly religious, Christian

A new study of prayers said by MLAs in the Legislative Assembly of BC found that the prayers were overwhelmingly religious in nature and nearly all of the sectarian prayers were identified as Christian.

The report, from the BC Humanist Association, follows its call last week for MLAs to abandon the practice. The BCHA has submitted the report to the Acting Clerk as part of her review of the standard prayers made available to MLAs.

This groundbreaking report is entitled “House of Prayer: An Analysis of Prayers in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2003-2019.” It details the discriminatory and exclusionary nature of prayer in the BC Legislature, and is part of a broader effort by the BCHA to end this practice.

Every day before its regular proceedings, an MLA is invited by the Speaker to lead the BC Legislature in prayer. The content of these daily prayers, which is not transcribed in Hansard, has never been studied before, until now. The study, which examined 873 prayers delivered in the BC Legislature from October 2003 to February 2019, classified over 71% of these prayers as religious. 

“We found that fewer MLAs are delivering prayers, and that prayers are getting longer and more religious,” said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Research Coordinator for the BCHA and lead author of the report. “Prayer in the BC Legislature favours Christianity over other faith traditions, favours religious belief over irreligious belief, and violates the state’s duty of religious neutrality.”

The research behind the report has been underway since 2018. Earlier this year, over 50 volunteers for the BCHA transcribed 873 prayers delivered by MLAs and guests at the beginning of each sitting of the BC Legislature from October 6, 2003 (when video recordings of the legislative sessions began) to February 12, 2019. Over the summer, BCHA researchers coded these prayers across a series of categories, tabulated and analyzed the results.

“Some of the more perplexing prayers we encountered included thanking god for a shipbuilding contract, praising beef, and praying for BCTF contract negotiations,” said Noah Laurence, a researcher who worked on the project. 

In pursuing a better understanding the nature of prayer in the BC Legislature, the report seeks to establish the extent to which this practice fairly reflects the diversity of BC, and determine whether or not this practice is acceptable in a modern, multicultural province. 

An increasing number of British Columbians are reporting themselves as non-believers. For example, a 2016 Insights West poll commissioned by the BCHA found that 69% of British Columbians do not practice a religion or faith.

“In a modern and multicultural province, there is no reason to have daily prayers,” said Ranil Prasad, Campaigns Manager for the BC Humanist Association. “To end the exclusionary and discriminatory practice of opening sittings of the BC Legislature with prayer, we will require MLAs in the ‘silent majority’ to step up and take action.”

The BCHA is asking supporters to visit their website, where they can send a letter to their MLA and the Acting Clerk, to tell them to end the practice of opening sittings of the BC Legislature with a prayer. With added public pressure, the BCHA hopes that all parties will come to an agreement to amend the Standing Orders to remove this exclusionary practice from future sittings.

Key Findings: 

  • We categorize 71.2% of all the prayers delivered in the BC Legislature as religious. Of these, we were able to identify the religion for 21.7%.
  • Of the prayers where we could identify the religion, 93.1% of these were identified as ‘Christian,’ and Christian prayers represented 20.2% of all of the prayers delivered in the BC Legislature. 
  • 91.9% of prayers adopted a prayer structure by ending in ‘amen,’ and 53.8% of prayers included the name of a deity. Even 88.7% of the prayers coded as ‘secular’ were found to end in ‘Amen.’
  • NDP MLAs were marginally more likely to deliver secular prayers, compared with Liberal MLAs (31.4% vs. 26.0% of prayers).
  • Liberal MLAs were significantly more likely to deliver Christian prayers, with 25.4% of prayers given by Liberal MLAs being Christian, compared with 9.2% of prayers delivered by NDP MLAs. 
  • For both parties, the number of sectarian and Christian prayers have been steadily increasing. 

The BCHA is asking supporters to send a letter to their MLA calling on an end to prayers in the legislature. With added public pressure, the BCHA hopes that all parties will agree to amend the standing orders to remove prayers from future sittings.

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