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BC Court of Appeal ruling a setback for equality

In a unanimous decision released today, the BC Court of Appeal sided with Trinity Western University over the Law Society of BC.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the BC Supreme Court that the steps taken by the Law Society of BC’s to reject TWU’s proposed law school were flawed. The appeal court went further by declaring that TWU’s religious freedoms outweighed the discrimination against LGBTQ law students would face.

TWU excludes LGBTQ students by requiring all students to sign a Community Covenant that forbids sex outside a heterosexual marriage and abortion.

In June, the BC Humanist Association and Canadian Secular Alliance argued in a co-intervention that religious freedom doesn’t protect the creation of a secular law school. We further argued that the Community Covenant coerces TWU students into following a narrow Evangelical Christian worldview, when TWU, by its own admission, welcomes students of all faiths and none.

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Religion in Remembrance Day Ceremony challenged in Port Coquitlam

The Port Coquitlam Legion is ignoring a local resident’s concerns that its 2015 Remembrance Day ceremony was too Christian.

In a June letter to the Legion, Rhamona Vos-Browning said the 2015 ceremony “left me somewhat saddened.”  He described how despite the “small, diverse sea of people” in attendance, the ceremony “ended with a clearly sectarian closing prayer” and included a blessing “May the Lord bless and keep you.”

If the Legion insisted on maintaining the prayer, Vos-Browning offered to help the Legion find a Humanist officiant, such as one from the BC Humanist Association, to provide a secular invocation too.

Two months later, after following up his letter with several phone calls, Vos-Browning was told by the Legion that the agenda is set by the BC/Yukon Command. But when Vos-Browning spoke to the Command, he was told there are no rules to “force branches to use specific prayers or invocations” and that Command would inform the Port Coquitlam branch of this fact.

Despite this assurance, Vos-Browning has not been able to confirm whether the Port Coquitlam Legion plans to include a sectarian prayer again in its 2016 program.

Mr Rhamona Vos-Browning said:

My objective is not to embarrass the folk who organize our local event - they put in a lot of time and effort and they do a good job - however, Port Coquitlam is a diverse community and our public ceremonies need to reflect that.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association:

Men and women of all faith and none have fought and died for this country. Public ceremonies like those run by the Legion in communities across Canada should be sensitive to this, particularly as Canada has veterans of all faiths and none. Sectarian prayers dishonour the atheists and members of minority religions who have served the country.

In November 2015, Humanist veterans wrote to the Grandview Legion in Vancouver over concerns that its ceremony excluded non-Christians.

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Take action to expand access to medical assistance in dying

Canadians in suffering earned the right to an assisted death in June, but too many barriers remain in the way.

Last week, news broke that a dying Vancouver man was denied a peaceful assisted death at St Paul's Hospital and was required to endure a brutal patient transfer to Vancouver General to fufil his constitutional right.

This happened because our government allows entire publicly-funded hospitals to decide a patient's treatment based on the will of a few Bishops instead of the wishes of that patient.

While Ian Schearer was ultimately able to see his choice respected at VGH, not everyone will have that chance. BC spends around $1 billion on religious healthcare institutions and in some communities, a person's only choice is a religious hospital.

To challenge this threat to access, Dying With Dignity Canada has launched a new tool to ask the Government of BC to respect patients' rights.

Please use their tool to send an email today.

And make sure to tell Premier Christy Clark that over 70% of British Columbians oppose publicly-funded healthcare institutions being able to refuse to provide treatments on religious grounds.

Catholic hospitals aren't the only threat to access however.

Bill C-14 was the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous Carter decision. That ruling said that medial assistance in dying should be available to competent, consenting adults with "a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual." Yet Bill C-14 callously restricted access to those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable."

Now, a new e-petition is calling on the federal government to remove that restriction.

Sign the petition 

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The Province covers AA human rights complaint

Update (Oct 7, 2016): See below for our letter in today's edition of The Province.

The front page story of The Province today covered Byron Wood's human rights complaint over being forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous over secular alternatives.

Wood told The Province:

If I questioned the 12-step philosophy or tried to discuss scientific explanations and treatments for addiction, I was labelled as ‘in denial’. I was told to admit that I am powerless, and to submit to a higher power. It was unhelpful and humiliating.

There was a mentality among staff that addiction is a moral failing in need of salvation. We were encouraged to pray.

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City of Victoria proclaims International Blasphemy Rights Day

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)

Sign the e-petition.

Read 10 years of speaking out against Canada's blasphemy law.

Banner image: Councillor Ben Isitt speaks in favour of proclaiming International Blasphemy Rights Day.

CBC investigation finds majority of BC rehab clinics use 12 step model

In a report for CBC News, journalists Yvette Brend and Manjula Dufresne document their findings from calling every drug rehabilitation facility in British Columbia.

They found:

Many more — in fact the majority that we spoke to — adhere to AA or 12-step regimes, and resist harm reduction as a waste of time. They insist it's all nonsense, despite compelling science.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program are religious programs that require submission to a higher power. A thorough review of all available clinical studies found no evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The journalists also found that wait times, quality and range of service vary widely between centres. Some centres were even said to offer "no real programs, rules or concern" and were only interested in payment. There are few government standards and no central list of approved facilities.

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BC Government to require all schools to protect LGBTQ students

Echoing calls by the BC Humanist Association last week, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced yesterday that all public and independent schools in BC will have to make explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies.

Districts have been given until the end of the year to update their policies and the ARC Foundation has committed to funding a new advisor position to support more inclusive policies at all schools.

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Will BC stand up for LGBTQ rights in religious schools?

Update (Sep 8, 2016): The Minister of Education has announced that all public and independent BC schools will now have to include specific protections for LGBTQ students in anti-bullying policies.

The BC Humanist Association wrote to BC's Minister of Education today to ask whether BC's government is willing to show a commitment to LGBTQ equality in BC schools.

In Alberta, the government is putting more and more pressure on public and private school boards to adopt policies to uphold the rights of LGBTQ students in the classroom.

A pastor who chairs two Baptist private schools in Alberta is refusing to follow a ministerial order that requires all schools to have a policy explicitly protecting LGBTQ students and staff. Instead the schools claim to have a "zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy" based on Christian principles.

The schools, like many private schools in Alberta and BC, receive significant funding from the provincial government.

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Kelowna refuses anti-choice proclamations

The City of Kelowna will no longer make anti-choice proclamations.

The office of Mayor Colin Basran declined the Kelowna Right to Life Society stating that "Proclamations are not approved if they ... advocate against human rights and freedoms under existing Canadian laws."

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

Given Kelowna's sordid history of mayors inserting their politics into proclamations, it's good to see the Mayor stand up for human rights and equality. We hope this commitment will extend to ensuring women's reproductive freedoms and patients' right to choose an assisted death.

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Human rights complaint over religion in AA to proceed

In a ruling released today, the BC Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to consider a complaint alleging that mandating attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) violates an individual's religious freedom.

The complainant, Byron Wood, lost his job with Vancouver Coastal Health after refusing to attend AA as part of a treatment plan. Wood is an atheist who objected to the religious basis for AA.

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