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.
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.Read more
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.
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.
In a report for CBC News, journalists Yvette Brend and Manjula Dufresne document their findings from calling every drug rehabilitation facility in British Columbia.
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.
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.Read more
At a public hearing for the BC Legislature's Standing Committee on Health today, the BC Humanist Association called for an end to the government's tacit endorsement of religious based addictions recovery programs.
Many of the treatment centres in the province still rely on the 12-step recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). And some addictions specialists include attendance at AA meetings as part of their treatment plan. AA is based on a religious view that treats addictions as a sin in need of moral salvation by God or a higher power.
Courts in the USA have repeatedly found that AA is religious and mandating attendance at AA to be an infringement of the establishment clause.Read more
Groups representing Humanists, atheists and secularists across Canada are calling on the Government to repeal an outdated section of the criminal code penalizing so-called “blasphemous libel.”
The e-petition launched yesterday and was signed by over 1000 Canadians in the first day, more then double the minimum number required to be tabled in the House of Commons.
The petition argues the law is unconstitutional and “serves no purpose.” It points out that there have been no charges for blasphemy in Canada for over 35 years and no convictions in over 80 years. Meanwhile “authoritarian states” have used the existence of blasphemy laws in countries like Canada to justify their own clampdown on free expression.
Greg Oliver, President of the Canadian Secular Alliance initiated the petition in collaboration with Centre for Inquiry Canada and Humanist Canada. Oliver said, “The idea that certain subjects should be off limits from criticism or scrutiny has no place in a liberal democracy. Canada's blasphemy law needs to be repealed.”
Writer Raihan Abir, who claimed asylum in Canada after fleeing Bangladesh:
Just days ago we saw the famous Pakistani singer, Amjad Sabri, shot dead by the Taliban in Karachi for hurting religious belief by singing during Ramadan. But even before this act of extremism, he was first accused in a Pakistani court using their blasphemy law and a case was filled against him. He was then shot. As a human rights leader, why should Canada have the same law as Pakistan?
I watched my friends be murdered in Bangladesh for criticizing religion. I was afraid for my own life. By repealing this blasphemy law, Canada can send a signal to Bangladesh and every country that no one should be killed or sent to jail for what they write.
Ali Ehsassi, Liberal Member of Parliament for Willowdale, sponsored the petition. After the petition closes for signatures on October 20, 2016 it will be tabled in the House of Commons and require a response from the Government.Read more