For the sixth consecutive year, the BC Humanist Association marched in support of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2+ community. This year, we were one of the many organizations to sign a pledge calling for federal and provincial legislation to ensure gender identity and gender expression are protected by human rights laws.


I was also interviewed by CTV News during the parade and appeared (very briefly) on their evening news.

Thanks to everyone who came out.

Did you see us in the parade or get a photo of us? Let us know at

Darwin Toivo, a member of the BCHA, forwarded me the letter he recently sent to the Mayor of Philadelphia. Darwin argues that the city shouldn’t have paid for a Catholic mass during the Pope’s recent visit to the city to investigate the city’s issues with homelessness. You can read his letter below.

In March, a coalition of religious organizations similarly invited Pope Francis to walk Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Vancouver Courier reported that on a trip to the Vatican this week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson intends to repeat that invitation.

Bringing international attention to the issues facing the residents of the Downtown Eastside is a commendable goal and it’s good to hear Pope Francis speak out on social justice issues more and more.

However, the original invitation called for the Pope to “celebrate Mass from a barge in English Bay.”

In no way should a diverse and secular city like Vancouver be sponsoring an explicitly religious service, particularly in light of the the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that city councils should not open with a prayer. If the Pope and local Catholic dioceses wish to fund such a service, that’s their prerogative.

The money spent on such a service would be far better spent providing services and improving conditions, rather than a publicity stunt.

While a meeting of the Pope and local aboriginal peoples could help reconciliation for the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, the Pope should heed one of the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

Some of our members are writing to Mayor Robertson with their objections. If you’d like to tell Mayor Robertson that the city should not be sponsoring religious services, email him at and make sure to cc us at

Read the rest of this entry »

Christian summer camps, parenting workshops and the Gideon Bibles are being advertised through Abbotsford schools, despite neighbouring Chilliwack having recently ended the practice.

In April, the Chilliwack School District confirmed it had ended the distribution of Gideon Bible permission slips to fifth grade students. But while most secularists attention has been directed to Chilliwack, the Abbotsford School Board has refused to revisit its own distribution of materials policy.

So, after receiving a response from the Chilliwack School District, I sent a similar freedom of information request to the Abbotsford School District to find out what religious (and atheist/humanist) materials were being distributed in its schools.

Its response shows that Gideon Bible permission slips are being distributed in most of the District’s elementary schools (13 in 2013-14 and 28 in 2014-15). Additionally, churches are using the policy to advertise Christian summer camps, parenting seminars, and other special events. The only non-Christian event advertised in the past two school years was an anti-radicalism event hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Replying on behalf of the School District, Communications Manager Dave Stephen told me that many of the events are promoted “via inclusion on a ‘community’ events webpage, on the school district website, rather than distribution of printed materials. The one main exception would be the Gideon’s who request distribution of consent cards.”

I don’t see anything inherently wrong with churches being allowed to advertise inclusive community events on the School District’s website, provided that space is equally available to non-religious and atheist groups. In the next year, with our affiliates in the Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists, we’ll look to put this policy to the test.

Abbotsford is also the only school district in BC with a policy to make abstinence “a primary focus” of its human sexuality curriculum and requires external speakers to “agree to speak in favour of abstinence and refrain from statements that would compromise the pro-abstinence stance.” We’ve challenged this policy before and will work with other organizations to make sure secular comprehensive sex education is available in all BC public schools.

But we can only make that happen with your help. Please donate to the BCHA to support our ongoing Secular Schools campaign.

Read the response from the Abbotsford School District.

This is from Humanist Canada:

Posted by Hope Knutsson 8 hours ago
Hope Knutsson

Blasphemy Law Abolished in Iceland! Press release July 2, 2015

Iceland’s parliament agreed today to abolish the blasphemy provision of the Criminal Code. The Pirate Party’s parliamentarians submitted the proposal in January, which received broad support from all other political parties in Parliament and the matter was unanimously supported by the committee examining the proposal. Icelanders have now taken an important step in guaranteeing human rights and joined other nations which respect freedom of speech and expression.

There was also extensive support for the bill among the various organizations consulted by Parliament: in addition to Sidmennt (The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association), the bishop of Iceland, the Icelandic priesthood, the Association of Publishers, PEN Iceland, IMMI (The International Modern Media Institute) an Icelandic based international organization of information and freedom of expression and an atheist group called Vantrú.

The bill is a response to criticism by various international institutions such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe which specifically concluded that countries should abolish the blasphemy provisions in their laws.

Sidmennt has always focused attention on abolishing the blasphemy provision in the Icelandic Criminal Code and has sent parliamentarians memoranda about this in our annual letter to them with suggestions about important issues which promote human rights.

Sidmennt’s comments to Parliament on this bill included the following:
“Often, countries where there is a lack of democracy and freedom are criticized for punishing people for blasphemy even with death sentences. When those countries are criticized, their spokespeople frequently point out, correctly, that similar laws are in force in “Western” democracies. Therefore, it sends a vital message to the rest of the world if Iceland has repealed its blasphemy law. Nations which maintain blasphemy laws with serious consequences should not be able to point to Iceland and say that it has the same kind of law.”

Sidmennt celebrates the fact that parliamentarians from all parties have supported broadening human rights. It should be noted that there are provisions in the Icelandic Criminal Code against hate speech so that protection against that is still guaranteed.

Submitted by Hope Knutsson

The European Humanist Federation posted our press release and added some good comments about it.

The End Blasphemy Laws Facebook page also featured it:

The New York Times ran a story about it:

It’s also on the IHEU website.

Gord Leslie, Vice-President of the BC Humanist Association, gives the following report on the BCHA at Car Free Day 2015 on Commercial Drive in Vancouver:

I was there before the 9:00 AM road closure, so I had plenty of time to correct any mistakes, and get a good parking space.


While the event did not officially begin until 12:00 PM, people actually started coming by around 11:00. Ullrich, Sue and Kirsten arrived around 12:15 or so. Sue stayed around for a couple of hours (an hour longer than she said she would). Ullrich and Kirsten were there until we did the tear down at 6:30. Thanks very much to the three of them. They were a lot of help and made the day more enjoyable.

I think I engaged with about thirty people that day, and saw many others looking at our tent wondering what we were about.

I had an interesting encounter with a gentleman who identified as a Christian. He started right off by saying he hated what the creationists and the fundies are doing. We had a short discussion on prayer in schools and other ways fundamentalists are harming the school systems both in the States and here. We had a short discussion on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights and gay marriage. It was a rather congenial discussion and I came away from it with a couple of ideas.

As soon as he started talking, I knew I was not going to change his mind, and I believe he had the same idea about me. I decided that it would be better just to have a friendly discussion and see where it went. I think it was an excellent encounter, and I was able to send someone away with, perhaps, a warm feeling about humanists. Here is my point: Especially at events like this where we are putting our best face forward, and trying to encourage people to have a positive image of us, I think we need to forgo arguing and pursue diplomacy.

In the first few sentences of any discussion, I know pretty much know who I am dealing with. If it’s an atheist/humanist I know I am preaching to the converted and would like them to join our movement. If it’s someone I recognize as a believer (in anything) I think I need to go into outreach mode. Find out who they are and what importance they place on their beliefs. Questions that show I am interested in them as people, and that I am not there to have arguments.

You will get more support from honey than vinegar, as the saying goes.

The day was a learning experience for me in another way: In the past I advised against groups like the BCHA doing cultural festivals. Commercial Drive changed my mind. Cultural festivals aren’t visited by the people in that culture only. If the organizers don’t have anything against us being there, I think we should think of attending a few of them as well.

Regardless of that, there are still a number of secular festivals we can attend. There’s a cost to booking a table but I think it’s worth it.


The Chilliwack School District has officially ended the distribution of Gideon Bibles to students in its district, a Freedom of Information request has confirmed.

Since bringing in a new policy on the Distribution of Materials, the district has received requests to distribute materials from 16 organizations. It rejected one request, from the Future West Moto Arenacross, and received none from religious groups. Superintendent Evelyn Novak also said in an attached letter, “while we acknowledge there was some distribution of Gideon Bible parent request pamphlets and the Gideon Bibles to grade five students until last fall, the practice has not occurred this year 2014/2015 and will not occur in the future.”

This is fantastic news and shows that the new policy is working as promised – community groups like Active for Life Chilliwack and the Chilliwack Lions Club are able to distribute information about health and fitness activities for children. Meanwhile, organizations hoping to proselytize or advertise to students are no longer able to gain privileged access through our schools.

Curiously, the response doesn’t include the request from CFI Canada to distribute Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality.

The request was submitted by Ian Bushfield who was Executive Director of the BCHA until 2013 and is currently living in the UK. The response is below.

Chilliwack – Bushfield Letter

Chilliwack – Distribution of Materials – April 2015

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“We actually aren’t distributing the Gideon Bible,” she said. “It is not being distributed to Grade 5 students or in our schools.”Novak said she wouldn’t authorize permission slips to get either the Gideon book or the Dawkins book at public district schools.

So the Chilliwack School District 33 Superintendant, Evelyn Novak, decided to discontinue distribution of Gideon Bibles rather than distribute Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality as required by basic fairness if the Gideons are allowed to distribute their books.     has the whole story.

This is a great legal victory in the battle to push back against those who would drag Canada back to the dark ages of religious domination of politics, and hopefully will serve as a precedent in to get similar situations in other jurisdictions around the country to stop inserting their religious biases into government functions from schools to government meetings of all kinds and at all levels.


Unanimous decision ends nine-year battle that pitted atheist Alain Simoneau against Saguenay, Quebec mayor Jean Tremblay

tremblay.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxJacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, has lost his battle to keep prayers at council meetings.

Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, has lost his battle to keep prayers at council meetings.

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the municipal council in the Quebec town of Saguenay cannot open its meetings with a prayer.

In a unanimous decision today, the country’s top court said reciting a Catholic prayer at council meetings infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

The ruling puts an end to a nine-year legal battle that began with a complaint filed by atheist Alain Simoneau and a secular-rights organization against Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay.

In 2011, Quebec’s human rights tribunal ordered an end to the prayers, demanded that a crucifix in the city council chamber be removed and awarded damages to Simoneau.

But the outspoken mayor fought back, raising money from supporters through the city’s website. Tremblay said it was a battle for Quebec’s Roman Catholic heritage.

The Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the tribunal in 2013.   …..

Tremblay is expected to address reporters on Thursday.

Here is the link  to David Berner’s episode on Shaw TV with BCHA’s fearless leader, Dr. Sue Hughson.

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