Nov. 14, 2017-Jan 15, 2018 – Doug Thomas sent the letter below to all School Board Chairpeople in the Province of Ontario requesting the same accommodations as requested in the letter sent to the Minister of Education on July 28 (see below). On January 15, SCS sent the same letter to all Directors of Education in the province of Ontario. SCS continues to advocate for humanist rights in Canada by lobbying the appropriate levels and departments of government.
Secular Connexion Séculière (SCS) is a national organization that advocates for the rights of non-believers in Canada.
While Ontario’s public education system works to eliminate religious discrimination through its equity and inclusion policies of accommodation for religious beliefs and practices, the rights of non-believing students are generally ignored.
In 1984, the Supreme Court of Canada, said that the phrase “freedom of conscience and religion” in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the “right to freedom from religion.” equally with the right to freedom of religion (SCC, Big M Drugs v The Crown). This decision was reinforced by the decision to declare opening prayers at public meetings unconstitutional (SCC, Simoneau v. City of Saguenay, 2015).
To protect that right to freedom from religion for non-believing students in Ontario schools, SCS is asking for three accommodations in Ontario’s public schools.
First, because the words of O Canada are theistic, we ask that only instrumental versions of the song be played during opening ceremonies and other school ceremonies.
Second, when teachers ask students to memorize the words to O Canada, we ask that non-believing students be allowed to memorize the following non-theistic version without penalty.
O Canada, our home and cherished land, O Canada, terre pour nos enfants
True patriot love in all of us command. Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux
With glowing hearts we see thee rise Car ton bras sait porter l’épée
The True North, strong and free. Et tu supports nos choix.
From far and wide O Canada, Ton histoire est une épopée
We stand on guard for thee. Des plus brillants exploits.
We’ll keep our land, glorious and free. Et ta valeur, d’espoir trempé
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. Protégéra nos foyers et nos droits.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. Protégéra nos foyers et nos droits.
Third, we ask for the inclusion of information regarding the secular humanist philosophy and ethics be included in all religious knowledge courses.
Doug Thomas, President, Secular Connexion Séculière
July 28, 2017 – President Doug Thomas initiated the Accommodation Project to gain accommodations for atheist students in public schools. The first step has been to contact the Ontario Ministry of Education to make a request for three accommodations: 1. only instrumental versions of O Canada to be played during morning exercises and other school functions, 2. students be allowed to memorize the non-theist lyrics for O Canada when they are asked to memorize the words to O Canada, 3. secular humanist information be included in religious knowledge courses. We have already collected the contact information for board chairs and directors of education for every public high school in Ontario. The next step will be to write letters to the Minister of Education for Ontario and to each school board chairperson and each director of each school board in Ontario. Once an assessment has been made regarding the effectiveness of the campaign in Ontario, the project will be rolled out to other provinces. Please note the this may lead to some action with Human Rights Tribunals and there may be costs associated with this.
March 6, 2017 – on March 2, SCS President, Doug Thomas met with four members of Justice Minister Wilson Raybould’s staff: 2 senior policy advisors, a director of policy, and an assistant to the minister to discuss Canada’s systemic discrimination against atheists (Freedom of Thought Report, 2016, www.iheu.org). Topics discussed included sections 296 and 319 (3b) of the CCoC, favouritism toward religions in the Charities Directorate regulations, funding of religious schools, and the exclusive nature of O Canada. All present agreed that the concern about charities directorate regulations are a matter for Revenue Canada and its minister, that O Canada is a concern of the Heritage Canada and its minister. Thomas also noted difficulties in achieving witness status at parliamentary committees, citing the example of the Joint Commission on Medically Assisted Dying when four religious leaders were heard, but secular humanist groups were not. One of the senior policy advisors said she would review the situation with the Director of Parliamentary Affairs. The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes, but went on for 60.
March 2, 2017 SCS President, Doug Thomas will meet with Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould’s staff to discuss the letter sent to the minister on December 16 of 2016 (see below).
Ongoing advocacy with the Upper Grand District School Board regarding religious activities in a public elementary school. This is the result of an inquiry about the legitimacy of these practices by a local citizen. SCS president, Doug Thomas, has contacted the school board and is involved in an ongoing discussion with board officials regarding this matter. We hope to modify or eliminate the practice without recourse to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Observation: This would be much simpler if a local group offered a secular humanist program in the same school to counter the religious group. Building up is always more satisfying than tearing down.
On December 15, 2016 we sent the following letter to The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada regarding the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report and requesting a meeting with her in the new year to discuss changes that will correct the favouritism toward religion in Canada.
Dear Minister Wilson-Raybould:
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU.org), a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, has recently published its annual Freedom of Thought Report (FOT). This report evaluates systemic human rights for atheists and other non-believers in 194 countries.
In this report, as has been the case for several years, Canada is rated as committing “Systemic Discrimination” against atheists (FOT, 191).
Canada is below the Netherlands that is rated as treating atheists as “Free and Equal”(FOT, 511) and the United States where systemic treatment of atheists is rated as “Mostly Satisfactory” (FOT, 196).
Specifically, the report cites the Criminal Code of Canada (CCOC) section 296-the anti-blasphemy law and section 319, 3(b)-quoting religious scriptures can justify publishing hate literature. Surprisingly, these sections of the CCOC are uncomfortably similar to the anti-blasphemy and hate laws of countries like Bangladesh that the IHEU rates as committing “Grave Violations” of human right for atheists.
Both of these are considered by the IHEU to provide unjust privileges to religious Canadians.
In addition, the report cites examples of symbolic privilege for religious Canadians in our national anthem in both official languages; in our Income Tax Act in both charitable status regulations, and in personal exemptions for clergy; and in the Constitution Act of 1867/82 that supports favouritism in funding for religious education.
To attain charitable status, religions in Canada do not have to identify any community work that they do while secular humanist groups must. Religions automatically have permission to set up building funds while atheist (secular humanist) groups must justify these on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, this systemic favouritism continues to provide tacit approval for societal discrimination against atheists. As a result, non-believing Canadians do not feel comfortable revealing that they are atheists and, especially in small companies, feel that to do so would jeopardize their employment prospects.
I have attached a copy of the IHEU report and would like to meet with you in January or February to update some of the information in the report and to discuss ways this systemic discrimination can be eliminated
Doug Thomas, President
Secular Connexion Séculière