SCS President’s Response to Canadian Heritage Committee Report on Systemic Discrimination

Having received and read a copy of the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination Including Islamophobia, I feel compelled to register several objections to the actions of the committee and to the report itself.

The choice of the standing committee to hear only from witnesses it invites, is in itself social discrimination since the majority of the committee is religious and will naturally select witnesses from religious organizations or from religious individuals.

In fact, the committee heard from twenty different religious witnesses, but only one non-believer. The discrimination inherent in limiting us to a written submission is revealed by further objections below.

While I understand that the committee hearings on these subjects were prompted by Motion 103 which specifically focuses on Islamophobia, the lack of attention to systemic discrimination against non-believers is regrettable.

I find it notable that the report consistently talks of inter-faith actions and bodies, a tradition that specifically excludes people of no faith and continues the tradition of working only to assuage differences among faith groups.

Recommendation 23, “campaign to promote diversity and inclusion” may be of benefit, but we await its implementation to determine if it is used to include non-believers.

Recommendation 30, “That January 29th be designated as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, and other forms of religious discrimination”, will set up yet another day of religious promotion and recognition. One can only assume that on that day, as with so many others, non-believers will be expected to stay away out of respect for a system that favours religion. I would expect such a discriminatory event would be added to the reasons for the International Humanist and Ethical Union continuing to denote Canada as a nation that discriminates systemically against atheists.

Section 1.2.4 of the report talks about Section 319 (2) while carefully avoiding any mention of the exemption for religious people who write hate literature or make hate speeches under 319 (3b). This is spite of it being specifically addressed in Secular Connexion Séculière’s brief to your committee.

That the report should have addressed issues of social discrimination against atheists is easily demonstrated by substituting “atheist” or “non-believer” for “Muslim” or “Muslim faith” in Section 2.43 of the report dealing with Islamophobia. The same issues exist, with the exception of violence, for non-believers as for Muslims and other minority groups.

Section 2.4.1 emphasizes the protection of the right to religious freedoms in quoting several religious groups while studiously ignoring any reference to concerns about the protection of the right to freedom from religion in the brief by Secular Connexion Séculière.

That the committee did not see that systemic discrimination is not only about discrimination against religious communities, but also about discrimination by religious communities is regrettable. Its support for the very institutions that allow and favour such discrimination is not acceptable to the secular humanist community.

I look forward to the day when the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage commits to an approach that is not systemically biased against the secular humanist community and non-believers in general.

Doug Thomas, President
Secular Connexion Séculière