“Charlie, Copenhagen, the Niqab & that Odious Francis”

Blog 051: Charlie, Copenhagen, the Niqab & that Odious Francis” by David Rand and posted on the Atheist Freethinkers website, is recommended reading. Rand is saddened and outraged by the killing of two people in Copenhagen on the 14th and 15th of February 2015:

all available evidence indicates that we are dealing with yet another Islamist act of terror, all too similar to the massacres which occurred in January in Paris at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a Jewish grocery store. In fact, the first of the Copenhagen shootings took place at a public event “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” organized in honour of the victims of the massacres in France, and the second at the city’s Great Synagogue.

Rand correctly compares the Copenhagen shootings to the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris on January 7th that

gave rise to a massive international movement in solidarity with the targets of the attacks, in particular the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

Rand is pleased to note

The threat to freedom of the press, freedom of expression and especially freedom of conscience which these attacks represent was widely discussed and denounced. . . .

However, Rand is critical of those who did not denounce these attacks with unequivocal censure and highlights the comments made by the “Odious Francis” (aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio) the leader of the Roman Catholic Church:

Pope Francis Ist, despite his assiduous habit of cultivating an image of being an open-minded reformer in order, apparently, to mitigate the loss of influence and clientele which his Church has suffered in recent decades, expressed the opinion that: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

Rand contradicts the pope (who deserves a stronger comeuppance than contradiction) and outlines “[t]he appropriate action to take, in the wake of the tragic events of Paris and Copenhagen”and says

The appropriate action to take, in the wake of the tragic events of Paris and Copenhagen . . . we must instead eliminate formally and definitively the legal aberration which is responsible for the creation of the pseudo-crime of “blasphemy” . . . we must work for the repeal everywhere, in every country of the world, of each and every law which criminalizes the free expression of religious opinions. An excellent starting point would of course be article 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada, entitled “Blasphemous Libel.”

and goes on to say “it is important that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons be disseminated as widely as possible”:



As well, Rand applauds the Conservative government’s intention to appeal the Federal Court of Canada decision

in favour of a Muslim woman who wears the niqab and who opposed the rule requiring the removal of any face-covering during the swearing-in ceremonies for new Canadian citizens.

Many people who call themselves secularists, especially those who have passed their opinion on a discussion forum (where I lurk but cannot comment) on this topic, are not  “unanimous in their support for a ban on any clothing which would hide the face during citizenship ceremonies.” However, as Rand points out

Anyone who would allow a candidate for citizenship to cover her or his face while taking the oath of citizenship cannot be a secularist; rather, they would probably be multiculturalist.

In “Blog 051: Charlie, Copenhagen, the Niqab & that Odious Francis,” Rand presents a compelling and persuasive argument against those who encourage “self-censorship out of ‘respect’ for beliefs which deserve none” and against those so-called secularists who think the niqab is suitable attire for a woman taking the oath of Canadian citizenship.

Diversity in Canadian atheist conferences

A few weeks ago, Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield published “Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities” – perhaps the first peer-reviewed study of diversity within the atheist community. By looking at the speakers at 48 atheist and skeptic conferences between 2003 and 2014 and noting the proportion of speakers that were male and white compared to all other genders and ethnicities, they were able to produce a very rough measure of diversity in atheist “leadership”. Their results were interesting, and encouraging, and are discussed in detail in my previous post on the study, but as always I couldn’t help but ask: how did Canada do? Continue reading

We Are Charlie; We Are Copenhagen; We Are Halifax

Anyone who has been following the news knows

Two people have been killed and five injured in twin shootings in the Danish capital [Copenhagen], with one attack targeting a cultural centre hosting a debate on Islam and free speech and the other a synagogue.

What may be less well known is

Nova Scotia police say a tip helped them stop a plot to kill a large number of people in Halifax on Saturday. . . .a man and woman planned to go to a public venue in the Halifax region on Feb. 14 “with a goal of opening fire to kill citizens, and then themselves.”

In both cases, politicians in Copenhagen and Halifax have made statements about the motivation behind the attacks.

“Denmark and France are the same nations, feeling the same sadness but also the same will to resist, fight and defeat terrorism,” French President Francois Hollande said.


[Danish] Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the attacks were terrorism but said this was not the start of a war between the West and Islam.

In Halifax, Justice Minister Peter MacKay

insisted the alleged plot had no terrorist underpinnings, appeared to be random and without any specific philosophy, though he suggested the suspects could be radicalized.

While the foiled plot in Halifax is not considered “a terrorism threat,” it was and is a terrifying episode in Halifax’s history. This is why CFI Canada, in its message of “condolences to all people affected by yet another act of senseless violence, this time in Copenhagen,” goes on to say “CFIC condemns all violence perpetuated by individuals or groups.”

Others are not so straightforward and choose to qualify their condemnation of violence. In an article in the Guardian, Hugh Muir maintains, “Our response to the Copenhagen attacks will define us” and goes on remind us of our “obligations” and “responsibilities” in a paragraph that can be summarized in a few words: don’t be responsible for provoking violence:

We are in perilous territory. Slaughter as political protest cannot be defended. Free speech as legal and moral pre-requisites in a free society must be defended. But there are also other obligations to be laid upon those who wish to live in peaceful, reasonably harmonious societies. Even after Paris, even after Denmark, we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons if the sole objective is to establish that we can do so. With rights to free speech come responsibilities.

Publishing “these cartoons” is not the only act that provokes violence, and if we stop disseminating cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, if we give in to religious and radicalized fanatics, if we moderate our expression to appease those who may be offended, then we will have put limits on free speech and accept that blasphemy is a crime, not a right. No, Mr. Muir, we will not do that. Our response to the Copenhagen attacks is to work to abolish blasphemy laws.

Canada’s Flag Turns 50

Today Google Canada celebrates the 50th anniversary of the national flag of Canada with a red and white Doodle:

50th-anniversary-of-the-canadian-flag-Canada’s flag is described in an earlier Canadian Atheist post as “snow white and blood red.” While there was no blood shed, the Toronto Star tells us “Canada’s maple leaf flag [was] born amid bitter debate”:


Toronto Star: http://is.gd/Z7CMHj


Leader Lester Pearson wanted a flag to represent the new, multicultural Canada. John Diefenbaker was vehemently opposed. The battle was ferocious.

Whether paraded by a victorious Olympian, stitched on the backpack of a traveller, attached to the robotic arm of a space shuttle or draped over the casket of a soldier, the striking, red maple leaf Canadian flag is so prevalent, so generally revered, it seems impossible that its creation 50 years ago was fraught with controversy.

Debate in and out of Parliament got so ugly that the Toronto Star, in a series of articles by Peter C. Newman, dubbed it “The Great Flag Farce.”

While few of us would wrap ourselves in Canada’s flag, it is a familiar and uncontested sight 50 years later. In the days leading up to the flag’s 50th anniversary, Katie Daubs, from the Toronto Star, took “a look at Library and Archives collection of flag submissions from the early 1960s to see what they say about Canada.” My favourite is the submission below from a man from Quebec City, who wrote:



“Another good reason why Canada should have a true Canadian flag is that the British flag forever reminds the French Canadians as a conquered people, and that is why there is a separatist movement in the province of Quebec. A true Canadian flag would create initiative in Canadians in all walks of life for a better Canada and for a more harmonious attitude between French, English and ethnic groups in Canada,”

On Friday, Katie Daubs featured what “might be [her]  favourite batch.” This one is closest to the final design by George F.G. Stanley and adopted on February 15, 1965:


The man who submitted this design wrote,

“As a Canadian taxpayer I feel I have the right to send you my views on this miserable flag situation. I hope that the fact I am living in Quebec does not induce you to fling this note in the waste paper basket. I am not a crackpot isolationist nor an outraged Laval University student. I am a plain ordinary Canadian … So please gentlemen get off your $18000 per year rears, toss the politics out of your committee, and give us a flag that we can recognize anywhere and be proud of and who knows, maybe that will be the start to a future in which Canada will be a nation …”

Tomorrow, February 16, is Family Day in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, PEI Islander Day in Prince Edward Island and Heritage Day in Nova Scotia.

The author of the post “Statutory Holidays in Canada” asks,

Why can’t the whole country simple [sic] agree on 9 or 10 common statutory holidays remains a mystery and a good indicator of just how overcomplicated our laws are.

Yes, he or she is correct, National Flag of Canada Day should be a national statutory holiday.  According the Speaker of the Senate at the Inauguration of the new flag in 1965,

“The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.”

In 2016, National Flag of Canada Day falls on Monday, February 15. It would be a perfect day for the whole country to have a day off as a symbol of the nation’s unity!

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