Registration still available!
We will be hosting our Annual General Meeting in KINGSTON on April 12 2014.
We are a group of Ontario-based Humanists with a passion for social justice, civil and human rights, and environmental action, who have established a provincially-based organization to complement the work of Humanist Canada and local Humanist groups.
If you are concerned with Human and Civil Rights issues in secular society, such as Pro-choice, One School System, Equal Marriage, Gender issues, Dying with Dignity, Environmental justice, Science education, Intellectual Freedom and other progressive issues, we may be able to connect you with other volunteers, speakers and organizations. See our WELCOME page for more information. Here is our OHS Mission Statement.
Gail McCabe will appear on The Zoomer, as part of a panel debating the concept of the “Afterlife.” The show includes interviews and panel discussions focusing on topics of interest to Zoomers (the 50+ set). The program is hosted by Conrad Black and Denise Donlon.
The show airs on a weekly basis on Mondays at 9:00 pm. Gail will appear on the March 17th edition — be sure to tune in!
From Zoomer TV:
Saturday, March 22, 20141:30 – 3:00 pm
OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 4-414
Speaker: Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg
Topic: Toxic Trespass – a film about health and the environment
Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg is an executive producer of the award-winning NFB film Toxic Trespass, an investigation into the effects of the chemical soup around us. Filmmaker Barri Cohen starts with her 10-year-old daughter, whose blood carries carcinogens like benzene and DDT. Then Cohen heads out to Windsor and Sarnia, Canadian toxic hotspots with clusters of deadly diseases such as respiratory illnesses, leukemia and brain tumours. She journeys into toxic nightmares all too common in industrialized countries and meets passionate activists working for change and doctors and scientists who see evidence of links between environmental pollution and health problems. And she learns how quickly barriers can go up when anyone asks questions about these links. A moving and empowering documentary, Toxic Trespass is essential viewing for anyone concerned about the effects of pollutants on our health – and our very DNA.
Join us as Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg leads us through a screening of the film followed by discussion and Q&A.
On Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, OHS joined Amnesty International, Aidslaw, Egale and many other civil society organizations in urging the Senate to pass Bill C-279. This bill will protects the rights of transgendered people by adding gender identity and gender expression to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. and we look forward to it passing!
The following is the letter sent to the Senate on Thursday morning:
The following organizations, representing a broad cross section of civil society groups from across Canada, urge the Senate to pass Bill C-279, the Gender Identity Bill, as drafted and without delay, to ensure that the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Criminal Code protect the human rights of all people in Canada.
We recognize the violence and discrimination faced by the trans/transsexual/transgender/ intersex/two-spirit/gender variant (“trans”) community in Canada. In a recent nationwide survey, 74% of transgender youth reported experiencing verbal harassment in school, and 37% reported experiencing physical violence. Transgender individuals in Ontario face unemployment over three times the national rate and many more are underemployed. As a result of discrimination and bullying, the trans community faces high rates of mental health issues. Rates of depression are as high as two-thirds; 77% of transgender individuals in Ontario report having considered suicide, and 43% have attempted suicide at least once.
Given the extreme vulnerability to human rights abuse faced by trans people in Canada, Bill C-279 will help to prevent discrimination and ensure that those who commit hate crimes are held to account. By amending the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to include gender identity, the Bill will be an important step in ensuring that trans people have access to the justice and equality for which Canada is internationally-renowned and for Canada to meet its international human rights obligations.
We support Senator Nolin’s statement that, “if discrimination based on the gender identity of some prevents them from having an opportunity equal to that of other individuals to make for themselves the life that they are able and wish to have, to the extent of being a source of prejudice and causing a strike against the human dignity of those individuals, such discrimination must become prohibited and in so doing guarantee the equality of rights pledged for all by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” And we stand with Senator Mitchell’s statement that, “these are individuals… They are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers and they are Canadians and they are our neighbours…[We can respond] by taking a step to change the lives of these important Canadians who have been discriminated against psychologically and brutalised violently all too often. We can stand up and do the right thing.”
We call on the Senate of Canada to pass Bill C-279 to help fully protect the human rights of all people in Canada.
An anti-fracking resolution presented to the Hamilton City Council by the local branch of the Council of Canadians is available below. The resolution has been submitted to the City Clerk with a request that it be referred to a Council Committee or staff for consideration and a report. Local members are working to enlist the support of his Councillor Terry Whitehead and will be contacting other Councillors to obtain their support. There is a chance the resolution may come up at the Council Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Other groups who are committed to protecting the environment from this dangerous practice are encouraged to consider similar action in their own communities.
Back issues of Enlightenment are available for download here.
The Globe and Mail recently published an interesting article questioning the fairness of public funding for Catholic schools.
To gauge public opinion the Globe and Mail is running an opinion poll. Please consider voting.
An applicant from the City of Saguenay (Quebec) took this municipal council to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal stating that the council violated the applicant’s rights when the council recited prayers and displayed religious symbols. The Tribunal agreed but the Quebec Appeals Court overturned the verdict.
The applicant along with the Mouvement laïque québécois applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. We have just heard that the Supreme Court will hear the case. I can’t stress how important this step is because the Supreme Court receives many appeals but only a few are actually heard. The fact that the Court will hear this appeal means it has merit.
And further, if the Court rules in our favour, it means municipalities across the country will no longer be able to renders prayers or display religious symbols.
Because of the significance of such a ruling, Secular Ontario donated $3,000 to the Mouvement laïque québécois to help them with their fight.
Below is the Court’s repose to hear the case.
MUNICIPAL LAW IN QUEBEC: PRAYERS; RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS
The Applicant Mr. Simoneau was a “non‑believer” and, at the relevant time, a citizen of the Respondent City of Saguenay. He attended the meetings of the municipal council. A municipal by‑law provided that council members who so wished could stand and say a prayer at the start of council proceedings. In addition, near the mayor, there was a crucifix at the La Baie town hall and a statue of the Sacred Heart at the Chicoutimi town hall. Mr. Simoneau and the Mouvement laïque québécois eventually filed an application against the City and its mayor with the human and youth rights tribunal. They alleged the Respondents had, in a discriminatory manner on the ground of religion, violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of theCharter of human rights and freedoms). They asked the recitation of the prayer cease and the religious symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. They also claimed damages for the moral prejudice suffered by Mr. Simoneau and exemplary damages. The tribunal allowed Mr. Simoneau’s application in part, but the C.A. set aside the decision on the ground the content of the prayer did not violate the duty of neutrality imposed on the City and, in any case, even if the recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.
Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al. (Que. C.A., May 27, 2013) (35496) “The application for leave to appeal… is granted with costs in the cause.”
January 7 was the anniversary of a sad day in history: the execution of Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy. Aikenhead was the last person executed for blasphemy in Britain, in 1697.
An Ontario humanist remarks:
A full account of Aikenhead’s life and death is available from the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography.
BC reports, “Shoal Point Energy, which has drawn public criticism for a fracking proposal near Gros Morne National Park in western Newfoundland, is losing an exploration licence and the $1-million deposit that went with it. Shoal Point said the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board rejected the company’s request to extend an exploration licence for hydraulic fracturing by one year, to January 2015. The company disclosed the decision to investors after the close of business on Thursday. The C-NLOPB’s decision was made Dec. 5, it said.”
The Council of Canadians
On May 17, we first raised our concerns about fracking near Gros Morne in a campaign blog.
On May 24, we issued a media release to express solidarity with communities who are fighting proposals to frack on the West Coast of Newfoundland, including near the boundaries of Gros Morne National Park. Ken Kavanagh of the Council of Canadians’ St. John’s chapter said, “We are alarmed that these companies have plans to frack within kilometres of Gros Morne National Park.”
On September 22, Maude Barlow provided a pre-recorded video introduction for the ‘People’s Forum on Fracking in Newfoundland’ that took place in Stephenville, Newfoundland.
On September 26, we made a submission to the C-NLOPB raising concerns about the impacts on water sources, climate change, public health and sustainable employment. We asked them to: 1) Refrain from giving authorizations to projects currently submitted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including Corridor Resources’ Old Harry Project and Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration’s Western Newfoundland Drilling Project, 2) Cancel the call for bids issued on May 16th, 2013 for four parcels in the Newfoundland offshore area, and 3) Defer the issuing of any new exploration licenses in the Newfoundland offshore area.
And on November 6, we celebrated and noted the implications of the moratorium on fracking announced by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We do take this caution though. The CBC article notes, “Shoal Point also said that in its application it was willing to surrender much of the 499,000 acres in its licence area, including the area that sparked the most controversy, near Gros Morne National Park. Instead, Shoal Point wanted to focus its exploration efforts on another area, south of the park. It said it was also willing to pay an extra $250,000 to extend its licence for the year. …Shoal Point’s two other exploration licences on the west coast of Newfoundland were not affected.”
As Kavanagh noted last May, “It’s not just about Gros Morne. Communities all along the West Coast are getting informed and organizing to stop the proposed fracking projects from moving forward.”
The following is a letter from Gail McCabe to Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, on the subject of the Canada Pension Plan. Please add your voice to hers and write your MP on this essential program.
The Harper government is attacking our privacy by sneaking new online spy rules into a giant omnibus bill. They could act very soon — but a massive outcry can stop them from eyeing our inboxes.
They say it’s about protecting kids from cyber bullying, but only four of its 70 pages deal with the issue. The rest could systematically dismantle key civil liberties making it easier for authorities to spy on everything we do online, and easier for them to covertly track our movements using our own phones.
“As concerned citizens we call on you to withdraw Bill C-13 and reintroduce only the portion dealing with cyber bullying. The remainder of the bill greatly increases the government’s power to spy on our online activities and even monitor our movements. This is an unacceptable infringement on the basic civil liberties of all Canadians. The government should seek to achieve the legitimate aims of fighting cyber bullying without also threatening our basic privacy rights.
Here is a short list of various days and events which have been developed by humanists around the world. The IHEU endorses World Humanist Day (21 June), Darwin Day (12 February), Human Rights Day (10 December) and HumanLight (23 December) as official days of Humanist celebration, though none are yet a public holiday.
DARWIN DAY, Feb 12
WORLD HUMANIST DAY, June 21
HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, Dec 10
HUMANLIGHT, Dec. 23
Humanists may also recognize other dates, such as
HYPATIA DAY, March 15 A pagan, and probably an atheist, Hypatia of Alexandria was a woman of remarkable intellect who advanced mathematics and the science of astronomy in her time. Her death at the hands of a christian mob in March 415ce has been described as marking the end of classical antiquity.
“All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.” —attributed to her, unverified
EARTH DAY, April 22
PI DAY, March 14
Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (or 3/14 in the U.S. month/day date format), since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day.
But for something truly encompassing, see
Cosmic Calendar is a scale in which the 13.8 billion year lifetime of the universe is mapped onto a single year. At this scale the Big Bang took place on January 1 at midnight, and the current time is mapped to December 31 at midnight. At this scale, there are 434 years per second, 1.57 million years per hour, and 37.7 million years per day. The concept was popularized by Carl Sagan in his book The Dragons of Eden and on his television series Cosmos as a way to conceptualize the vast amounts of time in the history of the universe.
Amnesty International invites you to join us on International Human Rights Day for the world’s largest letter-writing event
Every year on December 10th, activists in more than 80 countries gather on their own or in large and small events to press governments to respond to a human rights concern on selected high-priority cases. We also write letters of hope and solidarity directly to prisoners or people experiencing human rights violations.
“I don’t think there’s any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken,” explains Robert N. McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not….
So what can science tell us about our not-so-scientific minds? Here’s a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance:
Biological Essentialism. First, we seem to have a deep tendency to think about biology in a way that is “essentialist”—in other words, assuming that each separate kind of animal species has a fundamental, unique nature that unites all members of that species, and that is inviolate. Fish have gills, birds have wings, fish make more fish, birds make more birds, and that’s how it all works….
If essentialism is a default style of thinking, as much research suggests, then that puts evolution at a major disadvantage. Charles Darwin and his many scientific disciples have shown that essentialism is just plain wrong: Given enough time, biological kinds are not fixed but actually change. Species are connected through intermediate types to other species—and all are ultimately related to one another.
Teleological Thinking. Essentialism is just one basic cognitive trait, observed in young children, that seems to hinder evolutionary thinking. Another is “teleology,” or the tendency to ascribe purposes to things and objects so as to assume they exist to serve some goal.
Recent research suggests that 4 and 5 year old children are highly teleological in their thinking, tending to opine, for instance, that clouds are “for raining” and that the purpose of lions is “to go in the zoo.” The same tendency has been observed in 7 and 8 year olds who, when asked why “prehistoric rocks are pointy,” offered answers like “so that animals could scratch on them when they got itchy” and “so that animals wouldn’t sit on them and smash them.”
Why do children think like this? One study speculates that this teleological disposition may be a “side [effect] of a socially intelligent mind that is naturally inclined to privilege intentional explanation.” In other words, our brains developed for thinking about what people are thinking, and people have intentions and goals. If that’s right, the playing field may be naturally tilted toward anti-evolutionist doctrines like “intelligent design,” which postulates an intelligent agent (God) as the cause of the diversity of life on Earth, and seeks to uncover evidence of purposeful design in biological organisms.
Overactive Agency Detection. But how do you know the designer is “God”? That too may be the result of a default brain setting.
Another trait, closely related to teleological thinking, is our tendency to treat any number of inanimate objects as if they have minds and intentions. Examples of faulty agency detection, explains University of British Columbia origins of religion scholar Ara Norenzayan, range from seeing “faces in the clouds” to “getting really angry at your computer when it starts to malfunction.” People engage in such “anthropomorphizing” all the time; it seems to come naturally. And it’s a short step to religion: “When people anthropomorphize gods, they are inferring mental states,” says Norenzayan.
There has been much speculation about the evolutionary origin of our anthropomorphizing tendency. One idea is that our brains developed to rapidly assume that objects in the world are alive and may pose a threat, simply because while wrongly mistaking a rustle of leaves for a bear won’t get you killed, failing to detect a bear early (when the leaves rustle) most certainly will. “Supernatural agents are readily conjured up because natural selection has trip-wired cognitive schema for agency detection in the face of uncertainty,” write Norenzayan and fellow origin of religion scholar Scott Atran
Dualism. Yet another apparent feature of our cognitive architecture is the tendency to think that minds (or the “self” and the “soul”) are somehow separate from brains. Once again, this inclination has been found in young children, suggesting that it emerges early in human development…
Dualistic thinking is closely related to belief in phenomena like spirits and ghosts. But in a recent study, it was also the cognitive factor most strongly associated with believing in God. As for evolutionary science? Dualism is pretty clearly implicated in resistance to the idea that human beings could have developed from purely natural processes—for if they did, how could there ever be a soul or self beyond the body, to say nothing of an afterlife?
Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales. According to Norenzayan, there’s one more basic cognitive factor that prevents us from easily understanding evolution. Evolution occurred due to the accumulation of many small changes over vast time periods—which means that it is unlike anything we’ve experienced. So even thinking about it isn’t very easy. “The only way you can appreciate the process of evolution is in an abstract way,” says Norenzayan. “Over millions of years, small changes accumulate, but it’s not intuitive. There’s nothing in our brain that says that’s true. We have to override our incredulity.”
Group Morality and Tribalism. All of these cognitive factors seem to make evolution hard to grasp, even as they render religion (or creationist ideas) simpler and more natural to us. But beyond these cognitive factors, there are also emotional reasons why a lot of people don’t want to believe in evolution. When we see resistance to its teaching, after all, it is usually because a religious community fears that this body of science will undermine a belief system—in the US, usually fundamentalist Christianity—deemed to serve as the foundation for shared values and understanding. In other words, evolution is resisted because it is perceived as a threat to the group.
So how appropriate that one current scientific theory about religion is that it exists (and, maybe, that it evolved) to bind groups together and keep them cohesive. In his recent book The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that religions provide a shared set of beliefs and practices that, in effect, serve as social glue. “Gods and religions,” writes Haidt, “are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.” The upside is unity; the downside, Haidt continues, is “groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” Ideas and beliefs that threaten the group or the beliefs that hold it together—ideas like evolution—are bound to fare badly in this context.
Fear and the Need for Certainty. Finally, there appears to be something about fear and doubt that impels religiosity and dispels acceptance of evolution. “People seem to take more comfort from a stance that says, someone designed the world with good intentions, instead of that the world is just an intention-less, random place,” says Norenzayan. “This is especially true when we feel a sense of threat, or a feeling of not being in control.”
Indeed, in one amazing study, New Zealanders who had just suffered through a severe earthquake showed stronger religiosity, but only if they had been directly affected by the quake. Other research suggests that making people think about death increases their religiosity and also decreases evolution acceptance.
It’s not just death: It’s also randomness, disorder. In one telling study, research participants who were asked to think of a situation in which they had lacked control and then to “provide three reasons supporting the notion that the future is (un-) controllable,” showed a marked decline in their acceptance of evolution, opting instead for an intelligent design-style explanation. (Another study found that anti-evolutionists displayed higher fear sensitivity and a trait called the “need for cognitive closure,” which describes a psychological need to find an answer that can resolve uncertainty and dispel doubt.) ……
Harsh opposition to Texas energy firm SWN spread throughout Canada this week. Demonstrations popped up across the country in solidarity with protests in New Brunswick that resulted in a brutal RCMP response. The militarized police force has been enforcing a court ordered injunction to protect the company’s natural gas exploration on unceded native land. An international call to action came from Idle No More and Elsipogtog First Nation using the hashtag #SHUTDOWNCANADA. The call was answered by roadblocks, banner drops and solidarity protests in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and even Ireland on December 2nd. Evidently, these movements have done something to stir SWN—as the company announced today they’d be shutting down all operations in New Brunswick until 2015.
A film Directed by Cara Mumford in 2012, featuring evalyn parry’s spoken word, “14 (for December 6).” A powerful statement, about the montreal engineers who were killed, and about violence against women. Evalyn performs all over the world, but lived in Toronto and Ottawa and went to university in Montreal.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation wants the province to spend more money on all levels of education, continue to expand early learning programs and eliminate standardized testing.
But it’s a proposal to condense Ontario’s four school systems into two – one English and one French, ending separate systems for Catholic schools – that’s drawing the strongest reaction.
OSSTF president Paul Elliott announced the union’s six-point plan for public education at a Thursday morning news conference in Toronto.
Eliminating Ontario’s separate English- and French-language Catholic school systems was the last of the six ideas Elliott introduced. As he did so, he suggested merging the school systems could lead to administrative savings that would then allow for increased spending on classrooms. “There’s unnecessary duplication of administrative services and facilities,” he said.
Michael Devoy, president of the Waterloo unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, says he isn’t so sure there would be savings at the school board level were the systems to merge. “I don’t see where amalgamation results in anything other than disruption,” he tells CTV News.
Devoy calls existing administrations “fairly lean”, and questions whether merging the systems would lead to school closures and rebalancings – taking students away from the communities they’re familiar with. “Changing those boundaries is always very difficult,” he says.
Here is Jesse Jackson’s tribute to Nelson Mandela.
President Nelson Mandela was truly a transformative force in the history of South Africa and the world. My heart weighs heavy about his transition, but we are reassured because his life was full, and we know the imprint he left on our world is everlasting.
If ever the teaching that “Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint” rang true, it did in the life of Mandela.
Despite imprisonment in Robben Island for 25 years and 8 months, Mandela never lost faith in winning freedom for the South African people. Suffering breeds character.
Mandela was a transformational figure; to say he was a “historical figure” would not give him his full due. Some people move through history as being the “first this or that” – just another figure in a lineage of persons. To be a transformer is to plan, to have the vision to chart the course, the skills to execute. To be transformational is to have the courage of one’s convictions, to sacrifice, to risk life and limb, to lay it all on the line. “Historical figures” will reference Nelson Mandela.
I recall marching against apartheid with Oliver Tambo and the enormous rally at Trafalgar Square in November 1985. I later met with Prime Minister Thatcher to decry Britain’s economic, political and military support of the apartheid regime. Let us not forget that Britain, the US, all of the western powers, labeled Mandela a terrorist and steadfastly propped up the apartheid regime – they were on the wrong side of history. I appealed to her to support the release of Mandela, and departed for South Africa.
My heart burst with excitement on that day of Mandela’s release from Victor Verster Prison, 11 February 1990. When word got out about his impending release, maids started doing the toya toya in the hallways, beating pots and pans, weeping and demonstrating. “In the end, faith will not disappoint.”
I met Mandela and Winnie at City Hall, and when we spoke later at our hotel, he thanked me and recalled hearing about my 1984 convention speech. Even from his jail cell, he was keenly aware of the outside world, and the ebbs and flows of the world. Three years later, as part of the official US delegation, I was honored to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president of the new, free South Africa.
We forged an everlasting relationship. We’ve welcomed him to our home and headquarters in Chicago. We’ve met numerous times in South Africa – the last time in 2010 where we spoke about boxing, sports, politics and traded baseball caps.
Mandela was a giant of immense and unwavering intellect courage and moral authority. He chose reconciliation over retaliation. He changed the course of history.
Now, both South Africa and the US have unfinished business to complete.
Nelson Mandela is not gone, he remains with us always. He’ll always be a chin bar to pull up on. He has indeed forged South Africa as a new “beauty from ashes”. He has left this earth, but he soars high among the heavens, and his eloquent call for freedom and equality is still heard amongst the winds and the rains, and in the hearts of the people the world over.