It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to publish a year-end reflection at the end of a year, so let’s reflect on 2017.
2017 was special for me, personally, because it was my first year as managing editor of Canadian Atheist. I was handed the reins in , but I opted not to begin making any changes until . CA’s editors have always had a light touch, and I wanted maintain that, so I focused mainly on small technical fixes rather than big, visible changes. To my surprise, they had an enormous impact. CA had been suffering a bit of a downward slide for a few years due to multiple disastrous hacks, but this year we not only halted the slide, we have been making an impressive upward rush.
I really can’t take credit for it, though. The real credit goes to our contributors. I could name them all, but I’d really like to give a special mention to Derek Gray, Shawn the Humanist, and Scott Douglas Jacobsen. All three joined CA in 2017, and all three have already made their mark. Scott has been absolutely prolific, and Derek has been managing our social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Google+). CA’s success in 2017 is undeniably due to its contributors, so I’d like to offer them my heartfelt thanks.
The first thing that strikes me is that this year’s reflection is the first one in a while that I’m not starting with “it was a shitty year”. 2017 was astoundingly bad for our American neighbours, but for Canadians and most of the rest of the world… it wasn’t half bad. At the end of 2016, we were looking at the rise of the far right with the election of Trump and Brexit, and very real concerns about far-right wins for Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France, Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. In Canada, we were facing the very real possibility of a “Trump-lite” candidate like Kellie Leitch or Kevin O’Leary winning the leadership of the Conservative Party.
But 2017 was not a good year for the far right. Despite being energized by the events of 2016, they suffered defeat after hilarious defeat in 2017. As often as not, their defeats were of their own making. Certainly they suffered some humiliating setbacks as racist and xenophobic politicians were sent packing in several countries, but quite often they were undone by their own bigotry and stupidity. The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville is their most infamous disaster, but there were several other terrible attempts to assert themselves as a political force, including several in Canada, where they were generally outnumbered on the order of 10–1 by counter-protesters. There were also several scoops by journalists revealing the seedy, racist hands pulling the strings, the way most supporters (the “alt-lite”) are treated as useful idiots, the sad, shallow, pathetic personalities driving the phenomenon, and even the rise of the movement in Canada. Broadly speaking, the movement that scared us so much in 2016 with some surprising, unexpected victories flamed out spectacularly in 2017, and became a transparently racist, xenophobic, and anti-intellectual gang of bumblers that could barely manage to chant a slogan without making themselves a laughing stock. Oh, they’re still trying, so we can’t shrug them off and ignore them completely, but things look very different for their prospects now than they did this time last year.
We had our second full year of Justin Trudeau, and he’s continued to perfectly walk that tightrope between awesome and fucking terrible. It’s possible that a lot of Trudeau’s shine comes from comparisons with the dimwit in the south; most of Trudeau’s biggest media coups of the year came from explicitly taking a different direction than the American government – examples include our policy of accepting refugees, and most recently our stance on net neutrality. And it is true that there have been some inexcusable failures, not least being Trudeau breaking his promise to reform Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system because the proposals for a replacement didn’t go the way he wanted them to. There’s also the usual truckload of in-bed-with-the-rich-and-powerful scandals that come part and parcel with any Liberal administration.
But what differentiates the Liberal government from the previous, Conservative government, is that that there have also been some spectacular wins. In 2017:
- he famously tweeted
#WelcomeToCanadain defiance of the US stance
- he he asked the Pope to apologize for the Catholic Church’s part in the residential schools system and then owned his own responsibility and delivered an apology that Stephen Harper neglected during his tenure
- he created a Chief Science Officer position as part of the process of undoing the muzzling of scientists during the Harper years
- he made a historic apology for anti-LGBTQ policies
- and much more
And that’s just Trudeau personally. Other Liberals and Liberal appointees have similarly distinguished themselves. Jody Wilson-Raybould deserves a special mention for several bills she’s has shepherded this year:
- C-16, which added gender identity and expression to the list of protected classes in Canadian anti-discrimination law (passed in June)
- S-201, which protects against gender discrimination (passed in May; though it is debatable whether Wilson-Raybould helped this bill pass)
- C-210, which would make the national anthem gender neutral (held up in the Senate since March, but as of , looking like it will be passed soon)
- S-231, which would protect journalists and journalistic sources (passed in October)
- C-66, which would expunge unjust convictions for things like “buggery” and other offences related to LGBTQ discrimination (just passed to the Senate a couple weeks ago)
- C-39, which would fix bad laws relating to sex offences (hasn’t gone anywhere since March)
- and, of course, C-51, which among other things like witchcraft and “alarming the Queen”, would repeal the blasphemy law.
Also worthy of mention is our new Governor General Julie Payette, former astronaut, who made headlines when she told a bunch of scientists that people believe unscientific things… which doesn’t seem like a scandal, except, yanno, religion was involved.
Another topic that saw some surprising action this year was the issue of publicly funded religious schools. Only Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan still have publicly-funded separate school systems, and in Ontario, Reva Landau is filing a new court case challenging aspects the separate school system. (Landau previously tried bringing a case, but was denied standing; this time she made sure she has a plaintiff who has standing.) But the big story was in Saskatchewan, where a case that’s been fought for over a decade ended with a remarkable ruling. Basically, a public school was forced to shut down when a Catholic school was built in a small community… even though only about a third of the students were Catholic. The public school board sued… and this year Judge Donald Layh ruled that non-Catholic students cannot receive public funding for attending a Catholic school; only Catholic students should be funded in Catholic schools, because the whole point of Catholic schools is that they’re for Catholics. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Catholic school supporters freaked out, and Wall went so far as to invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect the separate school system (which may not even work). If the appeals don’t work, then that will pretty much spell the end of the separate school system in Saskatchewan… and Alberta because they use an identical constitutional basis… and possibly even Ontario, because while their constitutional basis is different, the logic might work the same. Wow. This may be the beginning of the end of separate school systems across Canada, so you can be damn sure it’s something we’ll be watching closely.
Somewhat related on the education front, another huge story this year was the Trinity Western University law school cases. TWU is a private evangelical Christian university in BC that has a tacky, anti-LGBT “community covenant” that all students are required to sign on to. All fine and good – they’re a private organization, so they can do more or less as they please… however… TWU wants to open a law school, and they would like their graduates to be automatically accredited as lawyers across Canada. Several law societies said no; they were not going to accredit a school that unjustly discriminates in which students they accept. Two cases finally made it to the Supreme Court just a month or so ago. This ruling, which we expect early 2018, may be huge. It could change the way religious freedom is interpreted in Canada.
Another interesting trend this year was within the confines of the Canadian secular, humanist, atheist, and freethinking movement. Starting around mid-year, SHAFT people really stopped putting up with the shit in their movement, and starting turning their guns inward to call out the racism and anti-Muslim bigotry lurking under our umbrella. That was something even I got in on, but I was by no means alone. For just a sample of what we saw in 2017:
- one of the earliest examples was this Vice article “A Reminder: Internet Atheists Fucking Suck”, with the subtitle: “Being an atheist doesn’t mean you can be racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic.”
- Dan Arel had a widely shared article titled “New atheism’s move from Islamophobia to white nationalism”
- this Australian piece from around the same time, “Why do public atheists have to behave like such jerks?” is packed with links for reference
- there followed pieces demanding nobelievers step up and seriously face issues of racism and transphobia (and racism again)
- one of the most hard-hitting pieces was “New Atheism’s Idiot Heirs” by Alex Nichols
- Godless Mama offered a slightly more toned-down version of the above argument in “Moving Beyond Atheist Adolescence”; and
- American Atheists president David Silverman boldly drew a line in the sand with “Shrinking the Tent: How American Atheists Won’t Tolerate Intolerance”
Thus far there hasn’t seemed to be any clear fall-out from these pieces or the changing attitudes they represent, but it is safe to say that the days of big-tent atheism – where anyone who is opposed to religion is welcome, regardless of what other baggage they bring – are numbered, if not over.
Before wrapping up, there is another tradition associated with my year-end reflections: listing the top posts on Canadian Atheist for the year. Here’s 2017’s list, with posts published in 2017 highlighted:
As you can see, we had a pretty good year, with 15 out of the top 20 posts being 2017 posts. It’s hard to spot a trend in what caught readers’ eyes this year; it’s actually quite a diverse list.
So what do we have to look forward to on Canadian Atheist in 2018? That’s a good question. I suspect 2018 is going to be a year of big, visible changes. If even half the stuff I have planned for 2018 pans out, CA will look very different by the time of next year’s reflection (though content and tone-wise, it will probably be much the same).
What about Canadian SHAFT in general? That’s another good question. My prediction last year was remarkably prescient, but I don’t think I can duplicate the feat this year. I suspect we’ll see more of this trend of movement atheism, humanism, and so on sharpening the definitions of its borders, and getting more proactive about sussing out regressive attitudes, intolerance, bigotry, and irrationality dressed up as “logic”.
The Americans are having their midterm elections, and if that goes well for progressives – as the evidence now suggests it will – we can hope to see a resurgence of that good old American optimism from them. I’ll be happy to see American progressives with hope in their eyes once again after the long slog they’ve had the last two years, but what may come with that is anyone’s guess.
Here in Canada, our fingers are crossed with regards to the Trinity Western University decision, and there are some exciting signs that we may make real progress getting rid of separate school systems. We’re also keenly following a few pieces of legislation, like C-51, which will repeal the blasphemy law. There are general elections in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Québec, but only the Québec election looks concerning. The PCs are probably going to win at least a minority in Toronto, but that’s not that big a deal because the Ontario PCs are remarkably sane – nothing like their federal counterparts. The Liberals are pretty much assured Fredericton. But in Québec there’s a chance the bigot parties might take the win, even if only as a coalition government… though there’s also a chance that a Liberal/Québec solidaire coalition could squeak by. Judging from the general political climate in Québec, it may be an ugly campaign. It’ll be something to watch.
Well, that’s it for 2017. All in all, not a bad year; certainly much better than the last couple of years.
Thank you to everyone who supported Canadian Atheist in 2017, and we look forward to earning your support and your love even more in 2018.
See you on the flip side!