2019 Canadian Atheist Awards – Story of the year

The next award in the 2018 Canadian Atheist Awards is “Story of the year”. This award is for the news or cultural story that captured the most interest or had the most impact among Canadian atheists in 2017.

If you’d like to review the list of nominees before finding out the results, check out the nominations announcement.

The story of the year is the story related to atheism, humanism, secularism, or freethought in Canada that generated the most interest among Canadian atheists or Canadians in general. It could be the story that was the most talked about, or that captured the most media attention, or that had the biggest impact on Canadian politics, society, or culture. The focus is on primarily Canadian stories.

Because the story of the year is awarded to a news or cultural story broadly speaking – and not a specific story or stories written by one or more journalists – there is no actual recipient of the award.

And so, with no further ado, let us get to the awarding of the 2019 Canadian Atheist Story of the year.

Runners-up

And the runners-up are:

Runner-up: Canada–Saudi Arabia spat

[Flag of Saudi Arabia]
Saudi Arabia

2018 was a bad year for Saudi Arabia, but its woes were all of its own making. Let’s start , when the Kingdom finally officially lifted its ban on women driving. Good news, right? Sure, but while the Kingdom lifted the ban, they did not release any of the activists they’d detained over the years who’d fought for it to happen. That would be bad enough, but Saudi Arabia just loves to double down on being awful, so in the days immediately after this long-overdue progressive action… they proceeded to crack down on women activists, arresting several.

Leading up to this, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) had been sporadically raising concerns about the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record. They’d released a few tweets, but nobody gave a fuck. With the new round of activist arrests, GAC decided to take another swing at it, so on , Chrystia Freeland tweeted her concerns. Again, nobody gave a fuck.

And then… … a new tweet was released on the department’s account:

And within hours, Saudi Arabia completely… lost… their… shit.

Not only did they kick our ambassador out of the country… not only did they demand all Saudi-funded students in Canada come home, something easier said than done when they also cancelled all flights to and from Canada… not only did they create a threatening 9/11-like image to intimidate us… their state media said the most batshit crazy things. And to add absurdity to insanity, most of the things they accused Canada of… they’re a million times worse! For example, they (rightly) pointed out that Canada hasn’t been great on indigenous rights… but then they went off the deep and said Canada treats indigenous people the same way Myanmar is treating the Rohingya (who, if you didn’t know, are currently the victims of an ethnic cleansing)! One of the most bizarre claims was that Jordan Peterson is a political prisoner for criticizing the Canadian government – Peterson, at the time, was on a tour promoting his shitty book to legions of fawning fanboys. I could go on and on, but Tristin Hopper at the National Post compiled a pretty comprehensive list of Saudi Arabia’s absurd claims, completely with pointed criticisms.

But the worst part of all this was that while Canada was facing this shit storm of insanity from Saudi Arabia – all for the crime, remember, of criticizing their arrests of feminist activists – the entire world turned their backs on Canada. Saudi oil and money was worth more than human rights.

So why isn’t this story of the year? Because it all just kind of fizzled out after a few weeks … in the most dramatic and horrifying fashion, when a murder squad sent to Turkey by the Saudi Arabian government intercepted, tortured, and dismembered a journalist critical of the Kingdom. Now the world was slightly more interested in standing with Canada in censuring Saudi Arabia. Slightly.

So the dispute remains unresolved, though Canada did score a huge point recently when a woman’s flight from her abusive family went viral, and after she obtained refugee status because she is an atheist – and apostasy is a capital crime in Saudi Arabia – Canada accepted her. It was a small victory, but a nice little fuck-you to the Kingdom.

Runner-up: Cornerstone Christian Academy Bible verse “censorship” controversy

[Photo of a Bible]
Not a textbook

Yet another story that should have been a nothing-burger, this one starts back in early 2017. Cornerstone Christian Academy (CCA) in Kingman, Alberta, part of the Battle River School Division (BRSD) since 2009 (Alberta funds some religious schools as “alternative” schools), published a “vision statement” booklet that included some Bible verses. One of those verses was 1 Corinthians 6:9. Here’s the King James translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 that I believe the school used:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Don’t see the problem? Here’s a plainer translation from the Common English Bible, with the problematic bit highlighted:

Don’t you know that people who are unjust won’t inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Those who are sexually immoral, those who worship false gods, adulterers, both participants in same-sex intercourse, thieves, the greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

The BRSD sent CCA a message: “No.” That verse flat-out violates the province’s human rights code, so it had to be removed. The Division also noted that offensive Bible verses shouldn’t be taught in school.

At first this didn’t seem like it would be much of a story. The school agreed to remove the offensive verse, and that seemed to be that. But the school’s administrators just couldn’t keep their damn mouths shut. Instead, they reached out to the media, airing their concerns that the Division was going to censor them, and restrict which Bible verses they could teach.

And things exploded.

The controversy became national news. John Carpay and the so-called Justice Center for Constitutional Freedom came to the school’s “defence”, and started rabble-rousing every way he could. BRSD ended up flooded with Christian-love-mail – that is, hate mail – and started grousing that if CCA was going to behave this way, they didn’t want them as part of their school division. They sent CCA a “suggestion” that maybe in future neither board should talk to the media before talking to each other first… and CCA and Carpay went to the media saying they were being subject to a “gag order”. Ultimately, BRSD said they were done with CCA, understandably, I think.

That was all in 2017, and it should have been over.

But then, early in 2018, CCA announced it was taking BSRD to court! Guess who was behind that. (It was John Carpay, of course.) The argument was that BSRD violated CCA’s Charter rights when it dictated which Bible verses were acceptable.

Happily, their desperate ploy failed. In the most wonderful way. Justice Clarkson of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench not only dismissed the case due to its facts – it would be absurd to force BRSD to continue working with CCA after the way CCA behaved – he dismissed the entire idea of Alberta’s publicly-funded “alternative” religious schools.

Unfortunately, it’s not over yet. That ruling was just against the injunction Carpay wanted to temporarily stop the removal of CCA from BRSD until the actual case could be resolved… and as far as I know, that case is still pending. The fact that the story isn’t over yet, plus the facts that so much of it was in 2017, and it’s arguably a pretty niche case, is why this story merely warrants runner-up status in 2018.

Runner-up: Halton Catholic District School Board charity decision

[Halton Catholic District School Board logo]
Halton Catholic District School Board

This is probably my favourite story of the year, because it was entirely an own-goal for the Halton Catholic District School Board, and at first it looked like it was going to go quite badly… and then something wonderful happened.

The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) is no stranger to controversy. They were opposed to the modern sex ed curriculum long before Doug Ford got his grubby hands on it (see here and here), they banned gay-straight alliances, they refused to give the HPV vaccine, they censor books, they tried to force nationalistic fervour onto kids… I could go on and on. But in February, the HCDSB may have made their dumbest decision ever.

The Board voted to refuse to provide any money to charities that violate the sanctity of life. Naturally, that phrase is interpreted in the Catholic way, so that meant no funding to charities that publicly support, either directly or indirectly, abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research. And that was a huge deal, because the district has 33,000 students, who raise $12 million a year. And the kinds of organizations that directly or indirectly support what they hate includes the United Way, the Canadian Cancer Society, and SickKids.

In the early days after the announcement, things looked bleak. Charities fell over themselves to sign the HCDSB’s covenant so that they could continue to receive desperately-needed funding… then quickly regretted it once they realized what they were signing on to. The government even had to step in.… and the Board told them to fuck right off. It seemed like there was nothing anyone could do to get through to the Board.

And then the kids stood up. And… holy shit… did the kids ever stand up.

And why shouldn’t they? They are the ones who walk or shine or whatever else to actually raise the money, not those assholes on the Board.

It started small, with groups of student leaders going to Board meetings and making statements to the press. Next there was a petition that 11,000 students signed – and for perspective, there are only 33,000 students total in the entire HCDSB, including elementary schools; a full goddamn third of them signed the petition. (Later, a Board survey would show almost 3⁄4 opposed their policy.)

But the Board still wasn’t budging… so the students began days of mass walkouts in protest, involving hundreds – well over a thousand – of students across the district’s nine secondary schools. And that’s not all! In perhaps the most glorious fuck-you to the Board, the students went ahead and did the fundraising anyway, “unofficially”. And they talked to the media… boy did they ever talk to the media. Several mentioned loved ones who’d fallen victim to cancer as their reason for being pissed off about the Canadian Cancer Society being denied. One who’d been a patient at SickKids herself said:

I want the kids who shared hospital waiting rooms with me to know that they are important, and that their lives matter, and that we will support them through anything.

At this point, the only response I have to make is to stand, and clap slowly, with a tear in my eye.

And the best part? It worked.

In October, the HCDSB finally relented, and dropped the charity requirements.

The only reason this story isn’t story of the year is because there were bigger ones, but this remains my favourite. I often mention, when writing about opinion surveys, that we have a lot of good things to look forward to because the youth of Canada are way more progressive than previous generations… and far more likely to take action for humanistic reasons and causes. This story demonstrates that in spades. The kids really are all right.

Runner-up: Saskatoon deals with the Theodore decision

[Photo of Brad Wall]
Brad Wall

On , a fourteen-year court battle ended with an incredible ruling. Due to declining enrolment, the (secular) Good Spirit School Division (at the time it was the Yorkdale School Division) was forced to shut down a small school in Theodore and bus the students to 17 kilometres to Springfield. In response the town created the St. Theodore Roman Catholic School and joined the Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division. The secular Division sued, saying it was a bullshit “Catholic” school because most of the students weren’t Catholic (there were 42 students in 2003; at the start of 2018 there were 26, and only 9 were Catholic), and taking those students away from the secular system, which was already struggling with enrolment (which is what started the whole affair) hurt that system. The final ruling, by Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh, sided with the secular system, but for a very important reason: while the separate school system is constitutionally enshrined, it is enshrined only for Catholics… the government cannot fund non-Catholics attending Catholic schools.

This was a monumental ruling, because the Catholic system had been siphoning students out of the public system for years, and getting government money for them – taking both students and the money away from the secular system. The decision could radically alter the education landscape, saving secular schools, and decimating Catholic schools: if the Catholic system could no longer receive funding for non-Catholics, it would really hurt their bottom line. And while the decision was technically specific to Saskatchewan, Alberta uses the exact same wording to justify separate schools, and the principle could apply to Ontario too.

In other words, it’s a decision that could spell the end of separate religious school systems across Canada, by hitting them where it really hurts: the wallet.

This was huge news throughout 2017, with numerous lawsuits being filed, and Premier Brad Wall invoking the notwithstanding clause to avoid dealing with the problem. Wall’s notwithstanding bill finally passed this year, but it’s not entirely clear if it even matters.

But things really heated up this year. In the original ruling, the province was supposed to stop funding non-Catholic students in Catholic schools by , but that was put on hold. That was hardly surprising – the deadline was really far too short for the level of upheaval to be expected. There was also the passing of the notwithstanding bill and still more court cases and appeals.

The biggest stories this year, though, had to be the stories about money. We found out that the Saskatchewan government had blown millions on the quixotic fight in support of the Catholic district against the secular district. And that’s not even including the fact that they were ordered to pay almost a million dollars in the ruling itself.

But because nothing is actually changing yet, I can’t give this the story of the year. It’s definitely one of the biggest stories of the year potentially – potentially one of the biggest stories of the century, if it really does lead to the abolition of separate religious public school systems – but there’s still so much of it left to happen. It warrants a mention, but mostly as a “something to keep an eye on” story.

Runner-up: TWU law school Community Covenant ruling

[Trinity Western University logo.]
Trinity Western University

This story could very easily have been the story of the year. Most CA readers are already familiar with the background. Trinity Western University is a private evangelical university in BC that wanted to open a law school. The problem: they required students to sign a “Community Covenant” that banned any gay sex – even in the case of a legally married couple. So multiple law societies across Canada said they would refuse to give automatic accreditation to TWU law school graduates so long as TWU discriminated against gay people, which effectively made their law school dead in the water. TWU sued.

In December 2017, two of those cases made it all the way to the Supreme Court, to be heard jointly – the Ontario case and the BC case. Even before the cases were heard, there was significant drama. And then came the long wait for the ruling.

That wait was rewarded. , rulings came back in favour of both law societies. A few weeks later, TWU stopped making the Covenant mandatory.

But there’s so much more to it than just that.

Secularists had high hopes for the ruling, but we didn’t get as much as we’d hoped for. We’d hoped the Court would say something about whether organizations have religious rights (as opposed to individuals), because that would have far-reaching impacts in other domains, like “religious” hospitals refusing to allow doctors to perform certain procedures. We were also hoping the Court might say something about how religious freedom does not extend to coercion of others to comply with your beliefs. On a technical note, we were hoping the Court would lay some clear guidelines for how expert administrative bodies (like law societies) must make decisions that are in line with the Charter.

We got none of that in the majority decision, which was a very narrow ruling that the law societies used solid reasoning in deciding not to auto-accredit graduates of a bigoted school, and that was good enough. But that’s not bad, because it implies that if future administrative decision-makers use similar reasoning to rebuff attempts at religious domination, those decisions will be respected. It could be broadly viewed as a win for human rights, and LGBTQ rights in particular, over the religious “freedom” to force beliefs or behaviours on people.

But there was actually a lot more to it buried in the minority opinions.

The majority decision was five justices, and two dissented jointly, but there were two minority concurring opinions… and that’s were the really cool stuff can be found. One concurrence was by former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. She concluded that any decision that involves Charter rights should be subject to a Charter analysis. Sounds obvious, but the majority just ignored the Charter issues, looked at the law societies’ reasoning, and said, “meh, good enough.” McLachlin said, no, wrong, you can’t ignore the fact that Charter rights are involved. If her reasoning is accepted (in a future case), that would strengthen our Charter rights.

However, the other concurrence was far more interesting, for a couple of reasons. First, it was by Malcolm Rowe, who was, at the time, the most recently appointed member of the Court. (Sheilah Martin was appointed just two-and-a-half weeks later, due to McLachlin’s retirement.) McLachlin has already retired, but Rowe may be on the Court until 2028. Second, it goes much farther than McLachlin’s decision, and doesn’t just ask whether Charter rights involved. It actually asks the question: which rights? Rowe decides that the right of religious freedom does not include the right to control others. He actually writes: the coercion of nonbelievers is not protected by the Charter.

If Rowe’s reasoning is accepted in future cases, that would be incredible for nonbelievers in Canada. I mean, from a very broad perspective, virtually all of our complaints boil down to believers trying to coerce us in one way or another, trying to force us to comply with their beliefs. It will be very interesting to see if Rowe’s thinking will have any impact on Canadian law.

This story, particularly due to its potential implications, could very easily have been the story of the year. But there was another, bigger story….

… AND THE WINNER… IN THE CATEGORY OF STORY OF THE YEAR… IS…

< < < drum roll > > >

WINNER: Blasphemy law repeal

[Banner saying the repeal of the blasphemy law is the 2019 Canadian Atheist story of the year]

This probably won’t come as a huge surprise to readers. The repeal of the blasphemy law was undoubtedly the biggest story of the year. It was the most read story on Canadian Atheist in 2018. Interest was international in scope. And it’s a story that is going to have an impact on Canada for a long, long time (forever?).

Let’s start with the background.

Canada had a blasphemy law: formerly §296 of the Criminal Code. It came to us more-or-less thoughtlessly from ancient times, as our own laws were drafted out of and on top of old English law. And it was almost certainly vestigial: it was universally agreed among legal experts that the Charter (which was adopted in 1982) invalidated it. It was used, but not since the mid-1930s. Nevertheless… it existed. Vestigial or not, it was a law in the Criminal Code. Canada had a blasphemy law.

, following up on a campaign promise and a previous statement in response to a petition, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled Bill C-51. C-51 was an omnibus bill that generally “cleaned up” the Criminal Code. Among other things, it repealed laws that were archaic and almost certainly in violation of the Charter. Mainstream media generally noted that it would repeal laws against things like duelling and “pretending to practice witchcraft”. But it would also repeal §296.

So, all was good, right?

Not even close.

The first problem was that there were two “blasphemy laws” that C-51 promised to repeal. §296 was the real blasphemy law, but there was also §176, which is technically not a blasphemy law, but still one of the few laws that protects specifically religious practice (and not non-religious practices) from certain forms of criticism. The religious right was able to rally together over the §176 repeal, aided by Conservative MPs, and succeeded in not only removing the repeal from Bill C-51… they actually made §176 even harder to repeal by editing it to make the language more inclusive (but still more inclusive only to religion). It was an enormous setback.

And then came the waiting game.

I’m not the only person who is unimpressed with Wilson-Raybould’s handling of criminal law. Bill C-51 was just one of a number of reform bills that got short shrift because of “bigger” projects – in particular, C-51 got no attention from lawmakers for a full six months while they dealt with cannabis decriminalization.

But the real problem with C-51 was that it packed too much into a single bill. Not only did it excise archaic, vestigial laws like the blasphemy law, it also – among other things – introduced a requirement for the Justice Minister to include a Charter statement, expanded “rape shield” provisions, changed evidence rules for private information, updated the definition of consent in sexual assault cases, and more. There was essentially no opposition to repealing the blasphemy law (or the duelling law, or the witchcraft law…), but some of the other stuff – the changes to the definition of consent in particular – triggered extensive debate that held up the bill for many months.

There was never really a point where we were afraid the bill wouldn’t pass. But there was a point where we were afraid it wasn’t going to pass in 2018. (We’d originally had not-unreasonable hopes that it could pass before ! How naïve we were!) Hell, there was even a point in October where the Senate sent the bill back to Commons, threatening to more-or-less restart the whole process!

But we made it. Barely. On , the bill finally cleared the Senate, and received Royal Assent and became law.

And the world noticed.

Congratulations came from all over, and that international reaction alone might have been enough to make this the story of the year.

[Movie poster for a film titled “Nun of That”, featuring images of nuns with guns. The text reads: “With Sister Kelly on the street… the Mob doesn’t have a prayer.” The tagline is: “A blast for you and a blasphemy.”]
I was looking for a picture in our media library with the keywords “blasphemy” and “law”, and…

But there’s so much more to it! At a time when the world in general seems to be backsliding into intolerance and authoritarianism, Canada defied the dire trends and took a small step forward. In a desert, even a drop of water is a gift, so that small step in the right direction deserves to be celebrated.

It matters, too, when we’re at loggerheads with regimes like Saudi Arabia. As illustrated in the write-up about our diplomatic spat above, the standard tactic of such regimes is to respond to any legitimate criticism with to quoque fallacies, because they have no valid justification for their horrible behaviour. Not having a blasphemy law gives them one less straw to grasp at; it makes our criticisms of their abhorrent behaviours that much more effective.

And it just feels good. I’ve talked with a number of freethinkers, secularists, and atheists, and every single one of them has mentioned how good it feels to have shucked that baggage. That’s all the more impressive when you realize that we’ve only been blasphemy-law-free for about a month-and-a-half by this writing!

As with last year, there’s no contest. The blasphemy law repeal stands clear and undisputed as the 2019 Canadian Atheist story of the year.

Honourable mentions

Stories that didn’t meet the nomination requirements for one reason or another, or which were crowded out because there were simply too many high quality nominees, but which captured our attention nonetheless, are given honourable mentions.

Canada Summer Jobs attestation controversy

[Photo of Joyce Arthur]
Most of the best reporting on this story was done by Joyce Arthur

As is so common with these stories, this began with a completely unnecessary bonehead move, and became a completely unnecessary bullshit controversy.

Right at the end of 2017, the Trudeau government responded to criticism it had received after revelations that for all its talk of being the “feminist”, “pro-choice” government, they had given tens of thousands of dollars to anti-abortion groups through the Canada Summer Jobs program (mainly because they’d just mindlessly continued running it the way the Harper Conservatives had, with predictable results). Trudeau announced that funding would no longer go to anti-LGBTQ groups or anti-abortion groups, or basically any one who opposed human rights. So far no problems… but then the government decided to actually make groups sign an attestation that neither their core principles nor the jobs they were applying for funding for would involve opposing human rights.

If you know as much about religious groups as I do, you can guess what happened next.

You see, simply deciding not to give money to hateful or ignorant religious groups… that’s fine – it’s discretionary money, but even if it weren’t, the government has a very reasonable justification that the religious groups can’t really argue against. But! Asking the groups themselves to admit they’re hateful or ignorant… oh, ho, ho!… now you’re putting them in a position where they would have to deny their beliefs to get funding. That’s asking them to deny Jesus for money! That’s martyr-level shit, man. And religious people just love martyr shit.

And sure enough, in no time at all the usual suspects were banging on believers’ doors, asking for money to fight the good fight, because if the Trudeau government wasn’t stopped, next they’d becoming to your homes, dragging you out, and lining you against the wall for being Christian.

Naturally, it was all bullshit. (See here for an even longer, audio explanation that can also be summarized as “it was all bullshit”.) The attestation never really mattered. The only groups that would actually not be able to sign it are groups whose core purpose is fighting human rights – and they were never going to get funding anyway. Groups like churches or religious organizations that only happen to oppose human rights incidentally? They could still get funding. Naturally fundraising groups lied about that to rile up outrage and fervour, and keep the donation’s flowing.

So there was plenty of pulpit pounding, lots of pearl clutching about how religious freedom was over in Canada, court cases, and more.

And then the government removed the attestation requirement – because of course they did; it never mattered anyway, so why waste time, money, and political capital fighting over it – and that was it. It was over.

So I think you can see why it wasn’t worthy of being one of the nominees for story of the year.

Catholic sex abuse insurance lawsuit & payouts list:

[Coat of Arms of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London]
Roman Catholic Diocese of London

The long-running, international saga of child abuse and rape within Catholic churches continued unabated in 2018, but there were were a some stand-out stories in Canada.

The funniest may be the court case between AXA Insurance Canada and the Catholic Dioceses of London. In a nutshell, the insurance company was paying for the Diocese’s many rape lawsuits, except the policy was only supposed to apply for cases discovered after the policy was signed… not preexisting conditions of widespread rape. Since the Diocese knew about most of the rape going on long before they signed the policy, the insurance company shouldn’t have to cover those cases.

But that hilariously absurd situation quickly turned horrific, because, thanks to the court case, some of the Diocese’s documents became public. We found out about the scale of abuse, and the cover-up, at just that once Diocese: millions in payouts, victims as young as 6, around 10% of all the priests in the Diocese accused, and all this over only an 8-year period (and even then, not all cases in that period!).

This could very easily have been a nominee for story of the year, except that it seems to have gone nowhere, and no-one seems to care.

Jehovah’s Witness disfellowship ruling

In a banner year for Supreme Court cases that went our way, this loss sticks in the craw.

Randy Wall was a JW who was “disfellowshipped” for being an asshole. Wall tried to argue the “disfellowhipping” wasn’t done fairly. On top of that, Wall’s business was mostly done with JWs, so when they all started shunning him, it cost him quite a bit. Wall did pretty well in the courts right up until the Supreme Court, who ruled unanimously against him, saying the JWs, as a private organization can kick out whoever they damn well please for whatever reasons they want to make up, and with an actual contract, they owe him nothing.

That kinda bummed secularists out, but it wasn’t really surprising – it wasn’t likely that the Supreme Court was about to give the green light to judicial review of religious tenets, after all.

A depressing parenthetical to the story was the reason why Wall was disfellowshipped in the first place: he starting drinking and acting up because his 15 year-old daughter had been previously disfellowshipped, and he and his wife had been forced to kick her out of the house.

Catholic hospitals force terminally ill people to get medical assessments out on sidewalks

This happened several times this year (and the previous year!), but I can’t give an exact number because many of the reports were anonymized to protect the patients.

The big story, which went international, was Doreen Nowicki’s. Nowicki had only ended up in a Catholic institution because she couldn’t find a bed anywhere else, and wasn’t Catholic, but in order to get medical assistance in dying, she needed an assessment. The Catholic hospital refused to even allow an asssessment on the premises, so Nowicki had to be mechanically lifted out of bed, and wheeled across the street to have her assessment on the sidewalk.

When that story hit the news, the Catholic hospital swore blind it was a completely “exceptional” situation. Surprise, surprise, two weeks later another story came out, proving yet again when a Catholic says that something horrific was a one-off event… just sit back and wait.

Naturopath “treats” child with rabid dog saliva

This story began with the incredible revelation that a naturopath had decided that a child’s behavioural problems were basically because the boy was a werewolf.

Crazy, right? Buckle up; we’re just getting started.

To treat the kid’s apparently lycanthropy, this naturopath used a homeopathic remedy of diluted saliva from a rabid dog – rabies being an incurable, deadly, highly contagious disease transmitted through saliva.

Now that’s crazy, right? No, no, we’re not done yet.

She then went and posted about it on the Internet, proud of what she’d done. And the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia defended the doctor and her treatment. And it turns out, the diluted rabid dog saliva is a Health Canada approved remedy!

And all this was just the start of the story! Because the fallout was that the retailer stopped selling the remedy, the naturopath lost her licence but is going to continue practising anyway, and not only did all this trigger intensive scrutiny of naturopathy across Canada – with multiple naturopaths and naturopathy organizations called out for dangerous, pseudoscientific bullshit like anti-vax lies and “fruit juice cures cancer” nonsense (and some for even more serious consequences) – even chiropractors were caught up in the sweep.

This would be a definite nomination candidate, but for the fact that other than a few quack naturopaths getting publicly shamed, nothing’s really changed… even the quacks themselves are still doing what they’ve always done.

Québec’s Bill 62

[Photo of François Legault]
François Legault

Bill 62 was that garbage bill passed by the Liberal Couillard government that required people to remove facial coverings when accessing public services, for example, you’d have to remove dark sunglasses to ride the bus. Or, wait, no, you wouldn’t. But you still couldn’t ride the bus in a niqab. Or, wait, actually you could.

The bill was incoherent nonsense, and then-Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée’s flailing around to “clarify” it only made things worse. But that was all in 2017.

2018 opened with Québec outlining the accommodation guidelines… guidelines that not only made Bill 62 pointless, the government had just copy-pasted the accommodation guidelines of the Human Rights Commission, which had condemned Bill 62 as bullshit.

Then came the revelation that the Québec government was hiring mutaween… wait, sorry, they’re called “accommodation officers”… to assess people’s religious sincerity.

But all of it went to pot when, in the most predictable court ruling of 2018, a judge struck down Bill 62 for violating the Charter.

Then came the election – out with Couillard’s Liberals, in with François Legault’s big, swingin’ CAQ. So, that’s the end of the story for policing women’s clothing in Québec, right?

Fuck, no!

The CAQ thought Bill 62 was a dumb idea… because it didn’t go far enough! Queue up the “Yakkety Sax”, because we spent the second half of 2018 watching the CAQ float one insane veil ban idea after another.

It got to the point that The Globe and Mail called the CAQ racist, and… holy shit… if The Globe and Mail calls you racist … you are really goddamn racist.

Why isn’t this story of the year? Because there’s so much yet to happen….

Other memorable stories

There were several other stories in 2018 that were memorable for one reason or another, while not being impactful enough to warrant even an honourable mention.

Francis Xavier’s mummified hand tours Canada: No, really. The Beaverton had the best take.

The “hijab hoax”: An 11 year-old girl told a fantastic tale of a man who tried to cut her hijab off with scissors. Thing is, it really was fantastic; it wasn’t real. The girl’s family apologized profusely, but that didn’t stop bigots across Canada from fabricating even more fantastic stories than the kid, claiming that she was some kind of Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agent or something.

M-103 report: M-103 was the story of the year last year (and M-103 protests are still happening!!!), but this item refers to the report M-103 was requesting, which was published in February. It was about as anodyne as you’d expect a government report on discrimination to be; islamophobia was barely mentioned (at least specifically). And lo, we’re not living under “sharia law”.

Canadians “dancing pornographically” in Cambodia: Following the arrests of people taking nude photos at religious sites, in this bizarre story, Cambodian police arrested or threatened to arrest almost 90 people, including two Canadians, for “dancing pornographically”. The dancers were not at any religious site, and were all fully clothed. Luckily they were released a couple days later.

Naked, apocalyptic JW abductions: One of the weirdest stories of 2017 involved a family of Albertan Jehovah’s Witnesses who were in such a panic about the end of the world, they rushed to save their neighbours, and didn’t have any time to put their clothes on… despite the winter snow. And they “saved” their neighbours – a man, his daughter, and her six-week-old baby – by forcing them out their house without shoes on, and throwing the man into the trunk. They then drove wildly about, chanting “Jehovah”, until finally the man and his daughter managed to escape, and flag down a passing truck. This led to a high-speed chase with some ramming involved. When the police finally got involved, they couldn’t bring down the naked JWs with tasers. All that happened at the end of 2017, and we speculated for months on what happened (my money was on the theory that they were trippin’ balls on shrooms). The truth was even weirder. They had been doing a bullshit alternative medicine procedure that led to a psychotic episode.

Sweet Jesus: Sweet Jesus is a Toronto-based ice cream brand… and you can probably guess why they’re in a story item here. But it’s sillier than you think. The change.org petition, which has almost 10,000 signatures, is hilarious, saying the ice cream brand’s name means it’s now open season on Christianity. But even more ridiculous were some of the conspiracy theories in flight, like that the cheeky irreverent imagery is really because the brand is a front for Satanic worship. But the best part is that, after all that, the brand is still using the name.

Summary

What a year, eh? What a wild year.

Here in Canada, we had some horrible setbacks on the political front – pretty much every major election went against progressive parties. We ended up with the blustering, social-conservative-backed Doug Ford in Ontario, and the rambling, islamophobic François Legault. And, as we would have expected, they provided us no shortage of insane and horrible news items over the course of the year. Both premiers have threatened to use the notwithstanding clause to override Charter rights… both for absurd and unnecessary reasons: Ford to limit the size of Toronto council even though a judge made it unnecessary, Legault to shut down English school boards even though the clause wouldn’t even apply.

Was a good year? A bad year? Hard to say. It was certainly a rough year. Not as bad for us Canucks as for our neighbours to the south, to be sure. But still hard. And 2019, an election year, looks like it’ll be even rougher.

But we won some major victories, like the blasphemy repeal, like the Trinity Western ruling, and others. We got an awesome ruling in Ontario that doctors must give effective referrals for procedures they religiously object to (currently being challenged, of course). We had several victories in the battle against pseudoscience and pseudomedicine, most notably a New Brunswick ruling that naturopaths cannot call themselves “physicians” claim to have attended medical school. Nova Scotia’s banning conversion therapy. The Alberta government has really been turning the screws on bigotry in the separate Catholic school system. Even in Ontario, when Doug Ford scrapped the modern sex ed curriculum to please his “social conservative” base, Ontarians resoundingly rebuked him … and especially young Canadians.

So yeah, it’s been rough, and the bad guys still have too much power. But we’re not losing. Even through the worst setbacks, we’re pushing forward. We just have to keep pushing.

2019 is going to be a rough year, with important elections on the line, and the regressives, “social conservatives”, and bigots already warming up for the battle. But we can do this. They’ve been winning high-profile, short-term victories… but we’ve been winning the important fights. We’ve been winning the lasting victories.

Here’s hoping we keep that trend up in 2019.

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