British Columbia Humanist Association Updates with Ian Bushfield, M.Sc.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Ian Bushfield, M.Sc., is the Executive Director of the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA). Here we discuss updates since the AGM and during the first half of 2019.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start today with the note of the AGM. What were the highlights of it?

Ian Bushfield: Like almost every charity and non-profit, our annual general meeting is the time when the board reports to the membership on our achievements over the past year and when the members get to elect new board members to continue our work.

This year’s AGM was possibly our most well-attended in history, with 58 people in attendance, likely driven by our hotly contested board election where eight candidates were in the running for five vacancies.

Members also voted on a special resolution proposed by a number of members condemning the recent string of white nationalist attacks in Canada and around the world. After some debate, the resolution passed.

Jacobsen: Who is on the new board?

Bushfield: First, we said goodbye to Donna Barker after one two-year term. She opted to take a break from the board to focus on some of her academic pursuits in the short term. Board members Dan Hanna, Colin Crabbe, and Kiana Dashtbazi entered their second year of their two-year terms, leaving five vacancies.

Nigel Fish was the only incumbent running and he was reelected. Joining him are Demi Blakemore, a psychology major; Dr Katie Marshall, a professor of zoology at UBC and Gary Ockenden, a non-profit consultant who lives in Nelson.

Jacobsen: With 2019, what has happened for the BCHA?

Bushfield: We’ve been spending a lot of time in the first bit of this year getting ready for what’s coming up this summer and getting things in place to ensure our long-term success. Internally this has meant some new policies to professionalize our membership process, starting some reviews at the board level and the new board starting to look at where we should go next.

At the same time, it hasn’t been all quiet. We’ve seen a lot of movement in Saanich (a suburb of Victoria), where the council looks set to adopt a public benefits test before religious properties can qualify for tax exemptions. There have also been new polls confirming that British Columbians do not support our province’s continued funding of private schools – whether religious or secular.

And of course, we’ve been watching with horror the deteriorating situation for reproductive rights in a number of states south of the border. We know there are a number of groups agitating to roll back the rights Humanists like Dr. Henry Morgentaler won for all Canadians, and we’re adding our voice to the chorus calling for those protections to be reaffirmed by politicians at all levels.

As you know, we always have a lot of irons in the fire. The one I’m most excited about making a big push on is Humanist Marriage. The minority government here is proving to be more stable than most people initially predicted, and with a number of their major campaign promises out of the way, I’m hopeful we can get an amendment to the Marriage Act on the agenda for this fall’s legislative session.

We’re also going to continue to push back against the province’s endorsement of religious services, whether its through funding independent schools or the opt-outs given to publicly-funded but faith-based healthcare institutions.

Jacobsen: You have three summer interns incoming. Why? What will they do during the summer?

Bushfield: We’re super excited to have received funding from the Government of Canada’s Canada Summer Jobs program to hire three people to join our team this summer. As one of the only people in the country paid to advance Humanist values and issues, I’m often swamped with just how much there is to do, so I hope we can really leverage this opportunity to start building a group of trained and professional secular activists.

Our two campaigns assistants are going to help move some of the research forward that will inform our future advocacy. Key among their tasks will be analyzing data our volunteers pulled together on the prayers said by MLAs in the BC legislature. We’re also hoping to develop a better catalogue of the property tax exemption policies across the province and to dig more into what independent schools are doing in BC.

Our programs assistant will help us build the community here in Vancouver. We’re keen to use this opportunity to develop some new pilot programs that we can hope to replicate in Humanist communities across the province.

Jacobsen: Any areas of special concern for humanist activities?

Bushfield: I think as we come up on the federal election this October, a lot of Humanists and the broader nonreligious community, are thinking about climate change. The latest IPCC reports have painted a bleak picture that this may be our last chance to act and, particularly for people I’ve talked to here in BC, there’s a feeling that Canada just isn’t pulling our weight. Humanists International just passed the Reykjavik Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis and I know several of our new board members are eager to see Humanists here in Canada take a similarly bold stance.

Related to the challenge of climate justice is the challenge presented to us by the findings of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This report confirms what was found by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission four years ago. I think how Humanists respond to these findings and Calls to Justice will be the other major test for our movement over the coming years.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Bushfield: Thanks again for reaching out to me. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for Humanist groups in the current era. Every poll confirms that Canadians are getting less religious and maintain those broad Humanist values of tolerance, support for evidence-based policies and openness to the world. Particularly among younger Canadians, there’s no reason we as a movement shouldn’t be able to capture the passions that are leading so many young people to speak up about climate change, reproductive freedoms, trans rights or any other issue.

My hope is that our organizations are forward-thinking enough to avoid falling into the pseudo-rational populism that ultimately only serves to confirm our own biases. We need to listen to those voices that challenge us and broader society and continually look at how we can make our movement more welcoming and more diverse.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ian.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Image Credit: Ian Bushfield.

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