Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .
 No, Ontario is not ‘100 per cent secular’
The background to this article begins with an episode of the TVOntario series Political Blind Date, which picks an issue and then brings a pair of politicians on either side of the issue together for a pair of “dates”, where each one takes the other on a mini tour to explain their position. Episode 5 of season 4 was titled “Religious Symbols”, and dealt with Québec’s Bill 21. The two politicians were Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Christopher Skeete (arguing for Bill 21, naturally), and Ontario MPP Micheal Coteau. I didn’t expect much from the episode, and in that I wasn’t disappointed. The “debate” was about as anodyne as you’d expect from a face-to-face debate between two politicians. As for the citizen input, I thought the pro-Bill 21 side was terrible, with people just saying outright that they wanted to preserve “French culture” at the expense of other people’s traditions, stating flat-out that multiculturalism is bad (Skeete fell all over himself trying to explain away that one), and denying that French culture had usurped indigenous culture (!!!). And that was just one dude! The other two mostly just had horror stories of cases where people suffered because of violations of secularism (real secularism, not the fake “secularism” that Bill 21’s bigotry disguises itself as)… but of course no explanation as to how stripping people of their religious symbols would have helped at all. The anti-Bill 21 case didn’t start all that well; I wasn’t at all impressed with the hijabi teacher at first… that is, until Skeete brought up the laughable idea that since some Muslim countries dictate what women can wear it’s okay if we do too… and then the woman straight-up laughs at him, and tells him what a ridiculous argument that is. The two police officers were absolutely brilliant, though, and there was one moment that was just hilarious, where Skeete tosses out some bafflegab about how equity means equal treatment, and the two—both specialists in equity and inclusion—are basically jumping over each other to have the chance to explain just how massively clueless he is. (For the record, equity is explicitly not “equal treatment”; it is specifically about varying treatment.) This article is actually a response to Coteau’s comments in the episode, where he says:
We’re a secular society in Ontario. We’re 100% secular.Immediately, the Québécois he was talking to calls bullshit, as does Skeete, both by pointing out that the Ontario legislature opens with a prayer. Coteau tries to defend his bullshit by saying it’s
multiple prayers—as if that would help (and, in any case, what they do is the Lord’s Prayer first and then a second prayer which could be from any religious tradition… which is clearly and indefensibly biased)—and then by the sad, old claim of a wall of separation between the religious stuff and the actual authority and decision-making of the state. It is this that the article is taking issue with; writer John Michael McGrath points out even more ways that Coteau’s claim that Ontario is “100% secular” is bullshit, even though he completely agrees with Coteau that Bill 21 is even more bullshit. McGrath actually talked to Coteau after the episode, and got Coteau to concede that, yeah, okay, Ontario is still
a work in progress.
 The biggest Canadian far-right news site you probably haven’t heard of
A couple weeks back there was an item from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network which was an incredible exposé of LifeSiteNews. As I mentioned at the time, I’d been aware of LifeSiteNews for a long time, but had always dismissed them as a freaky little anti-abortion, anti-gay, super-Catholic site that was little more than a constant scream of impotent rage into the æther, that no-one really took seriously. Apparently while no-one was looking, LifeSiteNews went full nutter, going all-in on Trump worship, COVID denialism, QAnon, and worse, and is now a pretty big player in the far right bullshit “news” ecosystem. Well, it turns out I wasn’t alone in writing LifeSiteNews off as typical Christian propaganda; Jesse Brown of Canadaland also made the same assumption, filed the site away under “maybe worth a look someday”, and forgot about it. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s exposé caught him flat-footed, just as it did me. Canadaland invited Hazel Woodrow from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network to talk more about the whole thing and… wow, the more you hear about LifeSiteNews, the crazier it gets.
 Supreme Court of Canada dismisses appeal in Saskatchewan Theodore case
Ouch, this may not just be the most disappointing news of the week, it may turn out to be the most disappointing story of the year. This is the case that started in 2003 when Saskatchewan closed a school in the small village of Theodore, which only has ~300 people, intending to bus the kids to a school in nearby Springfield instead. Theodore responded by creating the St. Theodore Roman Catholic school… even though less than a third of the kids were Catholic… and thus got to keep a local school with all the public funding that would have gone to the public school system instead. (Last I heard, in 2018, that school only had 26 students, only 9 of which are Catholic.) The public school district was naturally pissed about that, so they sued, pointing out that the Catholic school system was supposed to be for Catholic kids to get Catholic schooling, not a way siphon funding away from the secular, public system. And they actually won the case, with a fantastic ruling in 2017, which basically said that even if public funding for Catholic schools was constitutionally enshrined, that only applied to Catholic students; if non-Catholics wanted to attend Catholic schools, they would have to do so on their own dime. (By contrast, anyone who wanted to attend a public school would be funded.) For a while, it looked like we might actually have seen the end of separate school systems, at least in Saskatchewan and Alberta (which uses identical constitutional logic for its own separate school system), and possibly everywhere in Canada, because the surest way to hurt a religion is to go after its wallet. Unfortunately, that all came crashing down when the public school district lost its appeal. The appeal decision was pretty weird, and full of logical holes, so everyone held out hope that the Supreme Court would look into it. Alas, they just said no. Why? They won’t say (they never explain why, if they choose not to hear a case). So… that’s it. That’s probably the end of it, at least for now. I mean, there are still possibilities for pursuing this further; in particular, the appeal court’s decision is so garbled and incoherent, there’s plenty of room for alternative strategies. But it seems unlikely anyone will even try, given the current political climates in the provinces with extant separate school systems.
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