Weekly Update: to

by | September 18, 2021

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] The only problem with the Bill 21 question is how our leaders responded

One of the biggest stories in election news last week came out of the English-language leaders debate. I didn’t watch the debate, but from what I’ve heard, the first question of the debate raised by Shachi Kurl—directed at Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet—was about the “discriminatory” (Kurl’s word) Québec Bills 21 and 96 (the latter being about legislating the French language).

Predictably, Blanchet dodged the question, using Kurl’s choice of words—specifically the word “discriminatory”—as an excuse for performative outrage, and repeating the canard that Québec is a distinct society, and this is about Québec’s values. The other leaders, though… their behaviour is worth noting. None of them said or did anything at the debate itself… but after the debate, they fell all over themselves in a race to throw Kurl under the bus, accusing her of calling (or at least implying) that Québécois are racist, and repeating the jingo that Québec has the right to make its own laws. It looks like only the Green Party’s Annamie Paul had the backbone to call out Blanchet’s bullshit.

In their defence, Trudeau, O’Toole, and Singh have all criticized Bill 21 before, and both Trudeau and Singh have said they will challenge Bill 21 in the courts. Of course… Trudeau could have challenged it already, and didn’t, so his promise rings characteristically hollow; and Singh may have flip-flopped on that promise, but it’s hard to tell amidst the pandering. Also, unlike the other leaders, Singh didn’t really deny that Bill 21 is a racist law… and it very much is a racist law… he just watered it down by saying that Québec’s systemic racism is hardly unique in Canada.

All in all, not a great performance by those who are aspiring to be leaders in Canada.

[] “Fire” by Zach Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

The woman’s response is both hilarious and brilliant; if she were real, she would be a hero.

It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t get a happy ending, but, tragically, the “policy” is actually a pretty realistic depiction of religious logic.

[] Former MPP on the myth of the Catholic vote and why leaders should be open about their faith

This is an interesting opinion piece by a Catholic politician on the contemporary relationship between Catholicism and politics in Canada. There are a lot of things in here I agree with, and wish more Canadian atheists understood. But of course, a lot of Milloy’s opinions on how things should be are, in my opinion, bafflingly idiotic.

I think Milloy is right that Catholicism is neither a unified voting bloc, nor as conservative or right-leaning as most people assume, nor as invested in sexual politics (abortion, gay rights, etc.) as generally presumed. In fact, I think—and I think Milloy would agree with me—that characterizing Catholics that way actually gives far too much power to the minority of Catholics who do fit the stereotype. If we could somehow drop those stereotypes, then progressive Catholics would feel more empowered to flex their political muscles, and that would be a good thing. I agree with Milloy that a large part of the problem is Catholic leadership, which (much like most atheist “leadership”, interestingly) is way more regressive and backward than the general population.

Where Milloy and I start to part ways is when he says that progressive Catholics should make their religion a more important part of their political outlook. Milloy says that Catholicism can can provide a framework for action, give a sense of purpose, help set priorities, and break down polarization. Some of that might be true, but some of it—like suggesting that being more loudly Catholic can break down “polarization”—seems daft given the current residential schools and priestly rape scandals. The parts that do seem true don’t seem to require Catholicism, or even really benefit much from Catholicism. One can much more easily find purpose and a framework for action by preferring to listen to minorities and historically victimized populations, rather than old, mostly-white, out-of-touch, Catholic doofuses.

Where I think Milloy has veered right into baffling idiocy is where he says we need more religion in Canadian politics and wants a political party to leverage faith for more political power… then in almost the same breath points out how fucked up US politics is because of the rampant religiosity there. Like… how can you be that dense? How can he not see what he’s asking for is literally… literally… what caused the terrible situation in US politics? What, does he think, “oh, but unlike what they did down south, we’ll politicize religion the right way, so it’ll all be good!”? Like said: just bafflingly idiotic.

[] New CBC podcast explores how a Hamilton-born priest became the ‘Father of Hate Radio’

It’s a curious fact that although Canada is far less religious, right-wing, and intolerant than the US, we (and Australia) nevertheless export religious, right-wing, intolerant assholes to the US at a rate far higher than one would expect.

I haven’t listened to the podcast, and I’d never heard of Charles Coughlin before, but damned if I don’t recognize most of the beats in his story. Intolerant, outrage-driven, far-right ranting, with a religious basis? Coughlin may have been the first, but assholes like that are a dime-a-dozen these days.

Oh, also antisemitic? Yeah, that tracks, too.

[] Student in battle of faith and freedoms

Oh, damn, this is going to be an interesting case!

There has been quite a lot of controversy in recent years about separate, publicly-funded Catholic schools taking in non-Catholic students. I mean, obviously this was not what was intended for separate schools; there’s just no way you can argue that separate schools were created and constitutionally enshrined for that purpose. Clearly the only reason Catholic schools want non-Catholic students is because there aren’t enough Catholic students, and they want the money that comes along with non-Catholic students. It should be a no-brainer that the government shouldn’t be allowed to fund non-Catholic students in Catholic schools… but the courts ultimately struck down the Theodore case that tried to make that argument (mostly for reasons of standing).

But even if you ignore the funding issue, there are still piles of problems with having non-Catholics in what are, constitutionally, supposed to be specifically-Catholic schools. There was the case of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board requiring kids to attend religious rituals, and refusing to allow exemptions, for example. And now… this.

Fascinatingly, although it’s not obvious without reading through the article, there are actually two near-identical cases of this type of discrimination going on right now. There’s the headline case of Dasha Kandaharian—an Orthodox Christian, and the York Catholic District School Board. And then there’s also the case of Raghad Barakat—a Muslim—and the Halton Catholic District School Board.

I honestly can’t see how the Catholic school boards can possibly win this case. Sure, they’re going to argue they have a constitutionally-protected prerogative to be Catholic… but you can’t seriously expect to allow non-Catholic students into your schools and then deny them representation on student boards. That’s fucking ridiculous.

As always, there is only one coherent, ethical solution: abolish separate schools. All of these conflicts and controversies arise from the fact that a secular government should not be running religious schools. If there were no separate schools—and there shouldn’t be—we wouldn’t be wasting time and money, and repeatedly violating the rights of kids.

[] Jewish Tax Court judge barred from presiding over cases involving Muslims, documents show

This is a weird story, on every level. Even the CBC’s story is… a little weird; it’s odd that they focus on the fact that Spiro is Jewish, because the relevant factor is not his ethnicity, it is his apparent bias in the Israel–Palestine conflict.

So, from what I have gleaned, the story began when David Spiro, a judge on the Tax Court, intervened in the selection of a director for the University of Toronto law school’s International Human Rights Program. The number one candidate was Valentina Azarova, an internationally recognized scholar of human rights. However… she had written articles about the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and, knowing that she’s a human rights scholar, one can comfortably presume she wasn’t on Israel’s side in those articles. Spiro, however, is a former Toronto co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs… so one can assume he is on Israel’s side… and, he’s a big-time donor to UofT, so, when he heard Azarova was the number one candidate, he contacted some big-shots at UofT, and a couple days later, Azarova was booted from the process.

Now, to be clear, UofT was cleared of any wrongdoing here. They claimed they dropped Azarova not because of her position on the Israel–Palestine conflict, but rather for some unrelated, obscure reasons. But while UofT was off the hook, Spiro was still way out of line. He was put on review by the Canadian Judicial Council, and, after a few months, ultimately cleared. The CJC basically said, yes, what he did was fucking intolerable… but not quite terrible enough to warrant removing him from the court, and anyway, he was really, really sorry, and said he’d learned his lesson.

But here’s where things get weird. While Spiro was under review, the Tax Court decided that he shouldn’t hear any cases that involve Muslims. To realize why this is so weird, read back on my summary of the case above: did you see any mention of Muslims or Islam?

Somehow, someone high up in the Tax Court made the leap from the Israel–Palestine conflict to a religious conflict about Islam, and decided that Spiro’s support for Israeli apartheid somehow meant he as islamophobic. I mean… he could be… but it doesn’t automatically follow. The Israel–Palestine conflict is a geopolitical conflict along racial, ethnic, and, yes, religious lines… not just religious lines. Reducing it to simply a religious conflict, and then buying into the old “Jews-versus-Muslims” stereotype, is troubling, to say the least. That smacks of prejudice about Jews, coming from the highest levels of the federal Tax Court.

And it’s just… fucking weird! How the hell would the Tax Court even know whether someone is Muslim or not? It’s not like the plaintiff’s religion is included in court briefs. What, would they assume based on “Muslim-sounding names”? Again, that’s straight-up prejudice from the upper echelons of the Tax Court.

And what if David Spiro really is prejudiced, but against Palestinians… not Muslims… as one should assume based on the facts, without randomly introducing religion into the equation? If that’s the case, then the Tax Court should have been forcing Spiro to sit out of cases that involve Palestinian Christians (and Palestinian Jews). By protecting “Muslims” from Spiro’s (alleged) bias, they would be failing to protect the actual targets.

This is a massive failure of a government body to be properly secular. A properly secular government body would not inject religion into a situation. If religion was already there, fine, a secular government body could then deal with it… but it should never introduce religion into a situation.

[] Federal leaders get an F on defending religious freedom

Even a broken clock will be right twice a day.

Catholics don’t really have a dog in the Bill 21 fight; they generally don’t require any religious accessories, and the most common optional accessory—a crucifix necklace—is largely given a pass by Québec’s allegedly “neutral” law. Indeed, just by the numbers, a large amount of the support for Bill 21 must be coming from Québécois Catholics. So their opposition to Bill 21 can’t reasonably be called self-serving.

[] Calgary police charge man in 2 cases of church vandalism

I have to admit feeling conflicted about the wave of vandalism of Catholic churches, related to their role in the residential school system.

On the one hand, sure, vandalism is obviously a crime. Catholic churches are private property, and everyone should feel safe within their own private domains. By all means, if Catholics want to bring their shit into the public sphere: game on, criticize them until they collapse in tears; they deserve no less. But when they retreat to their own private enclaves, I don’t feel comfortable saying to go after them there. Everyone needs a space where they can recover their mental health, even people who support a global, racist, colonializing, child-murdering, child-raping, death cult.

That being said, the kind of vandalism we’re talking about here is a very specific flavour of “vandalism”. I’m not talking about the instances of arson obviously; that’s just crazy dangerous, even if the church is unoccupied and no longer used—the fire could easily get out of control. I’m not also not talking about vandalism that actually damages property—as opposed to merely defacing it—or vandalism with messages that are intolerant or threatening. This kind of vandalism is technically the same “crime” as tagging with graffiti… but context matters, because unlike simple tagging, the “message” of this particular graffiti is about forcing guilty parties to face up to their crimes; the “victims” are not really innocent. That’s not something I think you should have the freedom to hide away from… or at least, if you do want to hide away from the consequences of your crime, you should have to really hide away. Sure, you’re allowed to assume the indoors of your private property are “safe” and free from anything disturbing… but you shouldn’t be able to expect that the public façade of your very public building should be a safe space, too.

Again, all that being said, if someone does choose to—for example—paint bloody hand prints on a Catholic church to force them to face up to their responsibility in the residential school system… they should still expect to face legal consequences for it. Not just that, they should own up to the act, and proactively turn themselves in. If the vandalism is really a principled act of civil disobedience, then you have an ethical obligation to take full responsibility for it. If you just vandalize a church then hide from the consequences, you are not acting ethically. If you can’t handle the consequences of the act… don’t do it; find some other way to make a statement.

[] Teenagers charged after hate-motivated crime against Mississauga family

Geez, this is horrifying. The religion of the victim isn’t specified in the story, but he’s Hindu, and among the shit the kids shouted were some racial slurs, so… yeah, as usual, flavours of hate tend to cluster. The guy was there with his family; I’ve heard through the rumour mill that he deliberately soaked up all the rocks thrown, acting as a human shield so no-one else in his family would get hit as they ran for their car.

The attackers are 15 and 16. What happened that they thought what they were doing was justified? Any time stories like his pop up, I cringe in fear that the attackers are going to turn out to be atheists, and their hatred was stoked in atheist forums that dehumanize believers, and compare them to vermin.

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