Weekly Update: 2-Oct-2021 to 8-Oct-2021

by | October 9, 2021

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] Advocates shocked by Catholic list claiming $28M of ‘in-kind’ help for residential school survivors

🤦🏼 This story just keeps getting bigger, and every time it does, it gets worse. But okay, here we go again.

Because it’s such a complicated mess, I think it’s important to recap what we already know to help contextualize the new information.

So this is about the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), an agreement between the Government of Canada and residential schools survivors which was for many years the largest class-action settlement ever in Canada. (The new candidate for the largest class-action settlement may be a Québec suit against three tobacco companies… but since two of them subsequently declared bankruptcy, that may change things.) The settlement required compensation from both the Government of Canada—which organized the residential schools program—and the churches that actually ran the schools. The Roman Catholic Church of Canada, which ran ~60% of the schools, the Anglican Church of Canada (30%), and the United Church of Canada (10%). At issue here is the Catholic settlement.

The Churches were originally supposed to pay 30% of the claims for the schools they ran… but the Catholic Church was the only church that refused to. And they got lucky, because at exactly the time the settlement was being negotiated, the Paul Martin government was about to fall, and the next government was very likely to be Conservative. Everyone involved suspected that if they didn’t get an agreement before then, they wouldn’t get one at all. So the Catholic Church dug in, and basically blackmailed the process, in order to get a more favourable agreement. (The CBC article also suggests that the recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage was part of the reason the Catholic Church was so intransigent. 🤷🏼)

The settlement they finally agreed to was in three parts; basically:

  • $29 million in cash
  • $25 million in “in-kind services”; and
  • $25 million to be raised via “best effort” fundraising efforts.

Take careful note of the words “best effort” above. It will be important later.

As before, the other churches paid off their responsibilities with little or no complaint. But the Catholic Church? How did they do on those three requirements?

They failed every one:

  • The Church claimed they paid the full $29 million.

    They lied.

    They claimed that they had already paid over $8 million before the settlement agreement, and so that amount was just written off. They claimed almost $7 million in administrative fees and legal expenses, and took that out of the survivors’ pot. Incidentally, those expenses have since been flagged as extremely shady. Due to some of the dodgy expense claims, they ended up $1.6 million short of even their reduced commitment… and then refused to pay that. Due to the court case—which will be discussed below—they only ended up paying $1.2 million of the shortfall.

  • The “in-kind services” claim was shady from the start, but subsequent investigations by journalists discovered that the Church basically did the same evangelizing to indigenous people they were going to do anyway… but charged residential school survivors for it.

    That’s what the current article is about. They basically made residential school survivors pay, out of their compensation, for the priests who worked in First Nations communities, to preach Catholicism at them.

    And they’ve fought like lions to keep this information from becoming public… for obvious reasons.

  • And finally, the fundraising. That effort failed miserably, ultimately raising only $3.9 million… about 30¢ per Catholic in Canada.

    And they were allowed to get away with this because, they argued, that was their “best effort”. Remember those words? This is where they came back to bite the Government of Canada in the ass.

    Do note, though, that during the same period, the Catholic Church managed to raise $300 million… just for buildings (cathedrals and such). In total, they raised $900 million. So it really strains credulity that $3.9 million represents their best effort.

You may be wondering: how the hell did they get away with this shit?

Well, the first thing that worked in their favour is the political situation, as mentioned above. The settlement agreement was negotiated in the face of a looming Conservative government, which gave the Catholic Church the leverage to pressure the government negotiators to compromise. This not only resulted in a lower settlement amount, it also introduced the loopholes that they were able to exploit later.

And later came when the Government took the Catholic Church to court for failing to pay. The Government lost because of the weasel wording in the agreement, which meant the Catholic Church was now off the hook for all the money it still owed.

But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it is thanks to the court records that we were able to finally piece together all the ways the Catholic Church tried to dodge its financial responsibilities, and ultimately avoided them altogether.

With all this coming out now, the recent “apology” by Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops rings pretty hollow.

[] Quebec municipal party’s comments about Islam prompt hate speech complaint

Wow, talk about fucking tone deaf.

It’s one thing to publicly say things like that Muslims are a cancer. I mean, that’s wildly bigoted, ignorant, and hateful, sure. That’s what the ACQ platform says, by the way; that Islam is a cancer that is slowly growing inside Québec society and that it is contrary to the fundamental values of Québec.

But as islamophobia goes, that’s kinda the norm, tragically. You’ll even hear atheists saying that… which is terrible, but, again, tragically, that’s where we are right now.

But as horrifically bigoted, ignorant, and hateful as those comments are, it’s quite another thing to say those things directly into the face of Boufeldja Benabdallah, the man who founded the Québec mosque that was shot up back in 2017. And let’s be clear, those comments are directly as a result of Benabdallah running for city councillor; the ACQ straight-up admits that.

It boggles the mind that Québec politicians still have the stones to insist that the province doesn’t have a discrimination problem.

[] Some Manitoba faith leaders welcome new COVID-19 restrictions, others say they’re divisive

This is a pretty decent run-down of the various attitudes religious organizations have shown in response to vaccine passport mandates. Generally, most are either fine with asking for proof-of-vaccination, or they don’t bother because they’re too small for it to matter. But of course, there are a few resisters.

I gotta be honest: I find most of the objections to be bullshit.

“People come in all times of the day.”

Then either get someone—maybe a volunteer—to wait at the door, or close the fucking door outside of scheduled services and make visitors ring a bell or something. It’s not that difficult to check someone’s vaccination status. People are already doing it for restaurants and so on.

“We can’t turn people away if they come to worship, but aren’t vaccinated.”

Yes; yes, you can.

And you should, because if you allow them in out a pathological need to grow your congregation, you’re just putting everyone else at risk. Which is stupid, irresponsible, and unethical.

But you don’t even have to. If you’re only dealing with one or two people, you can just ask them to wait outside until after the public service, and then minister to them one-on-one (or, yanno, in tiny groups).

If you’re dealing with large numbers of unvaccinated people… well, then you have problem, and the correct solution is not to just shrug and go ahead with the service… the correct solution is to tell them to get vaccinated. Direct them to a medical professional or information that will allay their “hesitancy”, and then send them on their way until they get the shot. You’re a fucking minister… so fucking minister to them; explain to them the theological reason why they should get vaccinated, rather than be ignorant and selfish assholes.

If someone still refuses to get vaccinated… then refuse them entry. The are a danger to your congregation; they are toxic… literally. Why would you not want to protect your congregation from someone who will literally harm them, and may literally kill them? If someone wanted to come to your services with a spray bottle of ebola and randomly spray other worshippers, would you let them in? Why would that even be a difficult decision for you?

Here’s a suggestion: imagine your congregation are a bunch of priests who have raped children, and think how hard you would work to protect them (the rapey priests, not the children). History shows that religious organizations will go a long way to protect priests, even rapist priests, so let that be your inspiration.

[] M-103 to the Pandemic: Evolution Of Canadian Islamophobic Activists Shows How Hate Movements Adapt

I cannot put into words just how much I fucking love these detailed explainers that the Canadian Anti-Hate Network does. I’ve been actively keeping tabs on the Canadian far right for about a decade now, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s just impossible for one person. There is so much deception—it’s very rare to find a right wing person or organization that will openly admit their beliefs or goals, and will do so consistently, rather than changing the message to suit what they think will “work” for the specific audience. And there is so much “re-branding” and “schism-ing”, where individuals and organizations will rapidly change their names and affiliations (the Soldiers of Odin become the Sons of Oden become the Wolves of Odin, etc., etc., etc., for still more “Nouns of Odin”). The CAN’s work is incredible; they have quickly become the best resource for tracking the far right in Canada.

Case in point: Action4Canada (A4C). Before this article, I just knew them as an anti-vaxx organization… because that, so far, is what all their public and online activity has shown. Oh, I absolutely knew about Tanya Gaw’s involvement, and her gross history. But I didn’t know about the connections to ACT! For Canada, and I didn’t know about the homophobic, anti-trans stuff A4C was doing, or how they were blaming transgender tolerance on Islam (😕❓). (I mean, I knew Tanya Gaw was spewing that shit… I didn’t know A4C was.)

Another fascinating feature of the far right is how they lurch from issue to issue… not real issues, but rather whatever issue they can milk most effectively to stir up anger and intolerance. M-103, for example, was a big nothing-burger—an empty political gesture—yet as the article illustrates, it has become a linchpin of the entire Canadian right-wing movement. I named M-103 the Story of the Year in 2018, but I’ll freely admit that even I underestimated how much impact it would come to have.

One of the most uplifting things about reading these exposés is that it really hammers home that the far right is a lot smaller than it appears. You see the same names over and over and over, and once the connections and overlaps between the various groups are made clear, you realize how fragile it all is. Their influence and impact is so far beyond their actual size, it’s actually astounding. It’s truly weird how our society—and our political and legal institutions in particular—pays so much more attention to right-wing grievances than to left-wing grievances.

[] Lewisporte family finds religious pamphlets in Halloween treat bags bought in Gander (Video: 2:14)

So which is more dangerous to children? Razor blades hidden in Halloween candy? Or religious pamphlets? Trick question.

Most likely these pamphlets were slipped into Halloween merch by some God-bothered asshole who really didn’t give a moment’s thought to whether it would be harmful to children. Just from the look of the pamphlets, they don’t really look like they’re targeted at children. I imagine most kids would take one look at it, see too many words and too few pictures, decide it’s stupid, and then discard it.

I was actually gobsmacked by the hypocrisy of the parents, though. They’re horrified about children being taught that they will die… yet they take [their] kids to church and Sunday school every Sunday. Like, seriously, what the fuck do you think are being taught there? “You will one day die” is surely a lot less harmful than the psychologically evil shit they will hear in Sunday school.

Still, even if the stunt is unlikely to harm children… it’s a douchey thing to do.

[] No religious exemptions for Quebec health-care workers’ mandatory vaccination

This is a pretty hard-line position to take, and I doubt it would hold up to a serious challenge. But the trick here is: there is not likely to be a serious challenge.

If you’ve been paying attention to the Canadian political and legal climate surrounding vaccine mandates, you can’t possibly believe that “religious exemptions” are likely to be widespread, or successful in court challenges. Numerous experts and organizations—including multiple human rights commissions across the country—have been surprisingly blunt about how unlikely claims of religious freedom will be in securing exemptions from vaccine mandates. You won’t get away with, for example (as most COVID anti-vaxxers do), saying that you have no problem with those (diphtheria, tetanus, polio) vaccines, only this (COVID-19) vaccine. You also won’t get away with saying that you have a religious objection to being told what to do by the government… I mean, if you won’t drive without a licence (for example), then that claim is clearly bullshit.

Despite Dubé’s posturing, if there were—against all odds—a legitimate religious claim made, the Québec government would be required to accept it, and probably provide some kind of accommodation. Dubé’s just gambling on the unlikelihood of a legitimate religious claim, and it’s probably a safe bet.

So this is obviously just political posturing to differentiate the Québec government—with its faux “secular” branding—from the feds. But, 🤷🏼. So it goes.

[] Quebec judge muses on the meaning of religion while ruling that Taoist Tai chi centres are tax exempt

Let’s just grant the obvious objection that there should be no tax exemptions for solely religious reasons, at all.

But given that they exist, this case is interesting. Personally, while it annoys me, I think the Judge got it right. The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism may offer services—specifically, tai chi exercise programs—to non-members… but it’s still quite clearly a Taoist organization. It’s freakin’ web address is literally taoist.org.

A real, legitimate religion that happens to offer services to the general public is obviously different from an organization that is only faking religion just to get the tax break… as actually happened when an atheist tried creating a ridiculous “atheist church” a few years back in an attempt to scam the government.

Again, it is wrong… a clear violation of the principles of secularism… for the government to offer tax breaks merely for being religious. But as long as that’s happening, it makes perfect sense for them to restrict those tax breaks only to organizations that are legitimately religious.

[] Study: Atheists are Made By Their Parents

I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how atheists are “made”. (I mean, yanno, other than the obvious answer involving gamete fusion.)

Part of the reason I’m so fascinated by the topic is because I am a bit of an outlier among atheist activists. Most atheist activists have a story about how they used to be big-time believers, but eventually got better. Some of those stories are incredible, others are absolutely harrowing, but even the less theatrical ones tend to be very personal stories of having one’s worldview and identity absolutely destroyed and reconstructed.

For me, though, I was born an atheist and never broken. I wasn’t born to atheist parents—or maybe I was, that’s a difficult question to answer—but I certainly wasn’t born to particularly religious parents. My mother believed, back when I was young, that kids needed churchin’, because that was where you learned morality (you learned reality in school, of course). Don’t worry, she got better eventually. But though I did have to sit through religious teaching… it never took. I never, at any point, believed it. I understood it as the same kind of thing as, like, Thundercats; I knew Lion-O wasn’t real… I knew Jesus wasn’t real. I knew the destruction of Thundera wasn’t real history… I knew Noah’s flood wasn’t real history. I understood that the story of Vultureman getting super strong from a potion and then turning into a complete ass-hat was a moral lesson about the danger of arrogance… I understood the story of the Tower of Babel was a moral lesson about the danger of hubris. (Honestly, as a kid, I never believed that anyonetruly… believed that religious stories were literally true; I thought we were all on the same page, and understood them as moral parables.)

Why didn’t my religious schooling take? Well, in accordance with the “CRED” theory, it may be because I never say my parents taking religion seriously. Like, even when they did go church on Sundays—which was not something that lasted all that long—they would skip church at the drop of a hat; literally any excuse would do. Outside of the weekly churchin’ nothing religious every came up… ever. If I happened to ask about something vaguely related to what I heard in Sunday school, like “where do we go when we die”, my parents would be quick to deflate the church teaching on the matter, often by providing multiple perspectives for me to choose between. One example I often use to illustrate how lackadaisical my parents’ attitude to religion was: I was baptized twice, in two different churches… not out of any theological reason, but rather simply because one was to please my mother’s side, the other was to mollify my dad’s side.

I’ve always been skeptical of the claim of formerly religious people that they suddenly “discovered reason”, and that was why they abandoned faith. I mean, I get that you discovered new facts… but it seems to strain credulity that you completely changed the way your brain works from being one that can tacitly entertain complete nonsense to one that is a perfect computing machine that can never be fooled by bullshit. To my ear, it always just sounded like they were just switching from one way of irrational thinking to another—from unquestioning faith in Jesus to unquestioning faith in “reason”, or at least, their imaginary idea of what “reason” is—and their behaviour usually seems to confirm that hypothesis.

But Watson makes a good point that while rational thinking may not be the only thing that causes atheists… and maybe not even the main thing… it does appear to play a very real role.

[] “Islamophobia: An Analysis” by Philosophy Tube (Video: 36:48)

In my humble opinion, Abigail Thorn’s Philosophy Tube is one of the best YouTube channels (though, I admit, I don’t watch her on YouTube; I get her content elsewhere). She dives deeper into topics than most anywhere else, but never manages to feel like she’s getting bogged down in trivialities. And she always manages to be entertaining, this time using the shtick of a bitter Soviet spy (which, given the topic, is a pretty subversive shtick).

The topic she’s tackling in this video is islamophobia… but not really islamaphobia as practised, or specific actions of anti-Muslim bigotry. Instead, she considers islamophobia as a concept. She considers why islamophobia is a thing, why it became mainstream, and why it continues to be perpetuated.

There is a lot in this video to digest. One thing that makes it particularly interesting is that Thorn herself came of age during the post 9/11 era, and considered herself part of the “New Atheist” movement of the time; she even cites Sam Harris in the video. She deals with the “islamophobia can’t be racism because Islam is not a race” nonsense, while noting how convincing it can be if one ignores evidence and reality. Along the way, she even touches on veil bans, giving a very abridged but nonetheless damning history of the practice.

[] Saint John church can hold services after agreeing in court to follow the rules

Yeah, the church that only days before put on a circus show of defying public health officials has now promised to comply to avoid being shut down completely. Sure, that promise is mos’ def’ gonna be kept. 🙄

The article is worth a read because it describes what public health officials have to go through when dealing with recalcitrant churches. There’s video, too, ironically from the churchgoers themselves… I can’t imagine how these kinds of people think these videos make them look good. (There is one amusing moment where the health official simply says “fuck this” and just walks into the church, defying the idiots who keep claiming she can’t because it’s private property.)

[] Parents Are Outraged At An Iron Maiden-Loving High School Principal And Want Her Gone

No, I didn’t screw up and include a story from the 1980s “Satanic panic”. This is happening. Now. In 2021.

The headline and most iterations of the story bury the lead: the “concerned parent” isn’t upset about the fact that the principal loves Iron Maiden… she’s concerned about the fact that there’s a “Satanic symbol” in one of Burns’s pictures. That “Satanic symbol” is “666”… which as the article points out, is actually a reference to the song “The Number of the Beast”. I’m not a metal fan, but the song is an absolute classic, one of the best metal songs ever, easily. (See also “Hallowed be thy Name”, from the same album.)

I think it’s important to note something not mentioned by most of the articles, and that is that Eden High is part of the secular school system… not the separate, Catholic system. That is, it is part of the District School Board of Niagara… not the Niagara Catholic District School Board. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s not a religious school. Perhaps as a result, Lynn’s petition backfired spectacularly, as thousands of people, including most of the principal’s students, have rallied behind Burns.

Lynn’s “concern” is particularly ironic, because “The Number of the Beast” is about the singer observing some presumably Satanic ritual, and being totally freaked out and haunted by it… before ultimately becoming seduced by it and becoming evil themselves (it’s Maiden, so, what do you expect?). In other words, it’s pretty much Lynn’s imagination put to music.


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