Weekly Update: 12-Mar-2022 to 18-Mar-2022

by | March 19, 2022

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] School fee dispute hits Calgary Islamic School

This story got a lot of attention in the Canadian atheist community this past week… but honestly, I don’t think there’s much about it that’s really interesting. In fact, I passed it up for last week’s Update, thinking no one would care about it.

Those who do care about it seem to be mostly outraged by the fact that Alberta is giving public funds to the Calgary Islamic School, because it’s an explicitly religious school. (Let’s ignore the fact that the province also funds an entire separate, Catholic school system.) Yes, it’s technically true that Alberta is giving public funds to the Islamic school… but that wording is, at least, likely to cause confusion, and at worst, deliberately deceptive.

So, as I understand the situation in Alberta, section 19 of the School Act allows for “alternative programs”, which are supposed to allow for two things:

Non-traditional, specialized, or experimental educational philosophies or techniques
For example, there might be a school dedicated to movement-based instruction, an alternative educational theory that proposes that humans learn better when they move, rather than sitting still at a desk.
Educational focus on a particular language, culture, religion, or subject
So, you could have a school that provides all or most instruction in the Plains Cree language, along with additional classes and activities relevant to Plains Cree history and culture. You could also have—as the Palliser Division does—a school focused on developing competitive athletes.

This what the Palliser Division says about its alternative programs:

In Palliser, alternative programs include nine faith-based programs in Calgary and one in Brant; schools for children from a Low German-speaking Mennonite background located in Barons and Coaldale and the junior and senior high school at Huntsville School in Iron Springs, a sports school in Calgary, and outreach programs in Coaldale, and Vulcan. Palliser’s 17 Hutterite colony schools are also alternative programs.

Of those 9 faith-based schools, 6 are Christian, and 3 are Islamic.

Now, I can understand immediately objecting to having religious-based alternative programs. However, it’s important to understand that these are not private religious schools. They’re still public schools; they still have to follow the standard provincial curriculum. The religious stuff is just offered… on the side. And the district is not obligated to pay for any of it… and that’s the sticking point here.

The article isn’t clear about this, but from what I’ve picked up, it sounds like all the Islamic bells and whistles at the Calgary Islamic School were being paid for by Muslim Community Foundation of Calgary. The MCFC asked parents to pay for these costs, and some parents… just didn’t. Apparently, the MCFC just soaked up the shortfall.

Now, the MCFC isn’t covering the costs anymore, so the district is getting the money from the parents directly. And some parents are surprised by that.

That’s the story. That’s literally it. Some parents were ignorant about the fact that the Islamic stuff at the school wasn’t paid for by the province… and now, they “want an explanation”. Which is, of course, just that the province doesn’t—and shouldn’t—fund any religious education (again, let’s just ignore the separate Catholic system), so if you want Islamic flavouring in your child’s education, you best had pony up yourself. That you were getting a free ride before on the largess of the Muslim Community Foundation fo Calgary doesn’t change the fact that the Islamic stuff needs to be paid for.

So I still don’t see any real story here.

[] Alberta boosts funding to improve security of churches, religious buildings

I can understand why this might raise the hackles of most of our readers. Especially because this is Alberta, and they’re not even trying to hide the fact that the primary reason this is actually happening is for the benefit of Christian churches. (Most of which were probably targeted in retaliation for the residential schools genocide.)

But I don’t really this as a violation of secularism.

Secularism doesn’t mean ignoring the existence of religion, nor does it mean refusing to take any action that might benefit a religion. All it means is that when considering whether or not to take an action, religion should not be used as justification.

And that’s not the case here. You could just as well imagine that after a spree of arson attacks on private homes, the government might announce funds to help the victims. The fact that these are religious facilities is not the reason why they’re being given aid… they’re being given aid because they’re the targets of hate crimes.

And that’s not a violation of secularism.

Helping the victims of hate crimes is not violating secularism… even if they happen to religious groups… even if they were targeted for hate because of their religious beliefs… and even if the people who targeted those religious groups do have legitimate grievances with them. If it really grinds your gears to see a religious group get aid from the government… then don’t give the government a legitimate reason to give them aid. Like, maybe don’t set churches on fire. No matter the reason.

[] Anglican Church of Canada leaders apologize to survivors, respond to ACCToo

I’m… wow… I’m legit impressed.

Last week, I wrote an Update item about a scandal in the Anglican Church of Canada. A number of survivors of sexual assaults by clergy and others under the auspices of ACC had been trying for years to get justice, with no success, when a journalist writing for the Anglican Journal—the official newspaper of the ACC—offered to publish their stories. This was a huge deal, and the journalists were working closely with the survivors to make sure their stories were accurately reported and backed up by evidence (where possible), as well as giving those accused of committing or enabling the assaults the chance to give their side of the stories. Someone—someone high up at the Anglican Journal—leaked a draft version of the article to the big-ups in the ACC… a draft version that contained raw email dumps and other unredacted, identifying information that effectively outed the survivors. The ACC conducted an investigation into the leak, but the results were totally unsatisfactory—clearly just an attempt to sweep everything under the rug—so after some big-name resignations, #ACCtoo was formed, and published an open letter giving all the details of the scandal.

That was were we were last week, and at the time, while I said I expected more to come, I also made a point of comparing everything that went down with the way the Catholic Church has handled rape and sexual misconduct allegations. I wrote that I was impressed with the ACC laity and clergy, because they expected more from their church leadership—no, they demanded more—than just ignoring sexual assault allegations, and sweeping scandals under the rug. I noted that, by contrast, Catholics seem almost resigned to having the shittiest of leadership.

Well, here’s another contrast with the Catholic Church; the Anglican Church leadership actually apologized for their poor behaviour.

And it really seems like a legit apology. The ACC really seems to have been stung by the open letter, and the outrage and condemnation that came with it, and they are at least saying that they’re going to take steps to make things right. Which is far more than the Catholic Church has ever done, in any of its many, many, many, many scandals.

So… yeah… the #ACCtoo scandal is still ongoing, but… damn, it actually looks like it’s going well for the survivors. I mean, not perfectly—the fact that they’ve been fighting for decades, plus the fact that the leak happened in the first place, along with the initial response of the Church leadership, none of that is good—but it really does look like, while there may still be a long slog ahead, there may actually be hope that the Church leadership may actually give them justice, some day.

[] Quebec students see ‘no future’ for them due to religious symbols law, study suggests

Oof, things are just looking worse and worse for Québec’s Bill 21, at least in terms of popular support.

The last few months have seen a precipitous drop in support—within Québec—following the viral story of a teacher who was effectively screwed out of her job due to a bureaucratic mix-up. (Possibly; there is a conspiracy theory that the “mix-up” was deliberate, to provoke exactly what ended up happening.) On top of that, support has always been sharply delineated along a number of demographic lines; supporters of Bill 21 tend to be older, less educated, and rural… always a delightful mix.

But this new study is even more damning. What they did was send out surveys to students in law and education in Québec, with the aim of looking into what kind of effect Bill 21 was having on individuals. (They were surprised, however, when many of the responses were more concerned about the impact of the Bill on communities, not individuals.) Given that responding was voluntary, you should expect a bias toward people who care more strongly about Bill 21. And, given that the surveys were mainly targeting students and recent graduates of universities, you can expect a younger, more educated group than the provincial standard. So, you can pretty much guess what the overall opinion that comes out of this survey is going to look like.

Even knowing that, though, it turns out that people are pissed about Bill 21. More than half of the respondents said they would leave the province. 70%—442 of the 629 respondents—said they hated Québec more than they had before, thanks to the Bill. And that doesn’t mean that 30% think well of the province; no, of the 85 who said their opinion of Québec hadn’t gotten worse, some of them included comments to the effect that they had thought the province sucked before Bill 21, and the Bill just validated their dislike.


And, again, this is an insight into the next generation—the youth—who will shape the attitudes of tomorrow. Things do not look good for the future of Québec nationalism, and Bill 21 seems to have been a powerful force for pushing people’s attitudes of the province toward the negative.

I mean, I predicted that there would be a backlash, and I predicted that it would not come in the short term, but rather in the long term, as the young people of today—who overwhelmingly hate Bill 21—eventually age up into the dominant segment of the population. Still, it’s a lot stronger than I thought it would be, and it’s happening a lot quicker.

[] Toronto sued over $100K cash aid to support legal challenge of Quebec’s Bill 21

Oh dear, this is an unexpected turn of events.

So, a few months back, Patrick Brown, Mayor of Brampton and now Conservative leadership hopeful (though, with not much hope at all), kicked at the hornet’s nest when he—as Mayor—got Brampton to promise $100,000 in support of the legal fight against Québec’s discriminatory religious accessories ban, Bill 21. A number of other cities followed, including Toronto, which also offered $100,000.

Well now supporters of Bill 21 have found a legal loophole (or rather, another legal loophole, if one counts the notwithstanding clause), in the form of a 1994 Supreme Court decision that found that Vancouver had acted outside of its jurisdiction when it instituted a boycott of Shell Oil for doing business with South Africa’s apartheid regime. Am I wicked enough to point out the delightful parallel of Bill 21 supporters being on the pro-apartheid side here? Nah, I’ll just leave that unspoken. Wink.

The argument is that based on that Supreme Court decision, cities aren’t allowed to do anything that doesn’t directly benefit the citizens of that particular city. Also, while cities are allowed to discriminate in decisions about who to do business with, they can’t do so based on the policy of foreign governments.

If that sounds nonsensical… yeah, that Supreme Court decision was really weird.

It was also a very split decision, 5–4, with the dissenters including both the then-current Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, and future CJ Beverley McLachlin. And of the 5, 3 were gone before the 21st century rolled around. (The last 2, Frank Iacobucci and John Major, retired in 2004 and 2005 respectively.)

There’s also the fact that it may not even be relevant. Unlike the Shell decision, where Shell sued because they were being discriminated against… nobody is being discriminated against in the current case. The city has discretionary funds that it can spend as it pleases (though, I’m not sure whether this $100k falls under that).

But even if it does apply… it’s a 30 year-old decision on some shaky legal ground, so it’s no slam dunk that it will still be allowed to stand today. Today’s courts are much more likely to give deference to elected officials, and much less likely to simply… overrule the will of the people with the court’s own opinion.

Still, there is a chance this ploy could work. And even if not, it could work well enough as justification for the city councils to withdraw the offer while saving face. (“Look, we still totally oppose Bill 21, and would totally love to give money to aid in the fight against it, but… hey, man, 1994 Supreme Court decision. Our hands are tied.”) So we’ll have to see how this all unfolds.

[] Former student sues Catholic seminary and dead monk’s estate for alleged abuse

This week’s Update really didn’t need a Catholic counter-example to the item about Anglican Church leadership actually acting like decent human beings… but, nevertheless, the Church provides.

Where to even begin here?

Okay, let’s start with the fact that we’re not talking about run-of-the-mill priestly abuse here… and yes, I’m viscerally sickened by the fact that priestly abuse is such a widespread phenomenon, that there’s actually a “run-of-the-mill” form of it. But no, this wasn’t run-of-the-mill abuse, because this as a seminary. This wasn’t the usual “priests abusing kids” story… this was “priests abusing future priests”. And quite a few of those future priests went on to become abusers themselves; the Roman Catholic version of the circle of life. But more on that in a moment.

So this is a case of abuse at a seminary, with at least one monk accused of raping at least 3 different kids. The monk in question actually admitted to fondling a kid’s genitals, but claimed it was “consensual”. Note that he made this admission in his trial in 1997… and yet still ended up being acquitted. (He was acquitted despite the testimony of 3 people that he’d raped them when they were 12–14 years-old, because the victims’ memories of the rapes weren’t perfect.)

But this isn’t just about the one monk. Apparently, the whole institution was rotten. They were silencing accusers, and protecting rapists, for decades.

In fact, you know what set this new lawsuit off? A glowing, 2-page obituary of the rapey monk in the seminary’s newspaper, that… neglected… to mention any of the rape accusations or the trial, instead very euphemistically saying “not everyone had such a positive experience of him”.

Horrified yet? Brace yourself. It gets worse.

So, yeah, the whole institution was rotten, with no less than 3 graduates eventually being convicted of child molestation themselves.

One of them was Christopher Paul Neil… aka fucking Swirl Face… perhaps the most notorious Canadian pedophile. I never realized Neil was a Catholic priest wannabe; I knew he was a teacher, but apparently that was his fallback after the seminary said he wasn’t cut out to be a priest. Apparently, he didn’t have the personal qualifications, probably because he was supposedly a bit awkward. The Catholic Church prefers confident, charismatic rapists, if you please.

It’s just amazing how deep the Catholic sex abuse rabbit hole goes. The lawsuit makes a lot of hay about the—I’ll use the suit’s wording here: entrenched clericalism and distorted beliefs that implicitly promoted the psychosexual immaturity of priests and seminarians, perpetuating sexually deviant behaviour. And, yeah, I’m inclined to agree.

[] Oblates to open Rome archives next month for residential school records search

At good god damn last—very much better late than never—it looks like researchers working for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will finally be getting access to the documents the Catholic Church has been hiding from them.

It sounds like the wave of mass grave discoveries was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The Catholic Church—and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in particular—have been very publicly promising to provide all the documents for years… but then, less publicly, refusing to do so out of “privacy concerns”, no matter how many concessions researchers offered to help allay those concerns. Even now, they’re still fighting to keep the records of living priests private.

The best part of this article is basically everything Evelyn Korkmaz says. She’s absolutely right that we need to see the records of living priests because, in her words, those ones are the ones that are continuing to do damage.

And she’s also absolutely right when she shrugs off a potential papal apology as hollow words. I mean, if a papal apology would help some survivors, then fine… but for the rest of us, reconciliation follows truth. We need the truth.

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