Canada.com-It’s time to talk about abolishing the monarchy

I got another piece published on the front page of Canada.com in the “Real Agenda.” This time I argue that it’s time to due away with the monarchy.

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It’s time to talk about abolishing the monarchy

The power of our Prime Minister’s Office has been growing in leaps and bounds since Trudeau sought to centralize the effectiveness of his rule. One of the few checks on the PMO is our beleaguered Governor General, yet the past few years have seen a precedent that not even he or she can stand in the way of the Prime Minister.

Coupled with the general disinterest in the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it is time that our politicians start discussing whether Canada should remain a monarchy.

In the recent Australian elections, Prime Minister Julia Gillard made headlines across the Commonwealth by declaring that it was her belief that once Queen Elizabeth II passes the throne along, Australia should become a republic and abandon the monarchy.

This statement is less shocking Down Under, where the debate about republicanism has been raging since a failed 1999 vote to replace the monarchy with a president elected by two thirds of the Parliament. The option failed to appeal to all republicans, yet still 45 per cent voted for a republic.

A December poll by Vision Critical revealed that a vast majority, 70 per cent, of Canadians are not interested in the upcoming wedding.

When the pollsters asked which system they would prefer to the monarchy, a plurality, 32 per cent, said Canada should establish its own elected head of state, while 29 per cent were indifferent. Only 21 per cent said Canada should remain a monarchy. (Eighteen per cent weren’t sure.)

More Canadians preferred “no monarch” after the Queen abdicates than either Prince Charles or Prince William.

Traditionalists will naturally disagree with me. Personally, I have little time for arguments about the value of doing things the same way they’ve always been done, since that is what has kept various forms of bigotry, from sexism to slavery, around for so long.

Furthermore, our increasingly pluralistic country ought not to be governed by the head of a church who derives her authority from a claimed blood lineage. This system hearkens back to days of a deep social divide between peasantry and nobility, when blasphemy was punishable by death.

The other argument routinely trotted out against abolishing the monarchy is that we risk centralizing more power in the already powerful PMO. Yet, as the failed Australian referendums demonstrated, this could allow Canadians the chance to put a new democratic check on the executive branch.

By establishing an elected Canadian president, we could have the chance to actually vote for who leads us, instead of electing a local backbencher.

Alternatively, we could retain the Governor General’s office as an appointment, but strengthen the position such that the prorogation crises could be avoided.

The monarchy is out of date for Canada, and it is time that we close this chapter on our history and work toward becoming the Republic of Canada.

Ian Bushfield is president of the B.C. Humanist Association and blogs at terahertzatheist.ca and canadianatheist.com.

Young Canadians are not alcoholics

I know it fits a nice narrative about drunken college students, but before publishing an article like this, perhaps actually talk to some voters, not just a shock jock.

Election activity: ‘Coalition’ drinking game the new buzz

If Canadians are hanging on politicians’ every word this election, there’s a good chance it’s because alcohol is involved.

The “coalition” drinking game was sparked on Twitter shortly after a Brampton, Ont., speech in which Stephen Harper dropped the political c-bomb a full 21 times in 10 minutes. From that point forward, every time the Conservative leader used the contentious term, the rules dictated that a shot must be swigged.

Key findings from a 2009 Health Canada report (and the alcohol-specific section):

  • Among Canadians 15 years and older, the prevalence of past-year alcohol use decreased from 79.3% in 2004 to 76.5% in 2009.
  • Three quarters of youth (75.5%) reported consuming alcohol in the past year. This is a decrease from 2004 when 82.9% of youth reported past-year use of alcohol.
  • The prevalence of heavy frequent drinking among youth 15 to 24 years of age, was three times higher than the rate for adults 25 years and older (11.7% versus 3.9%).

… Compared to 2004, a significantly higher percentage of Canadians in 2009 reported either not drinking (11.6% versus 7.3%) or drinking more moderately. In 2009, the rate of light frequent drinking at 31.3% was significantly higher than it was in 2004 at 27.7%. In contrast, a lower proportion of Canadians in 2009, than in 2004, reported heavy drinking to be their usual consumption, whether they be drinking frequently (5.1% versus 7.1%) or infrequently (3.7% versus 5.6%).

Note, that only 11% of youths are binge drinking, and those numbers are falling.

There is arguably no youth alcohol epidemic, but articles like this promote a negative stereotype which can drive more young adults away from the polls (the real issue).

2 days to save objective reporting in Canada

You may have heard that the CRTC, in addition to its quest to ensure cellphones and the internet are too expensive, is planning on loosening regulations requiring objective reporting in Canadian journalism.

Well the CRTC is taking comments until February 9th (Wednesday), so head over to their website right now and fill out their survey (scroll down to 7. and click the Broadcasting interventions/comments form and then find “2011-14” and click submit).

Here’s the comment I left, note that your name and comment will be available publicly.

I am very concerned and disappointed by the proposed amendment to loosen journalistic requirements for Canadian media. This is a move that no one has requested and seems to represent unnecessary meddling in a regulatory structure that is serving Canadians well.

We need only to look to the USA and the fallout from the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine to see what fate awaits Canada if we allow lies of ignorance to be promulgated through our airwaves. The poisonous political rhetoric in the USA has created a dangerous and violent climate with the media, in many cases, abandoning any semblance of objective and balanced reporting for blind partisanship.

A healthy democracy is ultimately dependent on an informed electorate. By allowing lies to be told on television and the radio, the CRTC is abandoning its role as a protector of the public with regards to broadcasting and telecommunications systems.

I seriously hope that this decision will be reconsidered and at the very least for it to be held off for further debate and consultation.

They currently have just over 1600 comments, and hopefully a few more will help reverse this decision.

Yellowknife gay discrimination

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Last summer I had the privilege to go to the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife (pictured right), to teach science summer camp with DiscoverE. Yellowknife is a town of under 20,000 people. Life takes on a slower pace there, and everyone drives 10-20 km/h under the speed limit downtown (unlike Vancouver where 20 over the norm).

One of the activities for youth there in the summer (besides the week of DiscoverE summer camps) is The Rock skateboard camp, run by some local evangelical Christians. Hopefully, this group has nothing to do with the following story, and doesn’t breed the same contempt, because from all accounts Yellowknife is a happy little community.

Scott Robertson and Richard Anthony, a gay couple, were trying to rent a room just over a year ago and had signed a lease with Will Goertzen. However, days before they were to move in they noticed that their room was listed online. It turns out that Will, with all his Christian love, had learned of the couple’s relationship (I’m not sure if he though they were just friends who planned to share a bed or something) and decided he didn’t want their kind in his house. The couple had to find a new place to rent since they had already sold their previous home and ended up homeless in Yellowknife for 10 days (the average high in Yellowknife in May is a mere 10oC).

They have already been compensated a portion of their deposit (they haven’t received their utilities expenses back yet) and are expecting to hear back from the courts about their discrimination case in August.

Jason at The Gay White North makes a good point on this story however,

So now I’m a bit worried.  On the one hand, I believe Mr. Goertzen must be held accountable for his actions and the consequences of his actions, and on the other hand, I don’t want him to become a hater.

I know I have no control over what other people do or think.  And I know how easy it is to label someone who does not share the same worldview as ourselves.  I’ve heard characterizations such as "crazy" or "nut job," much too often.  But that type of behaviour (ie: discrimination or name calling) will get us exactly the opposite of what we want: live in peace, harmony and happiness.

In an ideal world, everyone would think like us and act like us.  But, the world is far from ideal.  So, in the meantime, I’d much rather live next door to a homophobe than a hater so please don’t make a bad situation worse.

Please.

In a large city, where few people actually know their neighbours, there’s no real social ostracism that occurs after a case like this. But in a small, progressive town, where everybody knows your name and life story, it could turn ugly quick.

I think Jason’s sentiments are, somewhat ironically, much more Christian than what Will is doing. And this is one of those few cases where the Bible does have some wisdom: forgiveness is sometimes better than revenge.

Hopefully the Will sees the error in his ways (as it were) and learns some tolerance. Otherwise, a small, progressive community has little space for him.

(h/t Friendly Atheist)

Three days till Armageddon

Only three more days till Marci McDonald’s well-anticipated (at least by me and at least a few others) book, The Armageddon Factor.

From Radom House Publishers:

The Armageddon Factor
The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada
Written by Marci McDonald

About this Book

An urgent wake-up call for all Canadians who think that this country is immune from the righteous brand of Christian nationalism that has bitterly divided and weakened the United States.
In her new book, Marci McDonald documents the startling extent of the influence that the religious right already wields in Canada and shows how, quietly, often stealthily, it has provoked far-reaching changes in Canadian policies and institutions, including our public service, our schools and our courts.

In four short years, galvanized by their failure to stop same-sex marriage, not only have conservative Christians developed a permanent infrastructure in Ottawa, designed to outlast whatever party is in power, but they have done so by borrowing the rowdy style of the American religious right to which most of their leaders boast close ties. Their rise has been tied to the election of Stephen Harper and it is no secret that evangelicals have already re-shaped Harper’s foreign policy in the Middle East, guided by what McDonald terms the Armageddon Factor. But few Canadians are aware that a militant band of conservative Christians with a direct pipeline to Harper’s cabinet is also attempting to reshape the country’s social, cultural and even scientific policies, driven by a belief that Canada has a biblically ordained role to play in the final days before Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.

About this Author

MARCI McDONALD is one of Canada’s most respected journalists. The winner of eight gold National Magazine Awards, she is also the recipient of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ investigative feature award. A former bureau chief for Maclean’s in Paris and Washington, she has interviewed Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, and spent five more years in the United States as a senior writer for US News & World Report. A winner of the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, her study of the backstage machinations behind the free trade deal led to her book, Yankee Doodle Dandy: Brian Mulroney and the America Agenda. Her controversial cover story in the Walrus, "Stephen Harper and the TheoCons,” [link added] inspired this book.

Along with this book, I heard from a friend that Ms. McDonald will be appearing in Calgary on May 18 for the Council of Canadians: Calgary Chapter along with Donald Gutstein, author of Not a Conspiracy Theory. Hopefully we can get them out to Vancouver in the near future.

It is racism

I’ve been somewhat torn over the French (both France and Quebec) laws that are being moved in to ban Niqabs and Burqas in public settings.

On the one hand I think it’s a symbol of a repressive society and that no one should have to wear such clothing. But on the other hand, I support a free society where no one has the right to tell you what you can’t wear.

The Humanist Association of Ottawa comes down on the side that as an issue of secularism – “separation of church and state made clear and simple” – the Niqab ought to be banned from being worn on government property.

Now I have to part ways with the HAO author Ricky here, as a secular issue you can argue that no religious symbols ought to be promoted by the government, it is wrong to argue that (1) no religious symbols can be displayed, and (2) that private citizens who are at government buildings ought to be suppressed from displaying their symbols. And here’s why

  1. My argument is that a secular state should not promote any one religion. This is best phrased in the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While Canadian law is not directly equivalent, I believe most Canadian legal scholars would agree that we have, for all intents and purposes, a secular state. To argue that the government cannot display religious symbols would be to suggest that state sponsored museums, art galleries or zoos can’t deal with religion in any form. Imagine a museum exhibit on the middle ages that was prevented from displaying a cross – it’s absurd.
  2. As a private citizen in a free country, I ought to be allowed to wear a cross, star-and-crescent, Star of David, or a scarlet A into a government building and still receive services.

So in the end, I have to side with the Muslim women. Many have chosen (whether coerced or not is another discussion) to wear a veil in public, despite public ridicule and discrimination, and no laws ought to control that clothing. As for government employees, I use similar reasoning goes to Christians pharmacists who want the right to refuse prescribing contraceptives in that you leave your faith at home or find a line of work that fits your worldview. Pacifists don’t sign up for the army and complain they have to carry guns.

I’ll add one note about the Sikh Kirpan ceremonial daggers – if we are going to exempt one segment of the population the right to carry weapons in public, we have no reason not to let everyone. My personal preference is for everyone to leave their knives at home, regardless of their value to you. Similar logic applies to most religious accommodations to our laws – our laws either apply to everyone equally or they are useful.

It seems to me that most of the arguments for selectively banning Muslim garments stem purely from the newest forms of racism and xenophobia.

Ivory Tower Atheism

Before I get to the crux of my commentary on this week’s Peak (which I have no article in for the first time in over a month since I didn’t get to submitting anything last week) – particularly Kate Scholz’s article “to tell the Truth”, I’ll copy here the positive TXT MSGS that appeared this week (all verbatim):

Buddha never claimed to be a god. Nor did jesus. Only ignorant forgets to say there is probably no god.

Re: Person wondering why nobody is bashing on buddhists are not tempermental pricks 🙂

Singled out? It’s one poster. There are a half-dozen Christian groups on campus. I’m tired of ignorant people confusing their paranoia for persecution.

‘ignorany ppl bashing christianity?’ the poster is merely saying that you dont need to believe in and kind of mage-up god. You made the connection to a specific religion. Hmmm…

Also, you can read Graham Templeton’s article about how atheists are stereotyped in television shows. He makes a few points but overlooks (arguably) positive atheist/skeptic TV characters like Brian from Family Guy. Regardless, it’s better to have some representation, especially among somewhat likable lead characters like House and Patrick Jane, than none.

But the main article that needs addressing is Scholz’s last word feature on the supposed polarization between Christian and atheist groups on campus. The article doesn’t actually seem to be in plain text on The Peak’s website, but you can find it on the last page of the pdf edition.

Basically, Scholz has a few arguments, with some targeted at my two atheist pieces. First, she argues that atheists are throwing a continual “hissy fit” and

…skeptics and anti-religious on principle are just as dogmatic, and that the natural sciences have no exclusive grip on truth and knowledge – the arts faculties, including Religious Studies, exist to fill that gap. Refusing to acknowledge any common ground is just naive and annoying rather than intellectual or persuasive.

She then goes on to point out that science has pushed back a lot of ignorance that religion perpetuated. She further is “astounded” by the fact that creationism calls for equal time with evolution and admits that biology only makes sense in terms of evolution (the whole point of my first article).

So I have no clue what the first two-thirds of her article does expect lambast me for saying exactly what she was saying, but for putting in stronger terms. Hell, go back and read my anti-creationist article. I’ll wait.

Did you finish it?

Did you see where I said religion is stupid or Christians are harming the world by pushing their creationism? And the point where I said all knowledge only comes from science?

No? Perhaps because I didn’t say that. In fact, what I actually said was:

Science class is the place to develop the tools to view the world methodically and skeptically. Science asserts that evidence is required before we can decide whether an idea has any merit to it.

There are countless Christians and theists who have no difficulty with evolution. In fact, they are likely in the majority. A small minority, however, remains committed that the only way they can reconcile their belief in a vengeful Old Testament God is to deny the fundamental basis of all modern biology.

I argued from secularism, the idea that no religion or non-religion should be state-forced, that creationism has no place in science classes.

Next, Scholz devotes a paragraph to responding to the “There’s Probably No God…” banner and states:

Inflammatory remarks, absurdity, and turning one’s back are not the only responses to the creationist and missionary challenge that religious clubs pose to more secular members of society. What about compassionate reasoning and persuasion?

Wait, I said the only ways to deal with religious clubs are burns, jokes and ignoring them? I thought that what I said was:

This banner serves as a response to the countless religious clubs who are pervasive at this school and in society. It seeks to counter the notion that you cannot be good without God.

Alternatively, when your ideological adversaries are increasingly vulgar, sometimes the proper response is ridicule. My favourite counter-protests to Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’s picketing of funerals are the ones with absurdist signs

The only other approach to take with such content is to simply ignore it.

Perhaps it wasn’t clear that those last two options (absurdity and ignoring them) are in direct response only to those who’ve already tuned out reason and are instead just being assholes. If it wasn’t clear that I support dialogue with reasonable religious groups, than I apologize, let’s get together and sing kumbaya. Or at least have respectful discussions.

But wait, I do think that I said something like (because I did) “The proper response to a message that you disagree with is dialogue” or “Most of us come to university with an open-mind, ready to learn new things and hear different ideas.” Which seems to convey support for dialogue like Scholz calls for.

She also needs a dictionary, since she repeatedly calls the Skeptics “dogmatic,” which would be difficult for us to be since to be dogmatic, one would need dogma, or an “established belief or doctrine.” And I’m not sure that Demon Haunted World or God Delusion count as holy books.

Finally, Scholz mentions that she is an unbeliever (in God), but I think I have to classify her as an “Ivory Tower Atheist.” I’m not sure if this term has really been used before, but it does follow alongside the accommodationist idea that PZ Myers has specifically advocated against. I propose that at least some of the following characteristics apply to the Ivory Tower Atheist:

  1. Believes in belief

    This phrase is borrowed from Daniel Dennett and is emphasized in his book, Breaking the Spell. The idea is someone who may or may not believe in God, but sees some value for those who do believe. Perhaps it makes them happier or provides them some solace.

    A read through any of the New Atheists books (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris or Hitchens) will provide several debunking of this argument, among them are the support of often immoral institutions and the danger of greater credulity of believing something without evidece.

  2. Is against organized atheism

    Often they see no reason for non-religious to organize, and criticize those who do organize of making atheism into a religion. This however is to deny the very social nature of our species (which becomes especially important for minority groups) and the desire of many to resist growing extremism in religion.

  3. Sees belief as something unnecessary for the educated, but useful for the rest

    This goes along with belief in belief, but furthers it to suggest in an elitist way that atheism is too intellectual for the simpletons, but we wise intellectuals can understand that this is how the world works. This is a very anti-humanistic view that is at least class discrimination if not in some cases racism or otherwise.

  4. Thinks atheists ought to keep quiet

    They agree with religions that criticism of religion ought to be banned or kept down, since offending people is not a civil thing to do. Meanwhile they seem to ignore the fact that the Pope and countless religions call atheists the scum of the Earth and the reason that evil perpetuates (although to be fair sometimes its homosexuals or other faiths).

  5. May be “spiritual but not religious”

    This tends to be used as a holier-than-thou sort of response that spiritualism is positive while religion is negative. Meanwhile, spirituality is either a very nebulous term meaning anything from Carl Sagan’s love of the universe to sorcery and witchcraft.

  6. Sees educated, liberal religions as the norm as opposed to fundamentalists
  7. Often they fail to realize that a lot of homophobic, end-times Christians still exist, and are very powerful in this country right now. They may have theologian friends who confirm this bias, and it tilts their view of religion to be one that is progressive and accepting as opposed to fire and brimstone.

  8. Has never been to an atheist meeting

    The most common response of critics in print and otherwise to atheist groups when they finally meet us in person is how nice we actually are. I’m not sure if they think we should be breathing fire or something, but perhaps actually seeing what we’re about and not trying to base your entire view of our club on our cheeky and provocative advertisements (that are working since they got your attention), would be a way for you to practice the dialogue that you preach. At the very least, check out our website which hosts a forum and tons of other ways you can contribute.

So that’s my rant of the night. I’m not totally sure how to combat these misconceptions beyond working harder to get these people to try to come out and meet some of the nice people who attend our meetings.

Regardless, I’m still trying to decide how much I’ll contribute to The Peak this summer since it’ll be running weekly but with a very small audience. At least the rumour is that the GSS may have failed the Peak funding referendum that was leaning toward ending funding but lacked quorum. In other words I may still be giving $4 per term in the fall and allowed to write for the paper.

Two more Peak excerpts

A great double-feature in The Peak this week. First almost two-thirds of a page was dedicated to letters defending evolution and rebutting Isaac Seo’s poor arguments for creationism. Give it a full read.

The following TXT MSGS were also submitted in response to my article last week:

Poor Ignorant Ian Bushfield

I’m a committed atheist and even I found the skeptic’s banner offensive and tacky.

I’m not totally sure if this one was pointed at me, but either way:

Go study world religions bro, christianity ain’t the only worldview with ideas about sin.

Next, I submitted the following piece defending The Peak against the upcoming GSS referendum to cut student funding to the paper. I enjoy that they listed me as an “Associate Staff Contributor” in the issue, but I’m not sure if that’s a typo or if the job requirements are merely having x number of articles published. Either way, I’ll take it.

Grads need The Peak
By Ian Bushfield

I like being published as much as the next person. Most people enjoy seeing their words in ink. Perhaps the only thing better than having your own words published is having someone else quote you or report news about your mundane life. And yet, these are the exact privileges that graduate students at SFU are now in the position to give up.

The relatively new Graduate Student Society is holding a referendum with their upcoming elections that asks their constituents if they would like to remove their per-semester funding for The Peak, and thereby lose, not only their voice at the campus level, but also any chance to promote their views to their community.

There are several reasons that some graduate students feel they should no longer support The Peak. The first is that it currently does not represent their views. Very rarely in the past year has the GSS been mentioned in the news, although this may have more to do with the lack of controversy or scandal surrounding the organization. Also, little press has been given to all the various forms of research that is being done on campus. Few graduate students publish comics or editorials, and even fewer write specifically on topics relating to graduates.

Naturally, much of the blame for this graduate neglect rests on the shoulders of graduate students themselves. It is not difficult to get an article published in The Peak. Much like those who find it to be too “right-wing” or poorly written, the best way to change the paper is to fire up your computer and send in an article. The big challenge that is facing every graduate student’s involvement in The Peak is very simple: time.

Almost every graduate student is strapped for time. Between work ing their thesis, TA-ships, courses, and other work they are committed to, finding the time to write an editorial, let alone research and write a full article, is almost inconceivable. In undergrad, it is possible to extend one’s degree from one to an infinite number of years, so as to spend a bit more time writing for a student newspaper; whereas in graduate school the pressure is on to finish one’s degree and get on with your life.

With so little time on their hands, it is somewhat ironic that some have suggested that graduate students could instead publish their own newsletter in place of funding The Peak. It makes little sense that if students are unable to commit the time to write for The Peak that they would instead write for a newsletter with a much smaller audience. Every paper needs a minimal readership to stay interesting and viable; The Peak has those numbers, and I highly doubt that graduate students would be able to achieve anything similar.

Many graduate students, regardless of the upcoming referendum, will continue to read The Peak week after week. Rather than essentially stealing the paper, the honourable thing for graduate students to do is to vote to continue supporting the independent voice on campus, so that we can continue to have our issues discussed and represented.

The Peak may not be the greatest newspaper ever written, but it remains a strong link between all the constituents of the greater Simon Fraser community. We should vote to keep it that way.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to submit a piece on humanist ethics, homeopathy and anti-vaxxers or something else for next week. Any preferences?

Update:

I almost forgot that SFU Skeptic member Chris Lonergan got a photo of our banner published in the Community Photos section, with the title “Conflicting perspectives.”

conflicting_perspectives

Update-2:

I just noticed that The Peak also reposted the above article on their “Since 1965” blog. This blog has lots of links challenging the GSS referendum.

Changing questions

Not too long after I sent my grievance to the GSS elections committee, I got a reply letting me know that the referendum is under sole control of the President and GSS council, so my letter was forwarded to Joshua Newman. Here’s his reply, which also came very quickly:

Hi Ian,
The referendum question regarding The Peak was developed by the GSS Council, an elected body of 35 grad students representing every department at SFU.  Council determined that this was the most fair way to ask this question.
Thanks for your concern.
Joshua Newman
President
Graduate Student Society at SFU

To which I just replied,

Thanks for the quick reply Joshua,

I noticed that the agenda for the 6 March council meeting [pdf, see page 15] indicate that the proposed question was:

"Do you want to continue paying $4.90 per student per semester to support The Peak?"

May I ask, since the minutes aren’t available online yet (I assume they won’t be until after they are approved at the next council meeting at the end of April, well after the election), what discussion took place around changing the wording?

Ian Bushfield
MSc. Physics Student at SFU

I continue to urge all concerned graduate students to email Joshua Newman at president@sfugradsociety.ca and also contact their caucus reps to find out why the question was changed.

Vote NO to discontinuing funding from the Peak!