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Monday
Sep092013

Keeping religion (and atheism) in the public schools

By Don Hutchinson

I quite enjoy reading Chris Selley’s writing because he makes me think. That’s what good writing is supposed to do. Thinking, however, doesn’t necessarily result in agreement.

Mr. Selley’s September 5 commentary Keeping religions (and atheism) out of public schools is precisely the kind of reasoning one would expect from a self-declared atheist, even one who is “emphatically not of the First Evangelical Church of Atheism” as Selley states. His bias is cleverly disguised (perhaps even to himself) as neutrality, when in fact he proposes to score a win in the public schools for atheism. Let me explain.

Suppose four friends decide to go out for dinner together. The first asserts that he would like Chinese food. The second, that she wants Pad Thai. The third wants a burger with fries. And, the fourth notes that having had a large lunch, she’s not hungry and desires nothing for dinner. If dinner plans are cancelled and the four still get together for the evening then it is not a neutral outcome but rather favours the fourth diner who wanted nothing. A neutral decision would be a fifth option. An accommodation of all perspectives might be dinner at the food court.

The food court is the public square. In Canada’s free and democratic society, the public square is the place of interaction between all. Students who are sheltered from the reality that 2/3 of the world (and over 3/4 of Canadians) are religious, while the other 1/3 of the world accepts ideologies such as communism, atheism or fascism are ill prepared for life in the real world, or even life in their classrooms.

For democracy to thrive, the public square has to be open and children need to be exposed to it in the classroom as part of their civics preparation experience. At issue is being age appropriate.

While I disagree with the end result in Quebec, where a government mandated form of instruction devalues religion, I agree with the concept of the controversial Ethics and Religion in Culture curriculum. The goal of equipping children to function in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world is laudable. The idea that children should be isolated from that in the school setting is indicative of accepting the atheist/secularist position that there should be no religious expression in the public square and thus beginning that education in the public school system.

As has been experienced across the nation,  classroom requirements and regulations that begin in the public system  work their way into the publicly funded religious schools – the separate school system in Ontario (remember the separate school funds are collected based on declaration by taxpayers so there is no burden on the tax system) and publicly funded religious schools in other provinces (with taxes again collected based on declaration). Publicly collected funds soon become no barrier as recent education initiatives in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. and others have demonstrated, so that eventually the privately funded religious schools meet with the same requirements.

Mr. Selley’s argument is brilliant if one wishes to achieve the ends of teaching children that faith based reasoning does not belong in the public school or the public square, symbols of religions should not be seen in public and differences between people that may be based on religious or ideological beliefs should not be tolerated. Not so much if you want children who can function in a world where acceptance of difference is to be fostered without requiring agreement or conformity.

The very fact that the District School Board of Niagara was permitting the distribution of religious texts only with parental permission underscores Mr. Selley’s point that religious instruction is for the home and place of worship, but preparation for the world in which we live is part of what the school system is about. Exclusion of the religious from that context is not a neutral decision. It’s challenging our children to feast on nothing rather than learn to appreciate one another.

Tuesday
Sep032013

Friday, Sept 6: A Day of Prayer and Fasting for the National Euthanasia Debate

By Faye Sonier

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada encourages its friends, affiliates and all Canadian evangelicals to join with Christians across the country for a day of prayer and fasting.

This national day of prayer is taking place on Friday, September 6th, in recognition of the Quebec government’s legislative proposal to legalize euthanasia.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently illegal in Canada, as both actions are proscribed in our Criminal Code as homicide. In a weakly veiled attempt to circumvent federal law, and existing Supreme Court of Canada decisions that affirm the constitutionality of the federal prohibition on these behaviours, the government of Quebec introduced legislation in June 2013 to authorize euthanasia under the guise of “health care.” Under our constitution, criminal law is federal jurisdiction, but health care is provincial jurisdiction.

When the issue was most recently presented to Members of Parliament for consideration and a vote, legalization of the practices was resoundingly rejected. In 2008, MP Francine Lalonde introduced Bill C-384 which sought to amend the Criminal Code to remove the prohibitions against euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Bill was defeated 228 to 59 in the House of Commons.

Despite the obvious issues related to proper jurisdiction, constitutionality, binding precedent and democracy, the government of Quebec has decided to push the issue forward.

Quebec’s Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, would require all hospitals and healthcare facilities (including hospices, senior citizen’s residences and similar facilities operated by Christian and other faith based organizations) to euthanize citizens possessing Quebec healthcare upon request, provided certain arguably vague criteria are met.

To obfuscate its intentions and to make the idea of euthanizing its citizens more palatable to the general public, the government plays word games in Bill 52. It defines “end of life” care as “palliative care provided to persons at the end of their lives,” which encompasses “terminal palliative sedation” and “medical aid in dying,” both of which are forms of euthanasia. 

This position is not consistent with the global palliative care movement’s understanding of palliative care.  Palliative care by definition cannot be used to end lives. The government of Quebec’s reframing of palliative care contradicts the World Health Organization’s internationally accepted definition.

The Bill’s use of the term “terminal palliative sedation” is confusing as it is not defined in the Bill. Though the term seems self-explanatory, its use is intended to make euthanasia more palatable to the public by removing the negative connotations associated with the word “euthanasia” and by adding “terminal palliative sedation” to the continuum of currently accepted medical treatment as an extension of palliative sedation, which is currently accepted and practiced for pain management.

The Bill’s clearly intended primary purpose is to establish the right to ending-of-life procedures to be administered by doctors and nurses across the province of Quebec. It does so by adding euthanasia (illegal) to the classification of palliative care (legal) in an effort to merge the two as medical care. It also uses a clever attempt at new terminology (“terminal palliative sedation” and “medical aid in dying”) in an effort to evade Criminal Code liability, as neither expression appears in the Criminal Code and thus are not explicitly prohibited.

Why is this a problem? If a person wants to die and not have their life unnecessarily prolonged, isn’t it a merciful act to end their lives?

In Canada, patients have a right to withdraw consent from treatment, and receive pain alleviating medication in order to die a natural death. Palliative sedation, which is used in cases where pain or symptoms cannot be managed by other means, is also legal.

Compassion is not killing the patient. Compassion is loving the patient, walking with them through their last days, and providing them with the care and support to ease and alleviate the pain and suffering.

In short, the decriminalization of euthanasia requires the societal acceptance of consensual killing and the establishment of a legal obligation on one party to kill another, as is seen in Bill 52. This new obligation would irrevocably change Canadian law’s life-affirming ethos. Our law would indirectly endorse murder and private killings between its citizens. And, Canadians under medical care – in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes – will have just cause to wonder whether the next step is freeing up their bed for someone healthier or better able to pay the bills – at least that’s how similar provisions have devolved in other countries.

This is a matter that concerns all Canadians, not simply those who live in Quebec. Should Quebec pass the law, and the federal government fail to intervene in order to uphold its Criminal Code prohibitions, it won’t be long before other provinces propose similar legislation.

For more information on euthanasia and assisted suicide, please visit www.theEFC.ca/euthanasia. The EFC will also be releasing a detailed analysis of Bill 52 in the coming days.

Please encourage your prayer groups and congregations to join us in prayer this Friday.

Wednesday
Aug282013

Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.

By Don Hutchinson

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

On this the 50th anniversary of the speech containing these words having been delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there are several ceremonies of reflection planned. I remember watching a grainy black and white film of the 47 minute “I have a dream” speech when I was in high school. It was inspirational to watch what has been described as the greatest speech of the 20th century, to hear the intonation in the voice of the speaker and experience the rise and fall of the emotional response of the 250,000 gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.

It was also inspirational in the sense that the there was an evident divine influence – The Holy Spirit – on the words spoken by the preacher and civil rights leader. I was not a Christian at the time I first saw the grainy film, but I was inspired by the man of God – the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister who earned his Ph. D. at Boston University, a campus I had the pleasure of visiting a few short weeks ago. While the National Mall in Washington now bears a memorial opened in August 2011 – King is the first non-president so honoured – Boston University also has a memorial, the Free At Last sculpture standing outside the Marsh Chapel at the geographic centre of the BU campus, the school of theology where King studied.

Free at last. These words were among many that introduced King’s comments on the dream of equality for every man, woman and child; a dream rooted deep in his faith and his love of people and country.

A few years earlier and a little farther North another Baptist, Canadian Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, spoke words of freedom similarly inspiring a key step in Canada’s journey of human rights. "The Chief," as he was known, spoke the words on July 1, 1960 in the House of Commons when introducing The Canadian Bill of Rights (a copy of which he gave to my father and now hangs in my office):

I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.

Today, in 21st century North America we are privileged to experience freedoms that are the envy of the world. But, are we free?

A few years ago in Quebec, legislation was introduced requiring religion be described in the same category as mythology when taught – even in religious schools – and now there is a government proposal to prohibit civil servants from wearing religious symbols or clothing. In several provinces across the country civil servants who perform wedding ceremonies are prohibited from being so employed if their religious convictions allow them only to serve the 97% of couples marrying who are engaging in a one man one woman marriage. In Ontario, the government has passed legislation mandating that Roman Catholic schools provide gay-straight alliance clubs, even though they already offered clubs to seek support for diversity in the student population; and, atheists argue that religious texts should not be available for free distribution in the schools (with parental consent).

A friend of mine uses the illustration of a group of people trying to decide what to do. Let’s consider that in the context of an evening together. One might suggest going for dinner and another to a movie, while a third that perhaps just a walk in the cool of the day would be nice. The fourth friend rejects all proposals and suggests they do nothing. But is doing nothing a neutral solution? Not if it is the preferred option of one of the four. The neutral solution would be a fifth activity that all agree on.  Another alternative would be for each do what they prefer – not necessarily a neutral solution for an evening together but that would be freedom!

Freedom encourages people to wear their religious symbols and clothing as part of the mosaic in a free and democratic society. Freedom permits the religious to serve alongside the non-religious in the civil service, making accommodation for the needs of each and ensuring provision of service for the public. Freedom recognizes that teaching in a religious school will be from a religious perspective, but the concepts of reading, writing, arithmetic and participating in the civil life of society may all be taught and reinforced without the opinion of one being forced on another.

Freedom would even permit a person to speak openly about his motivation for civil rights activism or seeking public office to be from inspiration, i.e. rooted in his faith. How welcoming would a contemporary public square crowd be of a Baptist minister – like Dr. King – or an openly Baptist Prime Minister – like Mr. Diefenbaker?

When we exclude one for fear of offending another we encourage neither tolerance nor freedom but enforce a new bigotry. Like the old bigotry it is directed at those who look different, speak different or believe different than those who hold the reins of power.  

I have a dream that one day we will be free at last; free to speak without fear, each free to worship God in our own way – sharing together in what our constitution guarantees as a "free and democratic society."

Thursday
Jul182013

Fighting to Keep our Elected Representatives Accountable

By Faye Sonier

This morning, pro-life blogger Pat Maloney announced that she’s taking the Government of Ontario to court over its suppression of abortion data.

In January 2012, the Ontario government quietly passed an amendment to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). As a result of the amendment individuals are no longer being permitted to make access to information requests for data related to the provision of abortion services.

But did the amendment intend that no information – not even generalized, non-identifying data – could be released?

The legal community was confused. A number of lawyers and law firms released commentary stating that the amendment likely applied to hospital records but not aggregate Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) billing records. However, if it didn’t apply to OHIP billing records, it would still be possible to determine how many abortions were paid for by Ontario tax-payers.

This kind of data is invaluable. In 2010, it’s estimated that over $30 million was spent on government funded abortions in Ontario. That’s no small chunk of change. Tax-payers have a right to know that.

Citizen access to government information is a basic democratic principle. As Moira Patterson, a professor of freedom of information and privacy law has said, “Governments everywhere have a natural inclination towards secrecy. However, in a genuinely democratic society access to information is necessary for the 'open debate, discussion, criticism and dissent, which are regarded as central to the making of 'informed and considered choices.” Our ability to exercise our democratic rights and responsibilities are effectively void without access to information. It’s for these reasons that journalists frequently make freedom of information requests; to find out what our government is doing and how much it is spending doing it.

Without this data, as Maloney states in her press release, how are Ontarians, particularly organizations such as youth and women’s health groups, going to monitor trends and determine if government or non-profit programming is effective? If a group launches a provincial safe-sex program, without abortion data, how will it assess if the program was effective? Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to re-introduce what some consider a radical sex-education program. How will Ontarians determine if that is tax-dollars well spent? There is no way to know if such a program would cut the rate of teen abortions or spike them if the government hides the data.

Interestingly, without even knowing the amendment had been made to the law, Maloney made a simple access to information request for some generalized OHIP billing information. She wasn’t seeking names of patients or doctors, or the identity of hospitals that provide abortions. She just wanted the numbers and statistics that are generally available for all medical procedures performed in the province. This is something that Maloney has been doing for years. This time, the Ministry of Health came back and refused to provide the information based on this new amendment to FIPPA. Maloney broke the story on her blog and it became a national issue.

So now Maloney has to invest significant time, money and resources to fight this fight. It’s a fight to ensure that Ontarians can keep their provincial representatives accountable on health care costs and programming. And this isn’t just Maloney’s fight. This is a fight for all Ontarians.

Are we comfortable with the government deciding what information we can and can’t access about their activities and funding? If we’re comfortable with one $30 million a year restriction, what’s next?

What Ontario’s government did to restrict otherwise generally available data from its citizens is unthinkable and arrogant. It tells me that they don’t think the people who elected them are entitled to know how their tax dollars are being spent or if government programing is effective. Frankly, passing this amendment was a condescending move. Hats off to Maloney for taking the government on.

__________________________________

For more information about abortion data suppression in Ontario, download a copy of EFC's report Black Holes: Canada's Missing Abortion Data. It clearly and concisely explains how abortion data is collected in Canada, and how the Ontario government has restricted the release of data to its citizens.

For details on Maloney's case, visit this blog page, where she has included links to relevant documents, including her legal submissions. This morning's press release is available here.

Monday
Jun242013

The Case Against Legalized Prostitution

This article was originally published at lawdiva.wordpress.com Barrister

Guest Blogger: Georgialee Lang is a lawyer who recently presented the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford case in which Canada's prostitution laws were being challenged.

 

Prostitution is a practice that arises from the historical subordination of women and the accompanying patriarchal right of men to buy and exchange women as objects for sexual use.

Canadians embrace and respect the worth and dignity of every person and our Courts have confirmed that respect for human dignity is an underlying principle upon which Canada is based. However, the practice of prostitution is an assault on human dignity.

In 1949 Canada signed the United Nations Convention to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons which included this statement:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons
for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of
persons and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

While Canada has chosen not to criminalize prostitution itself, our criminal law provides that communication for the purpose of soliciting, living off the avails, and common bawdy houses or brothels are illegal.

The argument to legalize these prostitution offences is based on the notion that, if legal, women will be safer; they will be able to communicate and screen their potential customers; they will be able to hire bodyguards and assistants; and they will move from street soliciting to brothels, which are safer.

The trouble with their argument is that countries that have legalized prostitution for those same reasons have learned the hard way that the gains they hoped to achieve for women in prostitution have been illusory.

The best example is the State of Victoria, Australia, home to capital city Melbourne, where prostitution was legalized in the 1980′s in order to minimize harm to prostitutes.

Their worthy goal was to eradicate the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion of the practice and combat violence against prostitutes.

Instead, according to noted expert and social scientist Dr. Janice Raymond and others working in the field, legalization led to a massive expansion of prostitution, where ironically, the growth was mainly in the illegal sector where unlicensed brothels proliferated.

The legalization of brothels did not empower women to work as independent businesswomen in their own organized brothels because, not unexpectedly, large brothel operators dominated the brothel industry making it difficult for individual prostitutes or even small groups of women to compete against the huge money and marketing of commercial brothels.

Street prostitution did not disappear simply because women who work outside have a host of social problems including homelessness, addictions, are under-age, or are unwilling to register with the government. Women in these situations were not able to be employed by brothels by the nature of their lifestyle.

The law, while intending to eliminate organized crime, brought with it an explosion of human trafficking by international crime syndicates. Finally, the legalization of brothels legitimized pimps and procurers as business men.

While prostitution will always be with us, do we want our streets, not just the back alleys, to be strolls for working girls, who can linger as long as they choose when the communication law is struck? Do we want our neighbouring homes and apartments to be commercial legal brothels? Do we want to change the social fabric of Canada by endorsing prostitution?

You ask if there is a solution? Many are recommending the approach taken by Sweden where their legislators recognized that prostitution causes serious harm to individuals and society as a whole, that it is associated with crime, violence, and human trafficking, but that at its core it is the victimization and oppression of women.

The Swedish model criminalizes the purchaser of sexual services, but not the women who engage in prostitution. The government reports that street prostitution has been reduced by 50%, but more importantly, the practice of prostitution is not condoned and is seen for what it is: a form of violence against women.

 

 

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