Tag Archives: freedom of expression

Humanist International’s 2020 Freedom of Thought Report

On December 10, 2020 Humanists International re-launched the Freedom of Thought Report as an updated document. The document has been in continuous development and circulation since 2012 as a monitor of the rights and treatment of humanists, atheists and non-religious people in every country in the world.

The report contains an entry for every country in the world and uses a unique rating system ranging from “Fee and Equal” to”Grave Violations”. Canada’s rating overview states:

Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy, extending north into the Arctic Ocean, and sharing the world’s longest land border with the United States. Despite what should be strong constitutional protections for freedom of thought and expression, significant religious privileges are in force, both nationally and in several of its ten provinces and three territories.

Of particular interest to humanistfreedoms.com is the report’s sections covering Quebec’s Bill C-21, education in Canada, and blasphemy & hate speech. Our readers will recall that this site was partially inspired by Dr. Richard Thain’s fight to defend his right to free expression when he attempted to advertise his opposition to the public funding of Catholic school boards in Ontario.

In this year, when speaking publicly about controversial issues has become a notably riskier endeavour, the need to support individuals and organizations who actively defend humanist freedoms has grown enormously.

Consider Humanist International’s Humanists At Risk Action Report 2020, which exposes a lack of separation between state and religion, as well as an array of tactics used against humanists, atheists and non-religious people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka to limit their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. No other organization may be relied upon to devote a significant portion of its time to defending humanist freedoms.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://humanists.international/
  2. https://humanists.international/2020/06/growing-evidence-of-worsening-persecution-targeting-the-non-religious-around-the-world-new-report-reveals/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Open Letter to Algeria’s Ambassador To Canada

It is difficult to know for certain whether letters to our politicians and government officials will have an effect. Do you expect that a letter to your city or town Councillor be read and taken seriously? How about your Member of Provincial Parliament? Federal MP? Every bureaucratic layer, every mile from home can seem to shrink the probabilities.

What about writing a letter to dignitaries from foreign countries? Do you think you would be heard? But if the subject were important enough to you, would you still do it?

We imagine that these are some of the questions that ran through Dr. Richard Thain’s mind some weeks ago as he composed and sent a letter (an abridged version provided below) to members of the Algerian government. In his letter, Thain called for the release of Yacine Mebarki, a vocal member that country’s Berber minority who has been involved in the long-running Hirak protest movement. Mebarki had been imprisoned for “profaning Islam” (blasphemy, by a slightly different turn of phrase), encouraging a Muslim to leave the religion as well as several other charges.


Dear Ambassador Meghar
,

My name is Richard Thain. As a Canadian citizen, I have the power and the freedom to publicly communicate my perspectives, whether on political, religious or other public matters. I decide who I wish to engage in civil and civic dialog.

On those grounds, I intend to respectfully express my deep concern over the Algerian Court’s decision to find Yacine Mebarki guilty and sentence him to ten years of imprisonment. This decision is the latest of an extremely disturbing pattern in Algeria which is being covered in the international news media. The jailing of journalist Khaled Drareni provides another outrageous example. The world has learned, from Algeria’s National Committee for the Release of Detainees that over five dozen people have been incarcerated in your country, for merely holding unpopular opinions. Journalism is not a crime.

I respectfully direct your attention to the press release, issued on Thursday, September 8, by the Algerian League for the Defence of the Human Rights which “underlines the guarantees in the national law, notably the Constitution and the international conventions ratified by Algeria, in particular the respect for freedom of conscience and opinion.”

I urge you to inform President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Prime-Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati that many Canadians are appalled by events in Algeria. I urge you to advise the Government of Algeria to immediately release Yacine Mebarki and all prisoners of conscience in Algeria!

Ambassador, there is no-one better positioned or informed than you to recognize that it is of the utmost importance and in the best interests of the Government of Algeria and the Citizens of Algeria that these unconscionable matters be corrected. Help your government to bring the Citizens of Algeria and the Citizens of Canada together by ensuring shared individual freedoms, rights and powers. It is within your power to decide to act or not to act in the interests of Algerians.

Thank you for your time and prompt attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Richard G L Thain

You may read a version of Thain’s letter on EAP (en francais). It is our understanding that Thain has not yet received a reply to his letter. But that doesn’t mean that the Algerian government and courts have ignore Mebarki’s case.

We may also imagine the tremendous satisfaction and enthusiasm that Dr. Thain may have felt to read today, as reported on France24, that Algeria’s ” court reduced Mebarki’s prison term from 10 years to one after upholding convictions including “offending the precepts of (Islam)”, but overturning others with heavier sentences including “profaning the Koran”.

Whether Dr. Thain’s letter reached eyes of influential officials in Algeria or not should not reduce any satisfaction Dr. Thain may feel either for his correspondence or for the news for Mebarki. When it comes to the freedom of expression, it is not merely holding the value that is important, it is utilizing that freedom to express one’s opinion even in situations where one has every reason to expect not to be heard.

Dr. Thain encountered his own concerns with freedom of expression, government officials and religious privilege in 2014 when he attempted to publish advertisements objecting to the public funding of Catholic Schools systems in Canada during the launch of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

While it may be difficult to know whether our dignified and civilized protestations will be heard, that does not diminish our need to make them.


You may also be interested in Wole Soyinka’s open letter calling for the release of Mubarak Bala.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of
  2. https://www.editionap.ca/actualites–news/lettres–letters-d0125757f52f1f19bf41a22066d4bf13actualites–news/liberez-le-defenseur-des-droits-humains-et-militant-laic-yacine-mebarki-d2d4ef51505273408e7035cde3a90d08
  3. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20201125-algeria-slashes-activist-s-jail-term-for-offending-islam
  4. https://www.barrons.com/news/algeria-slashes-activist-s-jail-term-for-offending-islam-lawyer-01606307405
  5. https://al-bab.com/blog/2020/10/missing-page-quran-lands-algerian-jail

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Book Review: There is No Difference by Peter Best

According to the back cover of his book and his website, Peter Best is “a lawyer who has practiced law in Sudbury, Ontario for 43 years. Raised in nearby Espanola, favored with lifelong personal and professional relationships with indigenous Canadians, he brings a personal, literary and historical perspective to the greatest social crisis experienced by Canada today- the perilous state of its original peoples.”

What is the book? The long-form version of the title probably acts as the best summary of its contents: There Is No Difference: An Argument for the Abolition of the Indian Reserve System and Special Race-based Laws and Entitlements for Canada’s Indians. In a regular book review, we might investigate the overt arguments and contents of the book. Certainly the title contains enough potential for drama and controversy to whet almost any intellectual appetite. But that’s not what we’re going to do here. What we’re going to do, instead is feature, an underlying theme presented by Mr. Best.

On page three, he writes that when he was growing up in Espanola, “there was a sense that old religious and ethnic prejudices were hollowing out and being overcome, and that increasing social unity and equality was happening.” It is the first of many hints (and outright declarations) of an underlying theme of humanism to be found in the book. This is what we will consider.

How many books are currently published with an overt declaration of humanism or humanist values? More specifically, how many books are written about contemporary issues wherein humanist-based positions are asserted, explained, referenced and documented? These aren’t questions with precise answers. These are startled observations of an avid reader. I haven’t seen humanism asserted and affirmed so clearly and frequently in a long time. Water for the thirsty.

On page seven, Best writes…”the humanist assumptions were ones that emanated from the confident, busy, properous people we were then. They seemed to be shared by everyone, right to the political and economic top of the country. They highlighted what a civilized, progressive, ‘ideals in action’ society Canada was becoming.

The book is written as a series of essays which, across 700+ pages, delves the matter outlined in the title in pains-taking detail. Frequently Best grapples head-on with various ideologies and asserts arguments and positions contrary to those from Canadian intellectual and political “elites” (Best’s term). The book is thoroughly referenced and widely sourced. The overall theme is that “somewhere along the way, liberal, humanist aspirations once common to our entire country have ceded to various forms of petty and chauvinistic ideological tribalisms and, with respect to our Indian peoples, to actual racial tribalism.”

And then again, Best asserts that he believes “that the vast majority of Canadians profoundly disagree with this trend towards further legal and social racial apartness between Indian and non-Indian Canadians. They want our humanist values – with their emphasis on equality and the rights of the individual over the rights of any racial group – respected, maintained and promulgated in all areas of society….why this rejection of 200 years of enlightenment thinking?

The point to be made is not that all of Best’s arguments represent a clear, consistent and authoritative humanist approach to the topic. It seems highly unlikely, not to mention undesirable, that a singular humanist outlook should be asserted on any substantive matter. Nor should this article be read as an endorsement of every argument Best makes. Instead, Best is here approved on the basis of making an attempt to present a considered humanist-principled perspective on a hot and fraught topic.

Best makes an argument about his chosen subject that may be stated about any number of contemporary issues: “this issue is being driven and dictated by…a minority elitist theory of democracy, where on an issue of this importance the majority is being asked for and being offered no say.

Peter Best has asserted his version of a humanist-informed opinion. More humanists need to step forward to assert similarly cogent humanist perspectives on whatever contemporary issue seems to require the attention.

Dr. Richard Thain Versus

We consider this matter closed.

On September 20, 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was opened to the public. Located in the City of Winnipeg, one of the Museum’s guiding principles is to inspire human rights, reflection and dialogue. It is a principle that ought, perhaps, to have been given closer attention when Dr. Richard Thain was advised that his interest to place a series of advertisements on the City of Winnipeg’s buses was rejected.

Dr. Thain had planned to advertise his opposition to the public funding of Catholic school systems in Canada. His idea was to leverage local and national media coverage of the museum’s grand opening to bring attention to his position on this issue. Thain worked with a professional advertising designer to develop a series of simple and elegant bus-ads. The theme of the ads was that the system of public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario is a human rights disgrace. The ads contained no images, words or phrases that could reasonably be considered offensive. The only contained a message that some people might disagree with.

Thain grounded his views with a position taken in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee when indicating that the provision of funding to Catholic school systems while simultaneously denying it to all other religious groups is discriminatory. Thain hoped to inspire intelligent, reasonable public discourse on this long-standing issue.

Thain contacted Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the firm responsible for the management of the City of Winnipeg’s bus advertising at the time, to gain access to advertising space. During the back-and-forth of price negotiations and content review, he began to understand that that some of the “higher-ups” did not agree with his views and planned to put an end to his campaign. It was then that he received a letter advising that his ads would not appear via the Winnipeg Transit system and that he would not be provided an explanation of why his ads had been blocked. No one from the City of Winnipeg called him as he had requested.

Thain says that he received a letter from the City of Winnipeg’s agent, one of Canada’s most powerful and influential advertising agencies, that contained a five-word sentence which altered his view of human rights in ways that he could not have imagined. The sentence read, “We consider this matter closed.”

No dialogue. No reflection. No right to self-expression.

Thain’s initial shock soon passed and he was struck by the need to confront a deep and worrisome dilemma. What do you when authorities tell you to go away? How do you fight City Hall? Thain decided that the matter was not closed. He decided to sue the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising.

In the summer of 2017, Thain procured Winnipeg-based legal counsel, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP to represent him in his response. Thain believes that he has been denied his charter right to freedom of expression. and has launched a legal suit against the City of Winnipeg and Pattison Outdoor Advertising.  The parties in the suite are set for an examination for discovery on January 30 & 31. 2020 – 62 months since the attempted advertising campaign. An examination for discovery process is intended to help all parties in a law suit find out about the other side’s case. Generally the idea is for each party to find out what the other parties have to say about the matters contained in the lawsuit, to see whether there are areas of agreement and to try to obtain admissions which could be used during a trial.

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