In September of 2022, HumanistFreedoms.com shared information about Humanists International‘s expression of deep concern regarding what it has called “the judicial harassment of poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai” and regarding Humanist Ottawa’s subsequent letter to the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou.
Manimekalai, who has previously identified as bi-sexual, had been selected to produce a creative piece on multiculturalism in Canada as part of the national level academic programme ‘Under the Tent’ organized by CERC Migration – Toronto Metropolitan University. The film, ‘Kaali’ was launched at the Aga Khan Museum on July 2, 2022.
Soon the inevitable occurred. As the film came to the wider attention, some people were offended and began to express outrage and hate. This controversy led TMU and the Aga Khan Museum to pull Manimekalai’s film and to apologize to any (essentially anonymous) offended parties.
Richard Dowsett, HAT spokesperson was one of the scheduled speakers and delivered a “wonderful and incisive statement” which received enthusiastic applause. News of Dowsett’s reception at the event was shared with us by another humanist named Richard who was in attendance – Richard Thain.
It is a pleasure to join you for this important event. I was just invited a few minutes ago to say a few words, so I don’t have a prepared statement, but I don’t need a prepared statement to tell you, simply from my heart, how proud I am to stand here, with all of you, ( with a gentle wave toward the audience) in support Leena Manimekalai. And I don’t need a prepared speech to tell you, Leena, how strongly we support artistic freedom and how much we, at Humanist Ottawa, admire your creativity and perseverance, in the face of adversity. (audience actually applauded several times).
As an historical aside, in 1954, the Humanist Fellowship of Montréal was founded by a man originally from India, Dr R K Mishra, a professor at Universite de Montréal. This became one of the founding groups of the Humanist Association of Canada in 1968 (now Humanist Canada).
I drove here from Ottawa, not only to support Leena, but also to oppose those people who have given-in to the “Heckler’s Veto.” People who should know better!
Our Humanist Ottawa president, Robert Hamilton, could not be here this evening, as he is presently out of the country, but he sends his warm greetings and support.
Thain also read Humanist Ottawa’s letter to TMU and the leadership of The CERC in Migration and Integration.
According to BlogTO and other mainstream media outlets, the “sold-outevent, which also featured another of the creative’s films, was sponsored by the Centre for Free Expression, PEN Canada, the Poetic Justice Foundation and other champions of free speech and creative expression as a protest against censorship.“
HumanistFreedoms.com congratulates Leena Manimekalai for courage and creativity and all of the individual and organizational supporterswho didn’t leave as unchallenged the censors and the un-named (and therefore un-identifiable) offended attempt to stifle the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.
HumanistFreedoms.com is proud to have reported the activism of a dedicated humanist in organizing the first Russell Township Pride Week flag-raising ceremony in 2021.
During this year’s celebration, Dr. Richard Thain, one of the event’s organizers said he was proud to take some time to “stop and reflect about things which are important to us: community, inclusion and renewal.“
Two of Russell Township’s Councillors (Cindy Saucier and Mike Tarnowski) were in attencance. As was the Township’s mayor, His Worship Pierre Leroux who delivered a welcoming speech.
Other speakers included a local mother of two gay sons, and a high-school student who explained how in some local schools, 2SLGBQTQ+ students do not feel that they receive acceptance and support from the school administration.
Key organizers of the bi-lingual event included the KIN Club of Russell as well as Geneviève and Réjeanne Thain. Kinship, care and the passing of compassionate values from one generation to the next was clearly a theme of the activity. Geneviève commented that “…selon Statistique Canada, en 2018, les Canadiens de minorité sexuelle étaient deux fois plus susceptibles de déclarer avoir été victimes de comportements inappropriés en public, en ligne ou au travail. N’oublions pas que l’article premier de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme stipule que « tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits.“
According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, sexual minority Canadians were twice as likely to report experiencing inappropriate behavior in public, online or at work. Let us not forget that article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
A highlight of the event was the performance of Lara Fabian’s La Différence by local singer, Lise Dazé and a brief presentation by Mme Denise Latulippe.
In 2022, human rights and the warm inclusion of all people in our community remains both one of our most fundamental of Canadian values – but also something that individual and collective Canadians should take time to reflect on and contribute to in a meaningful way. There are so many wonderful communities throughout the country and all of them can only be enriched when their members take time to care for one another.
Well done to all those who gathered on a warm August day to remember where we’ve been, where we are and where we wish to go with UNIVERSAL human rights.
In August of 2021, the Board of Directors of the former Ryerson University voted to change the name of the institution due to (as one CBC story phrases it) concerns about the man the institution is named for and his links to Canada’s residential schools.
According to www.ryerson.ca, “Names matter. They tell the world who we are and what we stand for. They communicate ideas, values and aspirations. They speak to the future even as they acknowledge the past. A new name offers an invitation to be more inclusive, to imagine novel ways of thinking and creating — to open ourselves to new possibilities. This is a new chapter for our university, informed by the pages that come before but open to the opportunities that lie ahead. Now is a time to recommit to the values that define us, to invite our community to gather around our shared mission and to shape a future in which everyone belongs.” So Ryerson University is now the Toronto Metropolitan University where “It’s the many collisions between peoples and perspectives that take place in a metropolitan setting that drive innovation. As such, our name is as much a marker of location as it is a statement of identity, one that’s befitting of a thoroughly urban university.” Collisions? OK. We can take that as food for thought.
Since questions of a dead legislator’s legacy is not only fair game for consideration (Ryerson/TMU has a 131-page document examining the life and legacy of their former namesake), it is the inspiration for baseball bats and crowbars to be taken to statuary (per featured image), perhaps it is reasonable and even to-be-encouraged that all areas of that legislator’s legacy be examined.
Consider, for example the Common School Act of 1850. As spacing.ca explains it: “The Common School Act of 1850 set into law what was already being practised (sic) by local communities throughout Ontario. The act permitted any group of five Black families to ask local school trustees to establish a separate school. The law also permitted the creation of separate schools for Roman Catholic and Protestant families.”
Here in 2022, as ideas of how to implement contemporary values of diversity and inclusivity collide with the legacy institutions, it seems odd that those who are concerned with updating our systems to reflect the values of the present and our aspirations for the future haven’t decided that a certain elephant in the room needs to be addressed. The public funding of Catholic school boards in Ontario is the single largest and least supportable example of segregation and systemic faith-based discrimination (faithism) in Canada.
By all means, let us rename, rebrand, renew. A better, more diverse and inclusive future is waiting.
The concept of systemic faithism may not be familiar to HumanistFreedoms.com readers, so as a kind of preamble to the focus of this article, consider this definition of systemic faithism as presented by the Government of Ontario’s own Ontario Human Rights Commission presented in its 2013 Human Rights and Creed Research and Consultation Report.:
Systemic faithism refers to the ways that cultural and societal norms, systems, structures and institutions directly or indirectly, consciously or unwittingly, promote, sustain or entrench differential (dis)advantage for individuals and groups based on their faith (understood broadly to include religious and non-religious belief systems). Systemic faithism can adversely affect both religious and non-religious persons, depending on the context, as discussed in the examples below. Some forms of systemic faithism can be actionable under the Code (e.g. those amounting to “systemic discrimination”), while others may not be (e.g. those taking broader cultural or societal forms). This section looks more closely at two dominant forms of systemic faithism in the current era, flowing from the “residually Christian” structuring of public culture and institutions, and from “closed secular” ideology and practice...Among the most obvious examples of residual Christianity in Ontario…public funding in Ontario of Roman Catholic separate schools, but not other religion-based schools.
How is it that a provincial government is able to simultaneously identify, define and detail a form of systemic discrimination and continuously defend and perpetuate the abuse? It’s a puzzler.
The authors of upsetting.ca have decided to do their best to explore and communicate the lengthy and, well as the website says – upsetting history of ongoing privileging of a particular community within the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan (a bit of rough math reveals that roughly half of all Canadians live in a jurisdiction that continues to ensconce and fund a major form of systemic discrimination).
Upsetting’s authors make their position clear: On the practical side, the Ontario public has never sanctioned the public funding of separate school systems for Roman Catholic citizens, just politicians. The RC school systems (French & English) were foisted upon Ontario through two dictatorial moves by politicians. Skullduggery (trickery, dishonesty) in the highest places has maintained them. Each post in this series will tell a different story in order to reveal all the events and the characters associated with them. Posts will be every Sunday evening, Tuesday evening, and Thursday evening for several weeks.
Perhaps you’re interested to investigate systemic faithism from a distinctly different angle? Have a listen to a podcastfrom York University’s Critical Spirituality in Leadership who say that they recognize that “neutral” or “secular” views often privilege agnostic or atheist traditions and worldviews (Ontario Human Rights Commission, n.d.) and are “residually and normatively Christian” (Seljak et. al, 2008). This leads to systemic faithism.. we consider Seljak et. al’s (2008) analysis of the close connections between religion, ethnicity and race in the Ontario context and caution that Christian privilege can result in anti-religious sentiment, ethno-religious alienation, polarization, and alienation, rooted in the belief that religious practices and identities are incompatible with Canadian identity and citizenship (OHRC, n.d.). This encourages the creation of religious “ghettoes” that may lead to religious radicalization and disengagement from Canadian public life (OHRC, n.d.). We heed Butler’s (2000) warning that spirituality may be commodified in modern schooling, reducing it to individual approaches instead of situating it in larger contexts of social struggle.
On Saturday, August 21, 2021 , local residents and community leaders of Russell Township gathered at the Township Hall to raise a flag in celebration of Pride Week. You may find a link to a video of the activity in the references of this article.
A modest flag raising in mostly rural Eastern-Ontario community may not seem like an attention-getting activity. After all, it is 2021 and a celebration of inclusive community values seems as though it ought to be de rigueur. Other terms that one might think to apply might include routine, banal, standard or even expected.
But it’s not.
Given the unprecedented changes in how individuals and groups have been able to navigate their communities since the global COVID 19 crisis has quite literally locked-down communities and nations, even the question of a flag-raising event entailed significant questions and potential barriers. Can we even hold a flag-raising even in pandemic-lockded-down world?
It took the action of an activist humanist to gather their own personal motivation and energy to reach out to family, friends and community leaders to make it happen. Raising a flag to celebrate inclusive community values still requires commitment and effort.
HumanistFreedoms.com became aware of the flag raising about mid-way through August when Dr. Richard Thain , a long-standing and much respected member of the Canadian secular humanist community, brought to our attention his plan to make the event happen. Using his typically warm, affable and engaging charisma – Dr. Thain inquired about an opportunity to chat about the project. Chat, we did.
Soon after, Thain had engaged the support and assistance of the KIN Club Of Russell, his daughter Geneviève Thain, as well as other community members to organize a celebration that ought to have been an expected, standard or routine activity of the municipality. Of every municipality.
The bi-lingual event began with opening comments by the Co-Ceremony Masters, Richard and Geneviève:
…. proud to welcome you, all the dignitaries, the Russell township’s Community, diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, my family, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens and all of you who are viewing this around the world from the Kin Club of Russell’s live-stream on Facebook, to this flag-raising ceremony as we gather for this celebration of love and compassion.
It is fitting that we think about unity and about community today. Over the past seventeen to eighteen months, we have seen how events, beyond our control, such as a virus, can separate and isolate us from our communities.
Today, we are moved and honoured – in a word, proud – to have a renewed opportunity to come together with new understanding, new unities and renewed pride in our inclusive community.
We all know that there are those who may disagree on any given issue. Whether it be those who stand in the way of advances in women’s reproductive rights, medical aid in dying… or, indeed, the full realization of fundamental human rights for all marginalized persons in our community – there seem to be infinite ways and motives to divide communities. We are here today to remember historical wrongs and tragedies for Canadians who self-identify as LGBTQ+ but more importantly to celebrate the continued progress of human rights and progressive communities.
En 2013, la Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme a lancé l’initiative « L’ONU libre et égale » (the UN Free and Equal campaign) en réponse à leurs conclusions selon lesquelles: Plus d’un tiers des pays du monde criminalisent les relations homosexuelles consensuelles et aimantes, en consoltant les préjugés et en exposant des millions de personnes à des risques de chantage, d’arrestation et d’emprisonnement.
Many countries force transgender people to undergo medical treatment, sterilization or meet other unjust preconditions before they can obtain legal recognition of their gender identity. Intersex children are often subjected to unnecessary surgery, causing physical and psychological pain and suffering. In many cases, a lack of adequate legal protections combined with hostile public attitudes leads to widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – including workers being fired from jobs, students bullied and expelled from schools, and patients denied essential healthcare.”
En résumé, dans de nombreux cas, l’absence de protections juridiques adéquates combinée à des attitudes publiques hostiles conduit à une discrimination généralisée contre les lesbiennes, gays, bisexuels, transgenres et intersexués – y compris les travailleurs licenciés, les étudiants intimidés et expulsés des écoles, et les patients privés de soins de santé essentiels.
The rights that we wish to see around the world, we must first establish and celebrate here at home.
We have come to know and respect members of our community who have faced unbearable and unacceptable discrimination based-upon their sexual identity or orientation. Whether it is police officers and firefighters who serve their community or Canadian military personnel who served here at home and internationally;Whether it is students at our publicly-funded schools or adults of any walk of life… I am proud to be part of this flag raising which clearly states that those who serve our country and community deserve a free and equal place within it.
To paraphrase a UN Free and Equal campaign – everyone deserves a safe and loving home and everyone deserves a safe and loving community.
Soon after these opening comments, the Thains were joined by local dignitaries including the Member of Parliament of Glengarry, Prescott Russell, the Honourable Francis Drouin and the Mayor of Russell Township, His Worship Mayor Pierre Leroux and the President of the Kin Club of Russell, Patrick Hunter.
Dr. Thain read a letter from Allan Hubley, an Ottawa city councillor (Kanata South) and Chair of the Transit Commission. Dr. Thain shared that:
While thinking about and planning this flag-raising celebration a couple of weeks ago, I recalled the tragic story from a decade ago, of a Kanata high school student, named James Hubley.
James had been bullied and subsequently lost his life to suicide. His father, a member of Ottawa City Council, issued a statement on behalf of his family in October 2011. From that statement we learned:
“Jamie asked a question no child should have to ask – why do people say mean things to me?… Although James had a great many people who loved and supported him, something in his mind kept taking him to a dark place where he could not see the positive side of life…Recently, when Jamie tried to start a Rainbow Club at his high school to promote acceptance of others, the posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online,” writes his father.
Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school. Jamie is remembered as a boy who was not afraid to be himself. He was a championship figure skater for years, loved to sing and act.
I wrote to Mr. Hubley and asked if he would be willing and available to attend our ceremony here today. He sent a wonderful reply that he has agreed for me to share with you.
Thank you for your effort and for your email. My family and I want to thank you for keeping our boy Jamie’s memory in your hearts. We are touched and filled with gratitude.
Unfortunately, I am away for a family wedding at the time of your event but wish you well and thank you for your kind invitation.
By raising the Pride flag we are going back to what Pride ceremonies were meant to accomplish. You are raising, not just a flag, but also awareness of the issues that people in every community experience. Promoting the acceptance of our differences as a community is part of what Canadians do so well.
Acceptance and respect for each other make our community and our country a better, safer place for individuals and families. For someone who is experiencing bullying or discrimination based on how they look, their sexual orientation or for any reason that makes you unique, your action in raising this flag is a very powerful statement.
The flag-raising activity was accompanied by comments from Srishti Hukku, a Kashmiri Canadian is a Research Fellow with Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants and has over a decade of experience with the federal government in increasingly senior positions. Srishti holds a Master’s of Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics.
Before we turn to the history of the Quasar Progress Pride flag, I’d like totell you a brief story. The year was 2002 and it was lunch time on a hot summer’s day at an Ottawa high school. Debates on same-sex marriage were roaring in the courts. I went outside to enjoy the sunshine and realized that a group of students were protesting in a circle around the main flagpole in front of the school. They had signs and were loudly chanting – you might be surprised to hear that this group of students was opposed to same-sex marriage. However, for me, that was a watershed moment. It became very clear that love is love… comme on dit en français, l’amour c’est l’amour. And that such basic human rights were worth fighting for.
Fortunately, the courts and I felt the same way with the ruling indicating only a few days later that: Marriage is … one of the most significant formsof personal relationships. Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other … This can only enhance an individual’s sense of self-worth and dignity. Now being here today for this flag raising ceremony certainly feels like my story coming full circle. As you may know, the original multi-coloured Rainbow Flag was designed by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 in San Francisco. The version that you see here today is Daniel Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag designed 40 years later in 2018. Quasar added the black and brown stripes to represent marginalised 2LGBTQ+ communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. The additional elements form an arrow shape that points to the right, to represent “forward movement” and are along the left edge of the flag to state that “progress still needs to be made.”
Gay rights and freedoms. Women’s rights and freedoms. Minority rights and freedoms. These are all human rights and freedoms. And even in 2021, raising a flag to celebrate human rights and freedoms is not an assured and expected activity; whether in Russell Township or in any community around the world, there is still much work to be done and many gatherings to be organized before human rights and freedoms are truly such a commonplace thing that raising a flag doesn’t also raise an eyebrow.
Well done, Richard. Well done , Geneviève. Well done to all those who gathered on a warm August day to remember where we’ve been, where we are and where we wish to go with UNIVERSAL human rights.
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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Citations, References And Other Reading
Featured Photo Courtesy of Dr. Richard Thain
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