This is a special New Year's edition of Critical Links. We are glad that you were with us in 2017 and look forward to what 2018 will bring.
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There were hundreds of headlines that could have been included in a look at all things scientific and secular in 2017, but we are bringing you a smattering of them here.
International Oppression of Secularists
Marked the 5-year anniversary of blogger Raif Badawi's imprisonment in Saudi Arabia. Despite continual efforts by many groups, including CFI and the Canadian government, Badawi, imprisoned for blasphemy, stands merely halfway through his 10-year sentence.
In related stories, Pakistan saw some severe punishments for blasphemy in 2017.
Taimoor Taza was sentenced to death
blasphemy on Facebook
, part of a crackdown by the Pakistani government on secular dissent, which can also incur non-government-sanctioned mob vigilante retaliation.
An example of mob retaliation is the case of Mashal Khan, who was shot and beaten to death on his university campus, by fellow students, for allegedly posting blasphemous material, which it seems was a false accusation by the school.
CFIC will continue to raise awareness about these and similar international violations of human rights. We will continue to advocate as a member of the
October: Quebec instituted a ban preventing any individual whose face is covered from receiving or providing public service, including public transportation and healthcare. Opponents of the law argue that it targets Muslim women and therefore amounts to discrimination. Proponents argue that it targets any kind of face covering, including sunglasses, in the context of public service and therefore does not amount to discrimination.
Women's Reproductive Rights
Abortion services became available in P.E.I. for the first time in 35 years.
passed Bill 163, the
Protecting a Woman's Right to Access Abortion Services Act, 2017.
The provincial legislation, which improves access to abortion and reproductive health services, also creates safe access zones around abortion clinics.
November: Health Canada extended to nine weeks (instead of the original seven) the period at the start of a pregnancy when a woman can use Mifegymiso, a medical abortion pill also known as RU-486. Despite Health Canada's 2015
al of Mifegymiso, the drug was largely unavailable until recently. Further, six provinces (Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, Quebec, and British Columbia being the latest) have elected to provide the pill, which in some cases can cost up to $400, for free.
Dr. Henry Morgantaler was one of the original founders of Centre for Inquiry Canada. We have come a very long way since the January 28, 1988, Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down Canada's anti-abortion law as unconstitutional.
March: After a 2015, CBC exposé ab
out the lack of evidence supporting the claims made on many homeopathic remedy labels, Health Canada gave manufacturers two years to meet new standards for labeling. Enforcement seems to have been a problem, however. As of March, 2017, most
manufacturers of homeopathic products continued to display the offending labels
Although Ontario and Manitoba banned conversion therapy in 2015, other provinces have been slow to follow suit. In particular, the Alberta government has been called to task for not passing legislation prohibiting it.
Refusal of Medical Treatment
Quebec coroner concluded that the refusal of blood transfusions was key in the deaths of two mothers who died from complications involving loss of blood after giving birth. The women, Éloïse Dupuis and Mirlande Cadet, were Jehovah's Witnesses. Blood transfusions are forbidden in the Jehovah's Witness faith.
A Calgary court dismissed an appeal by David and Collet Stephan concerning their conviction of "failing to provide necessaries of life" for their son Ezekiel, who died of meningitis in 2012. Instead of seeking medical assistance to treat their son's illness, the Stephans relied on so-called natural remedies.
Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID)
Despite MAID being legalized in Canada in June, 2016, some faith-based hospitals are making it difficult for patients to access it. One such example comes from the Misericordia Health Centre in Winnipeg. An 88-year-old patient named Cheppudira Gopalkrishna, who suffers from incurable Lou Gehrig's disease (also known as ALS), has been asking to be euthanized. He claims his requests, though not officially denied, have been delayed unnecessarily by Misericordia staff, who won't perform such a procedure for religious reasons. They require Gopalkrishna to be moved to a separate facility for the procedure.
The Trump Administration
While we could have provided the entire "year in review" about the Trump administration, firing of government scientists, alternate facts, and denial of climate change, we've elected to limit our coverage to his December headlines.
Donald Trump fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS which was started under the Clinton administration in 1995. This is believed to be his retaliation for a mass resignation of council members in June over disagreements with other Trump health policies.
Trump issued the third version of his travel ban, focused predominantly on Muslim-majority countries. Despite the continuing efforts of numerous organizations to oppose the ban, and while legal challenges to the policy trudge through the justice system, the Supreme Court allowed it to take effect.
What do you think was the "biggest" news story of 2017? Please let us know by emailing:
firstname.lastname@example.org. We will watch those stories for our readers and may publish a few of our submissions.
Rather than end on a depressing note, let's try to remind ourselves that generally there has never been a better time for humans to be alive.
reminds us that there are many ways that the world
in 2017. They range from increased life expectancy to larger percentages of the human population living free of autocracy and dictatorship. A little gratitude can go a long way!
Trinity Western University
(TWU) is a private evangelical Christian university in British Columbia. It has been in existence for over fifty years, and has a teacher's college and nursing school in addition to offering a range of undergraduate programs. It plans to open a law school, admitting 60 students a year, in September 2018. As a private university, TWU is immune to challenges based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it also has been granted an exemption from British Columbia Human Rights legislation.
All students must sign a
which, among other things, restricts sexual intimacy to married couples, where marriage is defined as between one man and one woman. A student breaching any part of the Covenant is subject to academic discipline, up to and including expulsion.
The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) found the Covenant to be so repellent they refused to accredit TWU, which means its graduates would not be able to practice law in Ontario or BC. Trinity Western sued, claiming the law societies had no right to refuse to accredit TWU. The case was heard by the Supreme Court on November 30 and December 1, 2017.
|CFI Canada Councilor, Leslie Rosenblood attended the Supreme Court hearing.
TWU made the following arguments to support its case:
- The law societies were discriminating against evangelical Christians, so the Court should overrule their decisions not to accredit TWU.
- The law societies didn't have the legal authority to deny TWU accreditation.
- Law societies exist to determine who is admitted to the bar; they have no say over TWU, its law school, or its policies.
- Since no one has claimed that TWU graduates would be inferior lawyers, there would be no harm to the profession and therefore law societies must accredit TWU.
- The Covenant may cause hurt feelings in the LGBT community, but hurt feelings are not protected by the Charter; freedom of religion is.
- TWU's law school would be good for LGBT individuals wanting to become lawyers. For every Christian who goes to TWU, there is one seat freed up at another institution.
The last two points were firmly rejected by several of the Justices.
The law societies made several claims:
- Imposing evangelical Christian practices on the entire student body (not all of whom are Christian) is an infringement of TWU students' religious freedom.
- Law societies are bound by the Charter's anti-discrimination provisions; they cannot outsource discrimination to third parties and remain in compliance with their Charter obligations.
- Any infringement on potential future TWU graduates is minimal compared to the enormous harm of perpetuating discrimination against the LGBT community.
- Law societies, by law, must act in the "public interest". The terms of the Covenant are sufficiently egregious that accrediting TWU would not be in the public interest, so their decisions must stand.
In addition to TWU, LSUC, and LSBC, there were 19 interveners, each of which had five minutes to address some aspect of the case.
A decision is expected to be handed down later this year.
You can read more details about the arguments presented by TWU, the law societies, and the many intervenors at the hearing