In this Edition of Critical Links:

February Dates of Interest

CFIC News and Events
  • Yasmine Mohammed: CFIC Book Tour
  • REMINDER: Living Without Religion, Virtual Edition
  • Volunteers Needed!
  • CFIC Council and Board of Directors
  • CFIC Annual General Meeting
  • Ottawa Event: Getting Blood from a Stone?

Science Check
  • Philippines Approves Golden Rice
  • CFIC's 2019 Scammie Awards

Secular Check
  • Will You Help Omer?
  • Taiwan, the Asia Pioneer, Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Think Check
  • CFIC Member to Give Public Talk on Anti-Vaxxers
  • Sandra's Enigmas

February Dates of Interest

February is Black History Month. Inspired by the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 to 2024), the theme for 2020 is: "Canadians of African Descent: Going forward, guided by the past."

Psychology Month is observed every February to highlight the contributions of Canadian psychology and to teach Canadians how psychology works, to help them live healthy and happy lives, help their communities flourish, help their employers create effective workplaces, and help their governments develop good policies.

For non-human animals, we can celebrate Spay-Neuter Awareness Month , and World Spay Day, on Tuesday, February 25.

This year, February 2 is not just Groundhog Day, but also one day when we can have peace among date formats: 02/02/2020 is Palindrome Day for everyone, whether you use day-month-year, month-day-year, or year-month-day.

February 3 is the 199 th anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Blackwell, British-American physician who was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.

February 12 is the 211 th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Check out for more information. If you are in the Ottawa area, you can join us on February 13 for our celebration, including a talk about soft-tissue fossils.

February 15 is the 466 th anniversary of the birth of Galileo Galilei. “ Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.”

We’ve waited for four years, but finally, Leap Day is here again, on the February 29. So let’s all celebrate as we recalibrate our calendars. (Whose bright idea was it to make the length of the year not evenly divisible by the length of the day?)
If you celebrate any of these, or have suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

CFIC News & Events
Yasmine Mohammed: Unveiled Book Tour

CFIC is sponsoring a book tour by Yasmine Mohammed, author of Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam .

The first event took place in Victoria on January 26. Look out for the tour to swing by your city. Upcoming events include Toronto, April 3; Ottawa, April 4; Montreal, April 5; and Vancouver, April 23.

Issues covered in Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam :
• Growing up Muslim in the West
• Fundamentalist Islam and children
• Forced marriage
• Being married to an Al Qaeda operative
• Surviving abuse
• Failure of Western institutions to protect children in minority communities
• Forced hijab
• Feminism in the Muslim world

Listen to an interview with Yasmine here.
REMINDER: Living Without Religion, Virtual Edition

CFIC will be making the discussion group Living Without Religion (LWR) available to all Canadians, regardless of their location. LWR aims to provide people who are questioning or who have left their faith with the social support to help them through such a profound shift in their lives, as they explore a new paradigm of living without their faith and faith community. LWR has been offered in Ottawa and in Toronto, but it is challenging for people from smaller communities to find a similar support group.

LWR is a facilitated peer support group. The discussion is led by participants. LWR offers a social connection to like-minded people. Members provide support and also useful tips about things like connecting with friends and family who are religious, creating new networks of support, and dealing with holidays and family traditions in a new way.

The inaugural meeting of the Virtual LWR will be held on Thursday, February 6, at 8pm EST. (Click here for help converting this to your time zone.)

The meeting will be held via Zoom. Simply click this link when the meeting is scheduled. Please check that your computer has audio capability. Otherwise, you may join by phone by dialing +1 647 558 0588 and using the following meeting ID: 389 025 059.

If you are curious, just pop in on February 6. If you would like to participate in LWR but cannot make it that day, please email Onur Romano , CFIC Virtual Branch Manager, and let him know the times that would work for you.

No higher powers, no dogma. Just free expression, empathy, understanding, without judgement. We are here for you. We are Living Without Religion, and you can too. Come join the discussion!
Volunteers Needed!

Do you have some spare time? Do you want to help CFIC? Are you a current CFIC volunteer looking for a new challenge? We need your help.

CFIC needs people to assist with our communications. We are looking for a secretary (organize meetings, record brief minutes, and set agendas) for our Communications Committee. We are also looking for members for our Communications Committee; especially people with a background in media. The Communications Committee meets approximately monthly and members each take on additional roles between meetings.

If this sounds like something you are interested in, please email Mark at .
CFIC Council and Board of Directors

Are you interested in a leadership role at CFIC? We are seeking councilors and directors to start in March 2020. We’re looking for enthusiastic folks to help us in our mission to spread secularism and critical thinking.

Council members elect the board of directors and vote on significant organizational changes. Council membership is $60 ($30 of this is eligible for a charitable tax receipt). Anyone who is interested in a council membership but cannot afford the membership fee may request an earned membership. Earned council members are expected to contribute a minimum of six hours per month to CFIC.

Board members oversee the operations of CFIC. Board members are elected from the council members of CFIC. They are expected to prioritize attendance at CFIC board meetings (once per month by video-conference) and to take on a leadership role within CFIC.

Being on the board or council is a significant and rewarding opportunity for someone who wishes to have input into the future of CFIC. If you would like more information about becoming a director or council member, please email Sandra Dunham (Executive Director of Development).

For more on council memberships please see the CFIC Bylaws.
CFIC Annual General Meeting

Hold the date! CFIC’s Annual General Meeting will be held (by teleconference) on Thursday evening, March 9, 2020. The meeting is open to all members of CFIC. Only council members are eligible to vote. Members will receive further information by email.
Ottawa Event: Getting Blood from a Stone? Fossil Preservation and Misconceptions

Join us on February 13 to celebrate (the day after) Darwin Day, with a talk about fossils,and some fun science/evolution related activities, with prizes!

Science Check
Philippines Approves Golden Rice
Andrea Palmieri

Philippines has joined Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand in affirming the safety of golden rice, by approving it for direct use as food, feed, and in food processing. Living in a developing country that relies on rice as a major food source and where vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is endemic, Filipinos will significantly benefit from this regulatory decision. In the face of continuous brute opposition, the Philippine authorities have made it clear that Golden Rice will be added to the roster of interventions to combat preventable deaths due to VAD.

Golden Rice is a biofortified version of white rice that contains beta-carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A. It was created by precisely adding one gene from corn, and one from a commonly eaten soil bacterium. Not only is golden rice as safe as conventional rice, but it is an accessible, cost-effective, and sustainable way to “ save sight and save lives .” When it is made available to the public, the seeds will be distributed for free to farmers. But before farmers can start planting golden rice in their fields, they must await for approval for commercial propagation.

The founders of the Golden Rice Project have been pushing to get golden rice approved for use for the past 20 years , but with little success. Activists and non-government organizations (NGOs) who oppose the use of GMOs, coupled with individual countries’ regulatory red-tape, have made it extremely difficult for this product to reach the market. In industrialized countries who have enough to eat, golden rice will have little benefit — yet these are the places where the most vocal opponents of GMOs are found and who’ve never had to suffer from the debilitating effects of micronutrient deficiencies. For example , notorious anti-GMO NGO Greenpeace recently filed an appeal to the Department of Agriculture to revoke the approval of golden rice, citing a “lack of data” as the cause, despite golden rice passing a rigorous biosafety assessment. This is how misinformation, scare tactics, and fearmongering can cause harm and suffering. 

VAD is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in South-East Asia, posing the highest risk for young children and pregnant women in low-income countries. Each year, it is responsible for up to 2 million deaths and up to 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness. Golden rice aims to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement of vitamin A for pregnant women and young children. 

This is a huge achievement and marks a hopeful change in the attitudes towards GMOs! 
CFIC's 2019 Scammie Awards
Seanna Watson

CFIC is proud to present our second annual Scammie Awards. (For last years Scammies click here .)

The Scammies were created to show the importance of being aware of dangerous products, fraudulent services, fake news, and misrepresentation of facts. With the help of our members, we have compiled a list of outrageous examples of predatory lies, abuse of power, and baseless pseudoscientific claims. Here are our top 10 entries. We invite everyone to vote for their favourite in the comments.

All of us at CFIC wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and scam-free year. Let’s hope that 2020 helps us all see a bit more clearly!

And the 2019 Scammies go to...

Secular Check
Will You Help Omer?
Sandra Dunham

“Omer” (a pseudonym) can hardly wait to get to Canada. He is most excited about living where freedom of expression is a right. Omer has been in hiding, first in Pakistan and now in Nepal, since 2017. While in hiding, Omer has spent his free time reading and continuing his activism by protesting blasphemy laws. His activism makes him a target of threats, even though he no longer lives in Pakistan.

Omer’s first goal in moving to Canada is protection. When he dares imagine a life without these threats, he imagines a career in video editing, telemarketing, or administration. He even wonders about the possibility of furthering his education. Omer is also looking forward to new experiences in Canada. (Despite never having set foot into snow or onto ice, he’d really like to try skiing!)

It is difficult for most of us to comprehend living in a country where one faces torture and even death for simply questioning their faith. Yet this was the case for Omer, who was born into a Muslim family in Pakistan. The Center for Inquiry U.S. ( CFI ) has assisted Omer in escaping to Nepal and seeking permanent residence in Canada. Now, Omer is looking for our help to offset his living expenses while he waits in Nepal for word that the paperwork required for Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program has been approved.

Omer grew up reading the Quran in Arabic, offering daily prayers, and fasting through the month of Ramadan. But throughout his childhood he questioned his parents, his friends, even his Islamic teachers: “If Allah created everything, who created Allah?” Finally, when no one could answer his questions with logic, he began studying. This led to Omer becoming an atheist; something that is unacceptable and illegal in Pakistan.

In 2011, after a heated debate about religion with a friend, Omer was abducted and beaten by five men. Omer was sexually assaulted, his finger was cut off, and the abductors used a burning cigarette to write Tauba (“repent”) on his arm. When Omer escaped the men, going to the authorities was not an option. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.

Eventually, he found his way back home. After explaining to his parents what happened, they disowned him. Omer was forced to move to Karachi where he found work. In his spare time, he and a friend risked all to question the unquestionable. The two men posted questions and controversial discussions on social media.

Early in 2017, the Pakistani Law Enforcement agencies started a targeted operation to arrest freethinkers. A warrant was registered against Omer, his friend, and their social media sites. Omer’s friend was arrested and tortured for 21 days. Another friend, outspoken atheist Ayaz Nizami , was arrested and placed in solitary confinement and is still awaiting capital punishment. Details of police raids and abductions were in the news constantly.

When Omer received a phone call saying, “ We know where you are ,” and threatening to kill him for blasphemy, he threw away his phone, computer, and passport. He deleted all his social media sites and went into hiding. He hid out for over a year. In 2018, Omer approached several activists and gave an interview to Harris Sultan, another ex-Muslim activist. He also approached CFI, which, with Sultan, assisted Omer in leaving Pakistan.

On September 23, 2019 Omer received the good news that he had been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. CFI has connected Omer with private sponsors in Canada and the process of seeking asylum has begun.

Omer is close, but now he needs our help. He is unable to work while waiting in Nepal. You can assist Omer by donating to the CFIC Secular Rescue Fund . Omer’s expenses are a mere $600 Canadian per month.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to help Omer. CFIC currently has enough funding to keep Omer safe for the next five months. If you haven’t given, it’s not too late to make your donation .

All donations to the CFIC Secular Rescue Fund will be used to assist with secular rescue. Should we raise more funds than are required to assist Omer, we will use them to help future atheists fleeing persecution.

Taiwan, the Asia Pioneer, Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage
Scott Douglas Jacobsen

The movement for human rights continues in an asynchronous and bumpy progression forward more than backward. In this progression, we can see regional and national differences. Some regions regress while others progress; same for nations. One of the more noteworthy cases is the increase in equal rights for the LGBTQ community. (Note: The UN has an  LGBTI Core Group , so the international human rights body’s language will be used here.) Asia has had some progression in the human rights sphere here.

Taiwanese society and culture became an important, and in fact unprecedented, example of the advancement of the rights of the LGBTQ community. Taiwan was the first country in Asia to  legalize same-sex marriage . In 2017, the constitutional court of the island ruled that the prohibition against same-sex couples marrying amounted to a violation of equal rights and personal freedom. The sexual orientation of individual Taiwanese citizens was ruled an innate or “immutable characteristic that is resistant to change.”

The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, requested the Ministry of Justice develop a legal framework in light of the changes in 2017. Three bills were passed in 2019 with majority support by the leading Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan. The most progressive bill was approved by a 66 to 27 majority. Of the three bills, it was the only one using the term “marriage” in response to same-sex partnerships or relationships.

This bill was part of the political campaigning platform of 2016. President Ing-wen pulled through for the LGBTQ community in Taiwan, set an example for the Asian region, and promoted — without this terminology — humanist and humanistic values, and human rights for a traditionally ill-treated collective: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. Ing-wen tweeted, “Good morning Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society. Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins.”

The bills went into effect on May 24, 2019.

Think Check

CFIC Member to Give Public Talk on Anti-Vaxxers
Leslie Rosenblood

In August 2010, I asked, in a Facebook post , “Why is vaccination vilified by so many?”, linking to a clever Penn & Teller segment from their show Bullshit! It was intended as a rhetorical question. It led to a months-long online debate about the merits of national immunization programs (they're very good), and ultimately inspired the creation of my blog, Opinions and Questions

In an upcoming talk, I will examine the arguments used by the anti-vaxxers, distinguish them from the vaccine-hesitant, provide some dos and don'ts on how to engage (should you choose to do so), and what the results were of my online debate about vaccines. I will also delve into human psychology and cognitive biases, how to distinguish between objective information and propaganda trying to masquerade as such, and what you can do to educate those in your social circle (in real life or online) on this topic and many others.

I hope you'll be able to attend the talk on February 20 at 7pm (EST) at the Tranzac Club in Toronto (Brunswick Street just south of Bloor, between Bathurst and Spadina).
Sandra's Enigma
Sandra Dunham

We don't have a Keith's Conundrum for this month. But, recognizing that many of you look forward to the monthly mindbender, we offer Sandra’s Enigma instead:

What has four letters, occasionally has 12 letters, usually has seven letters, but never has five letters ... ?

(Keith will be back next month with a solution to January's Conundrum, plus a new puzzle for March.)
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