In this Edition of Critical Links:

July Dates of Interest

News & Events
  • OMG! Goop Opens in Toronto!
  • Volunteers Needed: IT Team Members
  • CSICon 2019

Science Check
  • Youth Science Movements Get Boost in National Observer Op-ed

Secular Check
  • Amending the Criminal Code for Hate Speech
  • Should Atheists be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous?

Think Check
  • Crystals: The Ugly Truth Behind Pretty Rocks

July Dates of Interest
July 11 is UN World Population Day, which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, including promoting standards to uphold the human right to family planning.

July 12 is Malala Day. On July 12, 2013, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday, she spoke at the UN to call for worldwide access to education, in particular for girls. “We cannot all succeed if half of us are held back.”

July 20 is the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing . It’s hard to believe that it has been 50 years since two humans landed a spaceship and walked around on the surface of the Moon! Several CFIC branches will be holding events and activities to celebrate this achievement of science and technology. Check your local meetup and/or Facebook groups for updates.

July 22 (or 22/7) is Pi Approximation Day.

If you celebrate any of these, or have any suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

News & Events
OMG! Goop Opens in Toronto!
CFIC leaders go undercover in the name of science
Sandra Dunham

Toronto is now home to Gwyneth Paltrow’s "modern lifestyle brand" called goop. CFIC’s President, Gus Lyn-Piluso, along with Critical Links editor and CFIC Board member, Edan Tasca, went undercover to explore Toronto’s new shopping experience. Gus reports that their effort to travel incognito was thwarted: “We didn’t exactly blend in with that crowd.”

Gus and Edan identified that the objects that were sold at goop did not differ substantially from many that you might expect to find in a pharmacy. There were detoxification teas, bath salts, and mystical artifacts that looked a lot like pots for common houseplants. Where they did notice a big difference from traditional shopping was in the amount of shelf space and the price.

At goop, items are not crammed together to maximize the number of articles available to purchase. Instead they were spread out with displays that are more reminiscent of an art gallery. Likewise, the prices were similar to those you might expect to find in a high-end shop.

Our intrepid Board members were disappointed to not see the more exotic goop items like vaginal eggs. The insidious nature of the wellness industry creates demand for products whose supposed effects have no scientific backing. The fact that your local pharmacy, which sells true medical products, also sells unproven wellness products and even long-ago debunked homeopathic supplies, makes it difficult for people to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate wellness products. We can only hope that the people who are spending money on Paltrow’s goop products can afford to do so. Too bad these individuals do not save their money or donate it to causes that improve lives.

If you happened to spot Gus and Edan skulking in the aisles of goop, we want you to know that it was in the interest of good investigative journalism. We also want to know what the heck YOU were doing there!
Volunteer Opportunity: IT Team

CFIC is seeking volunteers with in-depth IT skills to help as part of our IT team. Current needs include investigating software solutions; web design and graphic design will be emailed to the team as the need arises.

If you are interested in this position, or other CFIC volunteer opportunities, please complete a volunteer application form .
CSICon 2019

If you need an excuse to visit Las Vegas, why not consider attending CSICon 2019. The Center for Inquiry U.S. annual conference will be held in Las Vegas from October 16 to 20. This year there will be presentations on climate change, pseudoscience, filing suit against homeopathy, and much more. Please visit for more information or to register.

Science Check
Youth Science Movements Get Boost in National Observer Op-ed
Critical Links Volunteers

Critical Links reported in our May issue that Evidence for Democracy was planning some exciting science-based events, such as the national youth climate strike and the March for Science day of action. Well, our friends at Evidence for Democracy keep pushing.

One of their members and a CFIC supporter, Ellen Gute, has published an op-ed in the National Observer . In it, she lays out the case for calling on Canadian scientists to prioritize support for the kind of youth-led climate strikes we’ve seen all across Canada. She stresses that Canada can do even better than it has been. From the op-ed:

A letter was recently started in Canada … by Evidence for Democracy , but compared to other countries the science community in Canada is surprisingly slow in showing their support for the climate action the youth are demanding. As a scientist, this is both surprising and frustrating to see .”

CFIC supports her message and the idea that the energy and enthusiasm of young Canadians can and should be supported further as an indispensable advantage in our fight to champion science, in particular climate science.

Check out the op-ed here .

Secular Check
Amending the Criminal Code for Hate Speech
Leslie Rosenblood

In the wake of the mosque shooting in Quebec, another in New Zealand, multiple attacks against synagogue congregations in the United States, and the bombing of Christian houses of worship in Sri Lanka, the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights decided to look into online hate speech, its link to violence, and whether Canada should amend its criminal code or other legislation in response.

This is often the first step in the legislative process: The government is considering enacting a new law or modifying an existing one, so it calls witnesses from various stakeholder groups to testify before a parliamentary committee. In this way, the government gets a range of perspectives before taking any action. Often, the decision is not to proceed with any legislative or regulatory changes.

The Justice Committee invited many religious organizations to present their views, which makes sense given the attacks on numerous houses of worship. The Committee also invited the  Canadian Secular Alliance (CSA) to give a presentation, and on May 9, 2019, I was in Ottawa with Greg Oliver, President of the CSA, to provide a secular perspective on how to respond to recent events.

The mandate of the hearings was broad: Noting a substantial increase in reported hate crimes in Canada (though more incitement of hatred than violence), the Committee was asking about potential amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Criminal Code, or other Acts to help stem the propagation of hateful acts (and their enticement), especially given that Canadians increasingly get their news and communicate online.

It was a challenge to address such a wide-ranging topic in a structured, coherent manner with less than two weeks to prepare and just eight minutes to speak. But after researching the subject and working through several drafts, our presentation addressed three main issues.

  1. Government Neutrality. People deserve protection from harm; ideas do not warrant protection from criticism. The government must remain neutral in matters of religion, and must not conflate attacks on an idea (religion) with an assault on a person (worshipers).
  2. Equal Protection under the Law. Section 319(3)(b) of Canada’s Criminal Code allows as a defense against hate speech prosecution that the remarks are “based on a belief in a religious text.” It’s patently unjust that one person espousing hate out of (say) racial prejudice is subject to a criminal conviction, while another promulgating the identical vitriol is exempt if the hate is founded in a religious text. The Canadian Secular Alliance recommended repealing Section 319(3)(b).
  3. Free Speech. Though restrictions on unfettered free speech are in principle justifiable — most people agree with well crafted laws against libel, impersonation, threats, and incitement to violence — any such restriction must pass a high burden of proof. Hate speech laws are particularly challenging. If hate speech is narrowly defined, it will have a minimal impact on public discourse and not significantly address the issue. Broaden the scope of disallowed speech too much, however, and the new law would violate Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression. 

The topic of how social media has changed the way people communicate and interact is complex and filled with measures having unintended and counterproductive consequences. The CSA urged restraint, research, and (as I put it in response to a pointed question from a member of the Committee) the importance of acting correctly over quickly.

You may read the full presentation to the Committee  here . A Q&A session with Members of Parliament on the Committee followed the formal presentation. You may read the transcript of that session and hear a recording of all the proceedings  here .

Note: Leslie Rosenblood is a Board member of CFIC. He was in Ottawa as a policy advisor to the Canadian Secular Alliance. Follow his blog here . Opinions expressed above and in the links do not necessarily reflect those of CFIC.
Should Atheists be Required to Attend Alcoholics Anonymous?
San dra Dunham and Leslie Rosenblood

Although Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) rejects dogma in its renowned 12-step program, it does require that attendees put their faith in a higher power. AA has been THE treatment modality for alcoholics for well over 50 years. It is widely used to treat addiction in hospitals, in prisons, and for anyone who acknowledges that they need support for an alcohol addiction. It has been hugely successful. Almost everyone knows someone who swears by this program. (See our October issue for an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of 12-step programs.)

Byron Wood, an atheist nurse, has an alcohol abuse problem. His union offered AA and other alcohol addiction services, all of which incorporated the 12-step model. Wood argued that, as an atheist, he could not in good conscience put his faith in a higher power. Wood suggested several treatment alternatives to the 12-step program including a secular support group, but these were all rejected. As a result of his refusal to put his faith in a higher power as part of his recovery process, Wood lost his job when he stopped attending AA meetings. 

Scientists are now studying the comparative effectiveness of non-religious support programs. Additionally, there are pharmacological interventions available today which
block the intoxicating effects of alcohol and reduce the urge to drink. Recently Wood has found one of these, Naltrexone HCL, helpful in reducing his alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, this option was not on offer prior to the loss of his job/

The BC Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear whether Wood was discriminated against when all non-theistic treatment options were rejected. CFIC will watch this case with interest; the ruling will likely have widespread implications for people across Canada dealing with alcohol addictions and substance abuse issues. 

Think Check
Crystals: The Ugly Truth Behind Pretty Rocks
Sandra Dunham
If you are tempted to purchase crystals as part of your overall wellness plan (please tell me you’re not!) consider the global impact of these bits of stone. Not only are crystals an environmental catastrophe; they are also responsible for the exploitation of children, already living in poverty, around the world. And they fund terrorist organizations such as the Taliban.

What is a crystal?

Put simply, crystals are rock formations. They may be made of salt or other elements including diamonds and rubies. They have been used for decades as part of bringing electricity to our homes. However, more recently they have become a multibillion-dollar-a-year part of the global wellness industry, where they are believed to have “metaphysical healing properties.” They are hyped by celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who uses crystals to purify water, and Kate Hudson, who stores cosmetics near crystals to add energy. Crystals are used in the fashion industry to accentuate clothing and “keep negative energies at bay.” They are used by shamans to provide investment advice.

If only it were true that all that ails you could be cured by holding onto a pretty piece of rock!

The dark side of crystals

If you are reading this, chances are you are not actually using crystals. However, you probably know someone who is. Remind them that little on this planet is free and mining crystals has a significant and negative impact, and that there is absolutely no scientific proof of their benefit. When you think crystal, remember that the diamond is a form of crystal and the impact of mining crystals is parallel to that of mining diamonds.

Crystals are a non-renewable resources. Jobs in mining are low paid, unsafe, and often use child labourers. The industry is unregulated. Mining has significant negative environmental impact. The Taliban earns up to $20 million per year from the mining of crystals.

Industry rhetoric

The news around the ethics of crystal mining are being weakly refuted by the industry. Consider, for example, the desperate attempt of crystal companies such as Rebel Angel to differentiate the mining of crystals from other mining activities and the promotion (without proof) of “ ethically mined” crystals.

The solution

The solution is pretty simple: Don’t buy crystals! There is no indication that they have any value beyond being pretty. There are many man-made products that provide the same aesthetic value without exploiting people or the planet. The next time someone invites you to their chakra bracelet party, or explains to you the value of their Himalayan Salt lamp, don’t just silently shake your head. Ask them, “Have you considered how your use of this product impacts people and the earth?”

It’s no longer enough to not contribute to the problem. It’s time to be part of the solution.
Books (and Podcasts) and Authors
Hello CFIC! We know you are thoughtful readers. Please tell us what you are reading and your thoughts about it. We accept book reviews; commentary on secular, scientific, or critical thinking issues; reviews of podcasts; and even television shows and movies.

This is your space. Please submit your reviews to .
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