In this Edition of Critical Links:

CFIC News and Events
  • June is Membership Month
  • Dates of Interest
  • Did You Know? Dr. Henry Morgentaler
  • International News

Science Check
  • Vice-chair of BC’s College of Chiropractors Resigns after Anti-Vaccination Video Exposed
  • Mole Day

Secular Check
  • CFIC at a Meeting of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion
  • Canada is Repealing its Blasphemy Law

Think Check
  • Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity?
CFIC News and Events
June is Membership Month

Why are you a member of CFIC? If you are not, why not? June is membership month at CFIC. We thank our members and volunteers for committing to spread the word about the importance of critical thinking, secularism, and science! If you are not a member, please add your voice to provide the strength of numbers. Be the change you want to see!

Here’s what some of our members say about why they are involved:
I am essentially a one-issue activist. That issue is religion in the Canadian Forces, which continues to force tens of thousands of people to take part in, or attend, religious services organized and presided over by their immediate superiors. That which would cause outrage, protest, and screaming headlines if it took place in a civilian workplace is largely accepted when the participants are all wearing uniforms.

My activism on this issue has resulted in personal and career consequences. Now in retirement, I want to speak out more on this issue.

I look forward to my membership in CFIC.

- Tony Keene
1. I support the promotion of science, rationalism, and critical thinking: These are the basis of how we should be navigating the world, and it is important for our survival as a species that we use this as a basis of our decision making at all levels - personal, local, regional, national, and global.

2. Community is crucial: Humans are social animals. Religion has often filled the requirement for community and social interaction. I think it is important to have a non-religious/secular option for those who want to be part of a community.

- Seanna Watson
CFIC’s mission is essential. We need organizations to promote fact-based public policy and basic scientific literacy.

- Leslie Rosenblood
If you are not yet a member, join us to make a real difference! If you are a member, please share this newsletter with a friend or colleague who you think might be interested. Membership is just $30 per year.
June Dates of Interest:

June 2 (or February 6, or October 23) - Mole Day
June 21 - Summer Solstice
Did You Know?

Did you know that Henry Morgentaler was one of the founders of CFIC? Morgentaler is perhaps best known for being a pro-choice advocate and successfully challenging the constitutionality of the federal law limiting abortion rights in 1988.

However, Morgentaler also received accolades for his background in the humanist movement. He was the first president of the Humanist Association of Canada, one of the original signatories to the second Humanist Manifesto, and was named the 1975 Humanist of the Year.

Many members of CFIC stopped on May 29, the fifth anniversary of his death, to remember Dr. Henry Morgentaler.
International News

There has been so much happening around the world that we felt it important to add an International News Section to Critical Links this month.

What is happening south of the border?

Did you know that CFIC is a member of a larger movement? CFI Transnational is the umbrella organization for many CFI’s worldwide. It seems in the last month CFI Transnational has been very busy with their own issues. If you would like to learn more please check out their website, or view their media releases on specific issues.

Abortion in Ireland

We would be remiss if we failed to mention and congratulate Ireland on overturning the “ Eighth Amendment” which was enacted following a papal visit to Ireland in 1983. The amendment gave equal rights to both the mother and the unborn fetus, making abortion illegal, except when the mother’s life was at risk.

On May 26, Ireland voted overwhelmingly (66.4%) in support of overturning this constitutional amendment, making it legal to seek an abortion in Ireland. Previously, it was illegal to seek an abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. Women in Ireland were forced to seek an illegal or unsafe abortion, or to travel to England to obtain a therapeutic abortion.

Science Check
Vice-chair of BC’s College of Chiropractors Resigns after Anti-Vaccination Video Exposed
Blythe Nilson, CFIC Science Chair

In November the vice-chair of BC’s College of Chiropractors, Avtar Jassal, posted a Facebook video in which he advised that flu vaccinations are not effective and drinking smoothies is a better way to prevent the flu. After CBC exposed his views and shared his video he resigned his post. The BC College of Chiropractors has a clear policy that prevents chiropractors from commenting on immunization, which is not in their “scope of chiropractic practice”. BC chiropractors may not provide any advice on immunization verbally, in brochures, on websites, or anywhere else.

BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said that the college should sanction Jassal and that she was going to watch closely to see that the college takes “appropriate action”. UBC nursing professor Bernie Garrett said that Jassal’s comments, and others like them from many BC chiropractors, are “grade–A bunk” and that Canada needs a “strong watchdog” to oversee the province’s healthcare providers. Garrett pointed out that the public may not realize that naturopaths and chiropractors are not real physicians. Center for Inquiry Canada hopes this marks the beginning of stronger regulations and consequences for chiropractors who break the rules.

Since this story broke, many chiropractors’ anti-vaccine posts and website pages have been removed. One recently removed blog post from the Kelowna Family Chiropractic listed several falsehoods about vaccines. (One claim was that some vaccines contain aborted fetus cells. They don’t, and in fact vaccines do not contain any cells.) They also stated, “Do your homework before you blindly get another shot or give one to your child”. Reporter Bethany Lindsay, who has been reporting on these events for CBC, reveals a few more anti-vaccination posts by Kelowna chiropractors on her twitter page, and there are likely many more.

If you witness a chiropractor in BC giving advice on immunization, in any form, report it to the BC College of Chiropractors here: You can also email Adrien Dix, B.C.’s Health Minister: You might also send an email or a tweet to the CBC.

The misinformation campaign has got to stop.
Mole Day
Seanna Watson, CFIC Education Chair

First, the back story: Those of you who can remember high school chemistry may recall that one m ole of a substance, defined as the number of grams equal to its molecular weight, contains 6.02x10 23 molecules of that substance. 

This number is called the Avogadro Constant, in honour of the Italian scientist, Amedeo Avogadro, who first determined that equal volumes of gases (at the same temperature and pressure) will contain an equal number of molecules. So, for example, water (H 20) has a molecular weight of 18; therefore, 18 grams of water contains 6.02x10 23 H 20 molecules. Some science enthusiasts thought it would be a nice idea to celebrate Avogadro’s significant contribution to our understanding of atomism by having a “Mole Day”. Like the furry little diggers, Mole Day has been known to pop up at several different dates – 6.02 can be considered to be February 6 th or June 2 nd, and the 10 23 part can be celebrated on October 23 rd.
Why do we care? Aside from the opportunity to learn some cool science, remembering Avogadro’s number is a useful addition to a skeptic’s toolkit when discussing homeopathy.  

Homeopaths claim that diluting a substance makes their potions stronger. Our friend Avogadro tells us that a mole of table salt (NaCl) weighs 58 grams, and contains 6.02x10 23 molecules (and has a volume of about 3.5 tablespoons). Let’s take our mole of table salt, dissolve it in a litre of water. Then we can make a homeopathic substance by diluting it to 1% - homeopaths call this a “centesimal”, or 1C. If we do this 11 more times, we’ll have a “powerful” (according to homeopathic theory) 12C preparation. But at this point, there are only a few molecules left. A popular homeopathic flu remedy, oscillococcinum, lists “Anas Barbariae Hepatis and Cordis extractum 200C” in its ingredients. That means a dilution of one part in 10 400 (note that the total number of molecules in the entire universe is estimated to be somewhere between 10 78 and 10 82).
In 2010, the Merseyside Skeptics (from the UK) started their 1023 campaign, demonstrating their confidence in science by consuming an amount of homeopathic medication that would have been considered an overdose, if it actually contained any active ingredients. The following year, the campaign spread around the world, with a global homeopathic overdose, including CFI groups in Vancouver (featured as part of a CBC Marketplace program), Winnipeg, and Ottawa.
So, on June 2 and/or February 6 and/or October 23, remember that moles do more than just tear up your lawn – they are also a foundation of chemistry, and understanding them can be beneficial to both your health and your wallet.

Secular Check

CFIC at a Meeting of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion
Jason Lawrence, CFIC Human Rights Chair
CFIC Human Rights Chair, Jason Lawrence, at a meeting of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion
On Thursday, May 17, 2018, CFIC was invited to attend a meeting of the Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion ( OHRFI) to participate in a discussion about the challenges facing international freedom of religion or belief. The event commemorated two milestones: the second-year anniversary of the establishment of the OHRFI within Global Affairs Canada and the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event was chaired by Mr. Omar Alghabra, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Consular Affairs) and included a discussion and presentation from Farida Deif, Canada Director of Human Rights Watch.
This presentation included:
  • a discussion on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; specifically, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which covers freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion;
  • dialogue about “limits of free speech” and differentiating free speech from hate speech;
  • reviewing videos of two cases, one in Saudi Arabia and another in China
Following the presentation was a round-table discussion where representatives of different Canadian faith and belief communities and organizations had the opportunity to pose questions to Secretary Alghabra and to Farida Deif.
CFIC presented information about the following issues:
  • findings from the latest International Humanist and Ethical Union Freedom of Expression Report
  • the status and relevance of Canada’s Blasphemy Law
  • Canada’s commitment to combating blasphemy globally
  • concerns about the challenges many atheist, agnostic, and apostate asylum seekers face as they seek to flee persecution
Overall, this was an opportunity for CFIC to participate in promoting open policy development on Freedom of Religion and to engage in community issues relevant to many in the secular-humanist community as well as establishing ourselves and network with other organizations.
Canada is Repealing its Blasphemy Law
Leslie Rosenblood

Governments sometimes pass laws that violate their country's constitution. One purpose of an independent judiciary is to identify and strike down such laws when they are challenged. Since Canada adopted the  Charter of Rights and Freedoms  in 1982, many previously valid laws have been found to be contrary to Canada's new constitution. When the courts strike down a law, it no longer has any legal force, but it remains on the books until such time as Parliament formally repeals it. Thus "zombie" laws accumulate in Canada's  Criminal Code  until a "cleanup" bill removes them.
In 2016, an  Alberta judge , in his decision to convict a man of murder, "relied on section 230 of the Criminal Code, which was declared unconstitutional in the 1990 case  R. v. Martineau ." This embarrassed the federal government, and  in response  Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould released a statement in which she instructed "officials in the Department of Justice to conduct a review of Criminal Code provisions found to be unconstitutional, with a view to updating the Criminal Code to reflect these decisions." 
A broad mandate from the Justice Minister to update the Criminal Code presented a rare opportunity to make the case that section 296,  Blasphemous Libel , should be removed as part of this modernization effort. Members of three prominent Canadian organizations dedicated to freedom of speech and conscience -  Centre for Inquiry Canada Canadian Secular Alliance , and  Humanist Canada  - took the opportunity to meet with the senior bureaucrats leading this review in December 2016. 
We highlighted several reasons why Section 296 should be repealed. In short, we argued:
  • Canada's Blasphemous Libel law, while not tested by the courts, would almost certainly be found to be unconstitutional
  • Blasphemy laws are an indefensible infringement on freedom of speech in a modern democratic nation
  • The law is demonstrably obsolete; it was last invoked in 1980 in an attempt to prevent a cinema from showing Monty Python's "Life of Brian", and the last conviction was over eight decades ago
  • Authoritarian states use Canada's Section 296 as moral cover to defend their own blasphemy laws
  • Human rights activists around the world have called for Canada to repeal its blasphemy law to strengthen their campaigns for freedom of speech in their own countries

(The Canadian Secular Alliance has a brief  policy position on blasphemy  that makes a compelling case for its repeal.)
On June 6, 2017, the government introduced Bill C-51 , an omnibus bill that repeals 39 sections and subsections of the Criminal Code (including blasphemous libel), as well as modifying several sections pertaining to admissibility of evidence in sexual assault cases. In November 2017, Greg Oliver, President of the Canadian Secular Alliance, testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to affirm support for repealing Section 296. 
Bill C-51 has  passed all three readings  in the House of Commons, and is currently (as of the end of May 2018)  in committee with the Senate , having passed the first two readings there. Based on the  speeches made at the second reading  in the Senate, repealing Canada's blasphemous libel law is not contentious. Careful attention is being paid to updating evidence admissibility in sexual assault cases, which is entirely appropriate.
Though it cannot be known for certain whether blasphemous libel would have been included in bill C-51 without the intervention of Canada's foremost freethought organizations, I am confident that the meeting with Justice Department officials raised the profile of section 296 while they were crafting this legislation. 
Though one cannot predict when a bill in committee will be presented to the Senate for a third reading, there is no reason to expect that bill C-51 will not become law in due course. When it receives royal assent, blasphemous libel will no longer be a crime in Canada. 
Chill, but do not yet uncork, your favourite bottle of Champagne.

Think Check
Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity?
Edan Tasca

In a pivotal courtroom scene from the show Better Call Saul (spoiler alert!), Saul (at this point still named Jimmy) is questioning his brother Chuck about his electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), a condition that leaves Chuck allergic to electromagnetism emitted by countless devices around him. This leaves Chuck largely a shut-in who lives by candlelight and often wraps himself in cellophane to ward off the unpleasant electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Complaints from sufferers of EHS often involve numerous symptoms, including digestive problems, burning sensations, skin redness, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, even depression and anxiety. The suspected culprits are all around us: cellphones, cellphone towers, power lines, radios, computers, and simple light bulbs. Given the ubiquity of these devices, it would be sheer hell to live with this condition, given that you’d be bombarded with poisonous energy non-stop.
To accommodate Chuck’s condition, the lights in the courtroom have been turned off, and everyone has been asked to leave their phones outside the room. Jimmy approaches Chuck and asks if he can feel any electromagnetism as a result. Chuck suspects Jimmy’s playing a trick. Does Jimmy have a cellphone on him, despite that he’s not supposed to? Yes, he does. Jimmy reveals the phone. But, Chuck points out triumphantly, there’s no battery in the device. Jimmy asks Chuck to reach into his breast pocket. There, Chuck finds a fully charged battery, which was planted on him just before the trial, and should have been aggravating Chuck’s symptoms. Instead, Chuck has appeared fine the entire time the battery was on him. Chuck’s condition, we’ve been shown, is in his head.
One explanation for EHS is the nocebo effect, the opposite of the placebo effect. Whereas a placebo (e.g., a sham treatment we believe is real) might make us feel better because we expect it to, the nocebo effect will make us feel worse because we expect to. Another explanation is that the condition is psychosomatic—that is, the physical symptoms aren’t caused by the EMFs but rather by some kind of psychological issue.
The Government of Canada, based on its research, states that “there is no scientific evidence that the symptoms attributed to EHS are actually caused by exposure to EMFs.” Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reviewed 25,000 articles on the topic. It concludes that “to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health.”
Compounding the problems is that many health practitioners (some legitimate, others shady) have been trotting out all kinds of treatments and/or cures. These include chiropractic, homeopathy, cleanses, and fantastical devices such as the EarthCalm Home EMF Protection System ( ). This is made more tragic given that psychotherapy, in particular cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown in some to alleviate EHS.
Read the Government of Canada’s statement here.
Read the WHO’s factsheets and backgrounders on electromagnetic energy here.
Books and Authors
Have you read a good book lately? One that made you think more critically? One that changed your outlook? Something that used science to call into question misinformation? Critical Links is looking for book reviewers to share their thoughts on books that other members will enjoy.

If you would like more information on the type of book reviews we are interested in, please email:
Centre for Inquiry Canada | 613-663-8198| |