In this Edition of Critical Links:

CFIC and Canadian News and Events
  • September Dates of Interest
  • What’s Happening in our Branches
  • Volunteering for CFI Canada

Secular Check
  • Canada vs Saudi Arabia

Science Check
  • HIV Treatment from Genetically Modified Rice
  • Vaginal Rejuvenation
  • Monsanto and Lititgation

Think Check
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing
  • Measles on the Rise

Books and Authors
  • Sharing Reality (Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan)
September Dates of Interest
September 30 is

Most of our readers will recall that Canada is still in the process of eliminating its blasphemy law, which was last challenged in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, in 1980, when a theatre was charged with blasphemous libel for showing the Monty Python film Life of Brian .

Here in Canada, our blasphemy laws are rarely invoked, and indeed seem absurd. But many countries around the world do not enjoy the same religious freedoms we do. International Blasphemy Rights Day, then, represents not only an opportunity to celebrate our own freedoms, but can double as a show of solidarity with those less fortunate countries.

As a member of ICABL , the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, CFI Canada has been an integral part of the campaign to eliminate blasphemy laws both here in Canada and around the world.

This September 30, we would like you to consider donating to CFIC to demonstrate your support for our ongoing efforts to promote secularism and prevent the encroachment of religious values on Canadian government and society.

Click here to make a one-time or monthly tax-deductible donation to CFIC to lend a hand in the fight for free expression.
September 3 is Labour Day, the end of the last long weekend of the summer. Labour Day is celebrated by many countries around the world at various times of the year. In Canada, according to Time and Date , it was first recognized in 1872 as a demonstration in Toronto to secure the release of trade union leaders who were imprisoned for striking at a time when trade unions were illegal. A second demonstration was organized a few months later in Ottawa, which prompted a promise from Sir John A. Macdonald to repeal Canadian laws against trade unions.

September 23 is the Autumnal (or Southward) equinox and the first day of Fall: This is when the day and night are approximately an equal 12 hours each, all over the world. (Technically this is not true: For the celestial scholars among you, please read more here .)

If you celebrate any of these events, please drop us a line or send us a picture to
CFIC Branch Updates
Coming Events
Saskatoon: Blasphemy Rights Day Fundraiser
CFIC Saskatoon is hosting a Blasphemy Rights Day fundraiser! Please join us Saturday, September 29, from 6-10 pm. Feel free to dress as a deity: one taken seriously, one widely known to be mythical, or, heck, one you just made up! Best costume gets a free meal!
Entry fees will be $10 for members of the general public, and $5 for active CFIC members. For more information, check out the CFI Saskatoon Meetup

Ottawa: Screening Highway of Tears
CFIC Ottawa, in conjunction with the Humanist Association of Ottawa and the first Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa, is pleased to present a screening of the 2015 documentary, Highway of Tears . According to its website, the film examines the cases of “missing and murdered [First Nations] women along a 724 kilometer stretch of highway in northern British Columbia” known as Highway 16, between 1969 and 2011.

Date: Tuesday October 2 nd
Time:  7:30 pm
Location: First Unitarian Church, 30 Cleary Avenue (Westboro)
Free parking, free admission, refreshments provided .
Past Events

Toronto: Finding Purpose in a Godless World , with Ralph Lewis
Earlier this month, CFIC Toronto was honoured to host psychiatrist Ralph Lewis for a talk about his book Finding Purpose in a Godless World . Dr. Lewis spoke about the ways in which human beings can derive meaning in a world that seems to be Godless, or, at the very least, that seems to have been forgotten — forsaken? — by God.
His talk was followed by an interesting interview between him and CFIC Toronto branch President Rohit Mohindra. Then we had a fruitful Q&A and a book signing. There was much applause and even a nice amount of laughter.
Organized by the new CFIC Toronto leadership team, the event was a success, bringing in 45+ audience members, and inspiring no fewer than 10 attendees to sign up for CFIC memberships. CFIC Toronto looks forward to hosting many more similar talks.
Job well done!
Ottawa: Capital Pride March
CFIC Ottawa marched in the Ottawa pride parade, Sunday, August 26, 2018. With over 20 marchers in our group, which also included members of HAO (Humanists of Ottawa), we carried signs reading "Stop Faith-Based Bigotry!" We were very well received, and we had numerous inquiries about what CFIC does.
Another job well done!
Volunteering for CFI Canada
Did you know that the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) is run almost entirely by a committed group of volunteers? We welcome new volunteers in a variety of roles to assist us in spreading the word about science and secularism.  
This month we are focusing on recruiting a National Volunteer Coordinator. This position has a flexible schedule. The volunteer coordinator receives and reviews volunteer applications (approximately 4-6 per month), meets with the applicant, and refers the volunteer to an appropriate role. Training is provided.
To find out more about CFIC volunteer opportunities, please complete our volunteer application form .

Science Check
Food as Medicine: Genetically Modified Rice, and HIV
Andrea Palmeiri

Another GMO success story is in the making with the release of a new study reporting the successful development of a strain of genetically modified rice that can prevent and treat infections of HIV, the virus responsible for the AIDS disease. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , the international team comprised of scientists from the U.S., UK, and Spain cite that in preliminary in vitro tests, the rice produces three specific proteins that can attach directly to the HIV virus, neutralizing and blocking its transmission.

How will it be used? The rice seeds can be processed into a paste and applied as a topical cream, making it an affordable and accessible alternative to oral antiretroviral drugs. This format is particularly helpful for those living in developing countries, where the demand for treatment is the highest. For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the African Region is the most affected, with 25.7 million people living with HIV in 2017.

Extensive testing and safety assessments must still be done to ensure potentially harmful, unintended effects do not occur. However, there is a bigger headache the team may have to worry about: public acceptance. Genetically modified food is still plagued by stigma, and if the introduction of this novel rice variety resembles anything like the Golden Rice Saga , it might get stuck in regulatory purgatory.

Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, once said, “Let food be thy medicine,” which many people use today to justify their erroneous belief that food can heal illnesses better than conventional, science-based medicine. In this case, the new genetically modified rice literally is food that is medicine. It can help millions of people who suffer from HIV live longer and healthier lives – if we allow it.
Energy-based Devices and Vaginal Rejuvenation 
Beverly Carter

In recent years, vaginal rejuvenation procedures have gained increasing popularity in Western countries, not only among healthcare providers but also among women. "Rejuvenation" is an ill-defined term used to describe non-surgical procedures intended to treat vaginal symptoms and/or conditions including vaginal laxity, vaginal atrophy, dryness or itching, pain during sexual intercourse, pain during urination, and decreased sexual sensation. Some approaches include the use of energy-based devices that usually use radio waves or lasers on the surface mucosa of the vagina and vulva.

On July 30, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States unexpectedly issued a  Safety Communication for patients considering any vaginal "rejuvenation" or cosmetic vaginal procedures intended to treat vaginal conditions and symptoms related to menopause, urinary incontinence, or sexual function. The communication warned healthcare providers who perform said procedures using energy-based devices that those devices are not proven safe or effective for vaginal rejuvenation or vaginal cosmetic surgery. Rather than improving patient health, these products may cause harm, including “vaginal burns, scarring, pain during sexual intercourse, and recurring/chronic pain.” The FDA further recommended that any patients having undergone treatment for vaginal "rejuvenation" and have experienced a complication are encouraged to file a report through  MedWatch, the FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting program .

In addition, the FDA sent letters to seven marketing companies demanding information about the companies’ unproven health claims about these products. Though approved for sale by the FDA, the agency notes that companies marketed the devices for a wide variety of treatments that have no association with the ailments for which they were approved.

Health Canada has approved the usage of some laser devices for vaginal therapy, and clinics across Canada from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia are advertising the use of energy-based devices for vaginal rejuvenation. Advertisements include claims that “a non-surgical, quick, safe and highly effective laser vaginal rejuvenation procedure effectively restores damaged tissue without anesthetic or numbing cream” and “treatment options for vaginal rejuvenation use radiofrequency energy to gently heat tissue to rejuvenate collagen, without discomfort or downtime.”

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) has not specifically addressed this issue. However, in 2013 they released a policy statement prepared by their Clinical Practice Gynaecology and Ethics Committees, and approved by both the SOGC Executive and Council. They found that there is little evidence to support any of the female genital cosmetic surgeries or vaginal rejuvenation in terms of improvement to sexual satisfaction or self-image. They advised that physicians choosing to proceed with these cosmetic procedures should not promote surgeries for the enhancement of sexual function, and advertising of female genital cosmetic surgical procedures should be avoided. This position was echoed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists underlining that presenting female genital cosmetic surgery procedures as unproblematic was inappropriate because it misinforms women about the actual efficacy of these procedures.

More recently, in April 2018, the SOGC published a study out of Montreal entitled “No. 358 - Intravaginal Laser for Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause and Stress Urinary Incontinence,” which offered multiple recommendations, one of which is that for patients declining or with apparent contraindication to local estrogen, intravaginal laser therapy may be considered for short-term relief of symptoms such as atrophy and sexual dysfunction. However, they strongly cautioned that there was insufficient evidence to offer intravaginal laser therapy as an equivalent form of therapy to estrogen. They also stated that long-term use of intravaginal laser therapy remains experimental and should remain within the protocols of well-executed clinical trials in attempts to establish its safety and efficacy.
CFIC supports science-based medicine in Canada and advocates for empirically supported medical services. Women considering this mode of therapy should be aware of the lack of evidence supporting its use, the real possibilities of side effects, and the lack of support for their use by multiple governing agencies.
Monsanto Punished by Jury
Blythe Nilson, CFIC Science Chair

Monsanto doesn’t exist anymore, but it was hit with a $289 million US judgement last month. Bayer finalized the purchase of Monsanto in June 2018 and will discontinue the name, but it inherited this precedent-setting lawsuit launched in 2016. DeWayne Johnson was awarded $39 million (U.S.) in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages by the Superior Court of California, San Francisco. Punitive awards are given as “punishment” for willful wrongdoing; this jury decided that Monsanto knowingly failed to warn users of the dangers of using Roundup.

The claim was that glyphosate, the main component of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, was responsible for causing Mr. Johnson’s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), a cancer of the lymphatic system. Mr. Johnson was a groundskeeper for a California school system who, in the course of his job, used Roundup dozens of times per year and had spilled large volumes on himself twice. It is almost impossible to discern a cause for any specific cancer, and most cases of NHL are idiopathic , meaning that there is no cause found and they arise spontaneously. The cause of Mr. Johnson’s cancer was never determined.

In 2015 the World Health Organization deemed glyphosate a “ probable carcinogen ”, causing a surge of anti-glyphosate sentiment and criticism from the scientific community . However, a crucial study was missing from this decision and after the final meta-analysis was included the updated data reinforced earlier conclusions that “ there is no evidence linking glyphosate exposure to cancer incidence ”. After this point was successfully argued in court, Johnson’s attorney Timothy Litzenburg convinced the jury that it must have been the combination of glyphosate and other ingredients in Roundup that had “ synergistic effects ” that caused his cancer.
Litzenburg said, “Friday's verdict is historic, especially since Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world.” Although Bayer is going to appeal the verdict, there are thousands of other lawsuits against Roundup awaiting trial. This is certainly going to be a game-changer, and not in a good way, if Roundup or glyphosate is banned. When glyphosate was brought on the market it replaced older, more toxic herbicides and there is nothing on the horizon that is better than glyphosate. In the European Union, where resistance to glyphosate use is high, farmers are having trouble replacing it . Reverting to older, and possibly more toxic, alternatives will cost more, do more damage to crops, and possibly cause more adverse health effects.

Dr. Steven Novella, of Science Based Medicine notes that “agricultural decisions should be based on a consensus view of the science, not the emotions of 12 jurors who clearly wanted to punish Monsanto regardless of what the science says.” It is quite possible that Bayer could go bankrupt if these lawsuits continue, as Dow Corning did after it was hit with lawsuits alleging their breast implants caused cancer. It was later shown that there was no link between the implants and cancer, but it was too late for Dow Corning. A legal system where a jury of non-scientists can rule against a large consensus of evidence, and award a crippling monetary penalty to a company that helps keep agriculture afloat, is alarming. If Roundup is banned, as Mr. Litzenburg hopes, the best, least toxic herbicide will no longer be available to farmers, and the world’s food supply will get a little more precarious.

Secular Check
Diplomatic Fallout: Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Human Rights
Jason Lawrence, CFIC Human Rights Chair

On August 2, a tweet from the Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada began what is now a full-fledged dispute between our federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy and the unitary Islamic absolute monarchy.

The tweet at the centre of the feud was in response to the news from Amnesty International that the Saudi government had arrested several female activists. The tweet expressed alarm at the imprisonment of one of the female activists: Samar Badawi, the sister of Saudi writer, dissident, and activist Raif Badawi, who has been imprisoned since 2012, sentenced to 10 years, a fine, and 1000 lashes for insulting Islam.

Fearing for her safety and after receiving death threats, Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, along with their three children, fled Saudi Arabia and took refuge in Canada, and have since been awarded Canadian citizenship.

Four days after the tweet, Saudia Arabia demanded that Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak leave the Kingdom within 24 hours. Subsequently, new trade and investments have been suspended, among other actions taken. The Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia via Twitter has accused the Canadian position on the (latest) arrests as a form of [unacceptable] “blatant interference” in violation of the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Ministry also threatened that further attempts to interfere in the Kingdom’s internal affairs would entitle it to interfere in Canadian internal affairs.

In response, the Canadian government has doubled down on its stance as well, refusing to back down, and promising to stand up for Canadian values in addition to universal values and human rights.

Saudi Arabia launched its own campaign attacking Canada’s treatment of women denouncing Canada as one of the worst oppressors of women. All the while, the impending execution of Israa al-Ghomgham, the first execution of a female activist in the Saudi Arabia, remains on the horizon.

The news has led to Canada reiterating its stance, while the Prime Minister has stated that we continue to engage with Saudi Arabia diplomatically.

Canada is not the first country to criticize Saudi Arabia for human rights violations, nor the first to receive backlash from Saudi Arabia, who has remained hostile to any external criticisms of its “internal affairs”. What makes this situation unique is the extent to which diplomatic relations have severed at the behest of the Saudi government in such a short time, coupled with an escalation of tension stemming from both countries firmly standing their ground.

Canada’s position on and commitment to defending human rights locally and globally, as in its opposition to the Saudi government, raises questions of whether the “relations” between the two countries can be repaired. Other questions remain. How Canada chooses to proceed may reveal how committed we are to free speech, free expression, and human rights. These and other global human rights issues remain in the balance.

Think Check
EMDR: Groundbreaking, Spooky, or Both?
 Edan Tasca, CFIC Mental Health Chair
Psychologist Francine Shapiro was walking along the beach one day in the 1980s. She was mulling some unpleasant memories. She also noticed that when she was darting her eyes back and forth, this seemed to alleviate some of the emotional stress of these memories.
Based on this experience, in 1989 Shapiro rolled out a new approach to psychotherapy, aimed at treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Particularly difficult memories, according to the theory behind this approach, tend to overwhelm normal coping mechanisms, leaving the memory and associated stimuli improperly processed and stored in an isolated memory network. There, they’re targeted in therapy for “reprocessing.”
Reprocessing such memories is accomplished by what Shapiro calls “bilateral stimulation,” a process of alternately stimulating the hemispheres of the brain. Stimulation is carried out through a number of different methods, such as back-and-forth eye movement (following the therapist’s waving fingers, for example), alternate finger tapping, flashing lights, etc. The patient can choose which stimulation they prefer.
How does bilateral stimulation work? According to Shapiro, “Within all of us there's an information-processing system. When a trauma occurs this information-processing system becomes unbalanced. And the perceptions that were there at the time of the event become locked, metaphorically, in their own neural networks and are unable to connect with anything more adaptive.”
Not everyone in the psychological community agrees that this is truly an effective approach. An early and consistent critic of the new therapy, Harvard psychologist Richard McNally, questions whether bilateral eye movement possesses any therapeutic efficacy beyond the traditional exposure component. In other words, EMDR, in his view, is simply the standard exposure approach to traumatic memories with an added superfluous bilateral stimulation. He sums his view up thus: “What is effective in EMDR is not new, and what is new is not effective.”
The research on EMDR is a mixed bag, with many studies suggesting no effect and many suggesting an effect, for conditions like PTSD as well as other anxiety-based conditions and depression. However, those suggesting an effect are often of limited value because of imperfect study designs.
As always, we need more research.
Measles on the Comeback in Europe
Blythe Nilson, CFIC Science Chair

Measles, one of the most contagious of all human diseases, is fully preventable by vaccination, but cases are nevertheless on the rise again in Europe. Russian bots are contributing to anti-vaccination campaigns in Ukraine and the result is nothing short of abominable. As of late August there were 41,000 cases across Europe , mostly in the east. If Italy votes to suspend its requirement for schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated , the number of cases could start to rise there too. 

Measles is a particularly nasty disease that will infect 90% of unvaccinated people who come in contact with it. It’s very dangerous for pregnant women, because it can affect the fetus, and 28% of children younger than 5 years old infected with measles have to be treated in a hospital. It can cause blindness, deafness, pneumonia, brain damage, and even death. In developed countries, mortality rates are about two people per thousand who contract the disease. In countries with less access to healthcare, this can rise to 10 per thousand.

The antivax movement is one of the most difficult things for critical thinkers to understand. It literally kills children.

Books and Authors
Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World (Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan)
Book review by Darryl Brabant
In a world where our values are derived from what we believe, understanding how and why we arrive at these convictions is vital to the overall well-being of society. Seeking to ensure that our beliefs are based on facts and not opinions will help guide us in the struggle to develop “good” social values and into a more harmonious world. So how do we go about constructing such an environment within a society that has been impregnated with religious truth claims and all sorts of supernatural beliefs? Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan set out to provide us with some insight into this important question in their book Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World .
As a species we have evolved a diverse set of survival skills that played a pivotal role at a time when the extinction of the genus Homo was a legitimate possibility. Sharing Reality starts out by exploring how these adaptations have transformed over thousands of years from small group tribalism into the religious super-tribal identities that engulf the modern world. While “tribalism” (co-operating within a group with a cohesive belief system while having distrust of other groups with conflicting beliefs) may have increased our chance of survival early on in our evolution, this is not the case today. These types of division cause fear and distrust and have led to countless numbers of innocent people being murdered, tortured, or cast out from their cultures for simply not adhering to the same belief system. While some religious systems have made progress in becoming more tolerant towards other groups, there is still much work to be done in convincing them that accepting science and the core values of secularism is the only way to move cultural evolution forward.
According to Haley and McGowan, the meaning of “secular” includes three core values:
1. Equality
2. Liberty
3. Truth in Government
These core values promote tolerance of other people and their values. Sounds great. However, secularism is intolerant of people not accepting these core values, because this would diminish the well-being of society. How do we go about spreading these values that go against the beliefs of other “tribes”?
The authors concede that we cannot effectively spread secularism without the mutual acceptance of the scientific way of knowing. The scientific consensus of the facts will be the tool that will dislodge false belief systems and eliminate truth claims that violate the principles of secularism. From personal experience, this is where things get a bit tricky: We have a good understanding of what our goals are, but how do we convey our message effectively to Aunt Thelma who has been reading the “good book” for half a century?

The authors take a somewhat soft approach on this subject when compared to the “firebrand” method used by the likes of Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins. Their method includes educating those who hold to irrational beliefs as opposed to just ridiculing them. In the chapter “How to spread Secularism and Science”, you are guided through a process that they believe will cultivate a receptive mind in your listener, making the act of persuading them to accept science and secularism much easier. While there is some great information on what we should and shouldn’t do when we are trying to convey our message to the religious community, I found the book to have a predilection towards accommodationism.
There is a belief that is conveyed throughout the last two chapters that a person does not have to totally abandon his religion after accepting scientific fact. To attain this objective, Haley and McGowan suggest we replace words such as “atheism” — which is now used in so many different contexts that it just leads to confusion — with a new word, “evidism,” that they believe will more clearly define anyone who embraces a scientific understanding of the world. This also leaves the door open for those who choose to retain values from their religion to continue to identify as “religious,” despite that this group might accept the conclusions of science.
There are some far reaching outcomes of this method portrayed throughout the book that border on wishful thinking. For example, in one scenario a single church congregation member is convinced to accept science and secularism. They in turn successfully convince other congregation members of the same. Over time the majority of the congregation have come to accept science and secularism and no longer will accept any type of sermon that includes a god or any religious truth claims that contradict their new set of beliefs. The leadership of the church has no choice but to bow to the pressure and we are left with a godless church.
While it is true that some religious institutions have evolved to accept some scientific facts, such as evolution, the assertion is still that a god or deity of some sort was and always will be the architect off all things. The driving force for acceptance of scientific truth has been the overwhelming evidence in support of naturalistic theories about the natural world, not so much a voluntary act. In the face of scientific truth, one can only spin false truth claims so far before they simply lose all credibility, even to an irrational mind.
There is also the problem of allowing the religious to hold onto the values that had originated from a god or deity. This is in conflict with science and secularism and we need to remember that these people do vote and lobby government, based on these values. So we need to ask ourselves, If this last remnant of religion is stripped away, what purpose does it serve? Is there a reason for the continuing existence of religion?
In response to the assertions that science and religion can coexist, made by Stephen Jay Gould in his book Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (quoted in Sharing Reality ), Jerry A. Coyne, in his book Faith vs Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible , quotes Christian physicist Ian Hutchinson on what a stripped down religion would amount to: "But the religion (Gould) is making room for is empty of any claims to historical or scientific fact, doctrinal authority and supernatural experience. Such a religion, whatever be its attraction to the liberal scientistic mind, could never be Christianity, or for that matter, Judaism or Islam."

This fear of losing one's identity, community, and special privilege that religion brings is what will keep this battle raging for the unforeseen future.
Despite the accommodationist slant, I do recommend Sharing Reality . It will give you some insight on how to redefine your approach and effectiveness when it comes to communicating the importance of accepting sciences and secularism in an evolving religious world. I would also recommend reading the titles by Coyne and Gould mentioned in this review; they will give you a well-rounded perspective.
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| |