Friday, March 6, 2009

Ottawa Discriminates Against Atheists

The Atheist bus was coming to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. But the staff at OCTranspo, banned the ads.
Alex Cullen, the chair of the city transit committee tried to over-rule that decision. However three of the other members voted against him:

The ads being proposed by the Humanist Society of Canada are a test of our commitment to the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, which guarantees both the freedom of expression and the freedom of belief. To believe must include the ability not to believe. If we are to be tolerant of all religions, then we must be tolerant of those who do not profess to a religion. That is why the City of Ottawa should not ban the proposed ads from the Humanist Society, as to do so would violate the very freedoms that we espouse as part of our Charter.

It is true that the freedoms contained in our Charter are not absolute or limitless - there can be reasonable limits imposed on these by society. The courts have done so and the Advertising Standards Canada, which OC Transpo uses as a guideline, do so within that context. The limits imposed on these freedoms deal with those matters which demean, denigrate or disparage a person or group of persons, which the code of Advertising Standards Canada provides (section 14(c)). While one can disagree with the point of the ads proposed by the Humanist Society of Canada they do not meet this test of the Advertising Standards Canada code, and so should be permitted. To do otherwise is simply censorship.

Unfortunately Transit Committee today, on a 3-3 vote(!), rejected my motion to permit these ads. I will be bringing this matter to City Council on March 11. Please let my Council colleagues know your views.
This is not just a matter of free speech, but discrimination against atheists. Anyone who lives in Ottawa has seen religious ads on busses:

"Grow stronger through this simple exercise - pray"
"You say his name often on the highway. Why not try saying it in church?"
The "Alpha Course" has advertised on OCTranspo busses.
The Bible Bus Studies group have received permission to run their ads.

Alex Cullen has put forward a motion for March 11th that says it all, really. It's a matter of free speech, it's about not discriminating against atheists. It's about making sure any policy is fair and applied fairly.

No comments:

Post a Comment