The HAO has never forgotten its founding principles which are to be actively involved in the issues of the day and to bring the need for reforms to political attention.
HAO and Nuclear Disarmament
This photo was taken in the mid nineties outside Parliament on Wellington Street. It shows HAO members supporting Nuclear Disarmament. A note of protest was presented to the French Embassy and the group made a point of passing by the Chinese Embassy. Personnel from this Embassy could be seen peeking from behind the drapes.
HAO on Billy Graham
Sometimes, individual members made a protest on their own. This picture is of a member whose face has been concealed and name withheld to protect the guilty! The member objected to Billy Graham, the American Evangelist's visit to Ottawa in June 1998. Painted on a sign outside a church advertising the event were the words "New Revelation says" along with a sticker "No Gods, No Masters."
Petition to remove "God" from the Canadian Constitution
For one hundred and fifteen years, Canada was governed by the British North America Act as set out by the British Parliament. In 1982 all that changed when, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada acquired its own constitution known as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This document clearly defines equal rights for all citizens and Canadians are justly proud of it.
However, in the preamble of the Charter, it states in part: "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law. . ." This section had been hastily added after extensive lobbying by a few religious groups and some Members of Parliament.
In 1997, Fern Wayman, with the support of her husband Laurie, and Ray Blessin - all members of an Atheist group from British Columbia - sent a petition to Parliament asking for the reference to "God" be removed. Ray's friend, then MP Svend Robinson, NDP for Burnaby-Douglas, agreed to present the petition. The Humanist Association of Canada along with other humanist associations, including the HAO, helped with distributing the petition, and eventually, there were over 1,000 signatures.
The petition caused an uproar across Canada. Once the media heard about the petition the phones started ringing off the hook in Svend's office, Ray's home and the HAC office. The petition was even picked by the international press. Many humanists country-wide participated in interviews in print, radio and television. The general public participated in the CBC radio program Cross Country Check-up. The August 1999 issue of the Humanist in Canada (#130) featured the subject as its lead article, an excellent essay written by Professor of Theology John G. Stackhouse of the Royal College Vancouver. His balanced view supported the removal of God from the preamble, although he himself is a committed Christian.
On June 8th 1999 as Svend Robinson read the petition in the House of Commons he got jeers and catcalls from his fellow MPs. Alexa McDonough, then NDP leader, shocked everyone by banishing him to the back benches as punishment. Normally, there are 5 - 10 petitions read out in Parliament daily and most go unnoticed. This petition mentioned 'God' and all hell broke loose. Humanists, not prepared for the outrage the petition caused, were completely taken by surprise.
As the petition was being read in Parliament, a group of Humanists from the Ottawa area area were staging a demonstration on the steps outside the Parliament building.
The Government responded to the petition by saying that the non-religious were protected by the Charter and that there were no plans to amend the Charter. Even before the this petition, HAC had been trying to ensure that the principle of separation of church and state should be spelled out in any amended Canadian constitution.
Outside the Supreme Court of Canada, HAO members get ready for the march to Parliament Hill to protest the word 'God' in the preamble to the Constitution.
These photos show HAO members protesting outside the Houses of Parliament 8 June1999, as Svend Robinson was inside reading the petition.
Cartoons on The Petition
Toronto Star 17 June 1999
Display Tables and Parades
HAO, over the years has often booked a display table at various events to promote humanism to the public.
This picture, taken in 2009, has Darwin, a yellow Labrador dog and owner of HAO member of Evan Frank, keeping Humanists in line while the photo is being taken.
Darwin Proclamation Day
On 12th February 2003, the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the City of Ottawa proclaimed this day as "Darwin Day" for that year, at the request of the HAO. Other Humanist groups across Canada emulated HAO's initiative.
This photo shows HAO member Dan Mayo picking up the Proclamation from Councilor Alex Cullen, at Ottawa City Hall.
Remembrance Day 11th November 2005
HAO member Peter Moller is shown laying a wreath on behalf of the HAC. This symbolic gesture is to pay tribute to all those freethinkers who gave their lives for our freedoms; and to show that there are atheists in foxholes.
Planned Parenthood March
HAO members joined with Dr Henry Morgentaler to march in the streets of Ottawa in support of a woman's right to choose. These photos were taken on 25th April 2004.
Humanists support the 'No Sharia' Campaign
In 2003, Roy Brown, from the International Humanist & Ethical Union contacted the HAC to find out if it was true that Canada was going to accept Muslim Sharia laws as part of its legal system. On investigation, it was revealed that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was considering implementing Sharia Arbitration Courts, much like the Jewish Arbitration Courts that were already in existence.
Mumtaz Sayed Ali, a retired Muslim lawyer initiated this proposal, arguing that these courts would save time and money because they would free up an already overburdened court system. Only Sharia laws pertaining to family matters and business disputes would be considered.
What Ali didn't mention was that Sharia laws are overwhelmingly biased against women's rights. Many Muslims had risked their lives to escape those countries under Sharia laws to come to countries like Canada.
Ali's proposal attracted world wide attention, bringing together Humanist groups like HAO, Muslim women's groups, liberal Muslims, human rights groups and other freethinker groups. Homa Arjmand was instrumental in the fight to stop Sharia laws being accepted in Ontario, and managed a 'No Sharia' campaign to bring attention to the issue.
Demonstrations, panel discussions and immense media coverage across Canada and around the world put pressure on the Ontario government.
Not everyone was on our side. This was an email (unedited) received on 27th December 2003:
I read about the implementation of Sharia law in canada regarding civil laws dealing with muslims i.e. divorce ,inheritance ,marriage etc. I also came across your comments saying that Sharia is not compatible with "secularist Canada" and that it is a disadvantage to muslim women because it (shariah) oppresses them .I am very very surprised at the level of ignorance of an "educated" person like you.
Either you have really no knowledge about the SYSTEM of Islam or you harbour deep prejudice against Islam & Muslims. Why is it that atheists like you can have the "right" to your lifestyle even if it is destroying the fabric of our society like homosexual marriage and people who want to practice their FAITH can't do so because the so-called humanists like you think it goes against the secular way of western society.
Secularism is a seperation of church (religion) and state but it also alows people to live acording to the principles and laws they choose. Secularism CANNOT be imposed upon people who want to live a Moral lifestyle. Do you want Canada to become another France? or may be it's just ignorance on your part. I hope you invest 'some' time in learning about the Advantages religious ways can bring to an otherwise materialistic and selfish society.
The photo shows 'No Sharia' campaigners getting ready to demonstrate on 8th September 2005, outside the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa.
A few days later, on 11th September 2005, the McGuinty Government backed down and declared that 'Ontario will not become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of a set of centuries' old religious rules called Sharia law to settle Muslim family disputes, and will ban all religious arbitrations in the province.' McGuinty said that "there will be one law for all Ontarians".