The Humanist Association of Toronto provides a focus of activities and discussion for Humanists in the Toronto area. Please note: HAT events are open to the public, and views expressed do not necessarily represent the official views of the Humanist Association of Toronto. For all public statements, educational events, media enquiries, please contact the webeditor, who will forward your enquiry to our Spokesperson.
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm
The Monthly Meeting the 2nd or 3rd Saturday at 1:30pm (TBD)
The Steering Committee meets 1st Wednesday, 7pm
The Book Group meets monthly.

HAT Forum: Responsibility of Institutions in a Pluralistic Society

HAT Forum
Saturday 7 March 2015, 11:00-1:00
519 Church St., Meeting Room #304
Topic: Responsibility of Institutions in a Pluralistic Society
Proposed by: Richard Dowsett

1. In a pluralistic society, what approach should institutions (judicial, education, health) take with regard to communicating values and knowledge that may be controversial for some?
2. Do these institutions have a mandate or possibly a duty to promote certain values and knowledge in the name of socialization and education?
3. Should institutions "teach the controversy" and openly discuss minority viewpoints in the name of pluralism?
4. Should institutions remain "neutral" to values and only present facts?
5. Discuss these questions in terms of the current debate of the sex education curriculum and the ongoing questions of teaching creationism and religious education.
6. Do the answers change when the venue changes from the Public system to the Separate Schools to private schools?

Panel discussion: Limitations on Freedom of Speech

The group Why Should I Care is holding a discussion titled "Limitations on Freedom of Speech"
When: Wednesday, March 4th, 7:30-9:00. (Doors open at 7:00)
Where: The Rose and Crown, 2335 Yonge St.
Toronto Star’s Public Editor Kathy English, and Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, will discuss the challenges of protecting free speech, when it’s best to stay silent, and some of the free speech-related conflicts happening in the world today.
Admission is free but organizers request RSVP: see their website here.

This is not an HAT event, and is listed for informational purposes.

HAT Forum: "We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness"

HAT Forum
Saturday 28 February 2015, 11:00-1:00
519 Church St., Meeting Room #304
Proposed by: Bill Kennedy

Topic: "We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
How many meanings can we compose from this?

New sex education curriculum for Ontario announced

Ontario has unveiled its new, long-delayed updates to physical and health education, including sex education. This includes many of the changes in the ill-fated proposal from 2010, which HAT had supported but that the government withdrew under pressure from fundamentalist groups. It also includes some new topics.

A good summary of the changes from the Toronto Star is here.

If you want to exam the curriculum in all its detail, here are the pdf files from the Ministry of Education website. (Note that these are the full health/phys ed curriculum. Sex education requirements are part of the "healthy living" strand in each grade's curriculum.)

The curriculum for Grades 1-8: See pp. 92-95, 106-110, 120-124, 139-144, 155-160, 171-177, 194-201, 214-220 for Healthy Living strands.

The curriculum for Grades 9-12: See pp. 101-108, 120-126, 139-144, 154-160

Catherine Dunphy on the Clergy Project

HAT Monthly Speaker
Saturday, March 14, 2015, 1:30 – 3:00
OISE, 252 Bloor west, Room 4-414 

SpeakerCatherine Dunphy - A humanist, atheist and former Roman Catholic student chaplain, Catherine is one of the founders of The Clergy Project and former Executive Director. She is the Operations Manager for Rational Doubt, a blog on Patheos – - and she is currently writing a book about the founding of The Clergy Project and her experience of losing her faith in seminary.
TopicThe Clergy Project. The purpose of The Clergy Project is to provide a safe haven for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs. It originated from a growing awareness of the presence of these professional clergy and a concern about their dilemma as they moved beyond faith. Catherine’s talk will be of interest to anyone who faces or has faced a similar dilemma.

HAT Forum: Openmindedness

HAT Forum
Saturday 21 February 2015, 11:00-1:00
519 Church St., Meeting Room #304
Topic: Openmindedness
Proposed by: Michael C.

If being open minded is considered by many as being virtuous, are we able to live up to that ideal?
Some quotes to consider:
              "Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted." - Walter Kirn

              "We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves the way we see and judge others." - Jose Pacheco
              "Don't preach what you don't practice. Otherwise you are a hypocrite." -anonymous
              "I would rather be known in life as an honest sinner than a lying hypocrite." -anonymous

Is there a contradiction between public response to Charlie Hebdo and to the demise of Sun TV?
Is it possible not to be hypocriticall?
Is it ever acceptable to be hypocritical?
Can we exist without being hypocritical?

Definition of hypocrite:
(1) A person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for. 
(2) A person who professes certain ideals, but fails to live up to them. 
(3) A person who holds other people to higher standards than he holds himself.

HAT Forum: Canada's Reputation -- Are we who we think we are?

Canada's Reputation - Are we who we think we are?

HAT Forum
Saturday, February 14th, 2015, 11:00-1:00
519 Church St., Meeting Room #304
Proposed by Dick Combeer

1: Who do we think we are?
2: What is Canada’s image in 2015? Who do “they” think we are?
3: Presuming our image and sense of our own identity diverge, how and why is that?
4: Is it right, perfectly fine, all as it should be, that Canada’s image, reputation and identity are each quite different from the other?
5: How have Canada’s core values changed in the past decade? quarter-century? half-century?
6: What does the future hold for Canada’s core values?

HAT Book Club: Belonging, by Adrienne Clarkson

The HAT Book  group will be discussing the following book on
 Saturday March 21 2015 at 2:30

Call 416-966-1361 or email for location

Belonging: the paradox of citizenship

by Adrienne Clarkson

Never has the world experienced greater movement of peoples from one country to another, from one continent to another. These seismic shifts in population have brought about huge challenges for all societies. In this year's Massey Lectures, Canada's twenty-sixth Governor General and bestselling author Adrienne Clarkson argues that a sense of belonging is a necessary mediation between an individual and a society. She masterfully chronicles the evolution of citizenship throughout the ages: from the genesis of the idea of the citizen in ancient Greece, to the medieval structures of guilds and class; from the revolutionary period which gave birth to the modern nation-state, to present-day citizenship based on shared values, consensus, and pluralism. Clarkson places particular emphasis on the Canadian model, which promotes immigration, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law, and the First Nations circle, which embodies notions of expansion and equality. She concludes by looking forward, using the Bhutanese example of Gross National Happiness to determine how we measure up today and how far we have to go to bring into being the citizen, and the society, of tomorrow.

February 7 Forum location: U of T Multifaith Centre

The HAT Forum for February 7 will be at
Multi-Faith Centre in Koffler House, U of T
569 Spadina Avenue, 3rd Floor, Toronto
(enter by rear door)
Access: 510 Spadina streetcar south from Spadina Station to Willcocks St. stop
              650 m walk from Spadina Station
              1100 m walk from Queen's Park Station

Topic: The Media & Objectivity
Date & Time: Saturday Feb 7, 2015 11:00 to 13:00
Location: The Multi-Faith Centre, Koffler House, UofT
                569 Spadina Ave at Willcocks
Proposer: Omar Linares

1. News media and documentaries purportedly inform the public of actual events and people, yet these accounts are mediated by their medium (sound records, photographs, video, written transcriptions and accounts), and mediated also by the participation of those who report and then convey the news or documenting of actual events.

How does this mediation affect the objectivity, truthfulness or veracity, of news coverage and documentaries?

2. How does the fact that audio, photographic, and video records register actual things enhance or limit the character of things? Is a photograph truthful on its own? (supposing that it is has not been tampered with)

3. In media, there is an editing process - a selection of what is captured and what is included. What is the impact of this selection in the objectivity, truthfulness, of a news item?
    Is the amount of coverage granted to a subject equivalent to its objectivity?
    How does this affect the inclusion or omission of other subjects?

4. How truthful can interviews be if interviewees can control what they say and interviewers can control the inclusion or omission of parts of the interview?
How does this control contrast with approaches to interviews as a way to force the truth out of interviewees (for example as in Errol Morris the Thin Blue Line or The Washington Post investigations on the Water Gate scandal)?
Is it possible to arrive at an objective truth, one that accurately refers to an event, through subjective accounts of it?

5. How objective are government advertisements, dramatic reconstructions of events, and documentaries sponsored by those documented? Does their bias prevent them from eliciting some truth? Can truth be extracted from biased accounts of events?

6. Are honesty and objectivity the same thing in news media and documentaries?

On February 14 we will return to 519 Church St.

HAT Forum: Is Lying Ethical?

HAT Forum
Saturday 31 January 2015
519 Church St., Meeting Room #304
Topic: Is lying ethical?
Proposed by: Richard Dowsett

To lie is “to deliberately manufacture falsehoods or conceal important facts to the detriment of others”. In Sam Harris’ short book, “Lying”, he makes a strong case for lying being a corrosive element to all human relationships and well-being and challenges us all to eliminate it from our lives.
1.    1. If you are scrupulously honest yourself, do you judge dishonesty of all sorts more harshly? Can you still be empathetic with other’s lies and why they tell them?
2.    2. “With lying, intent is everything.” Discuss the different sides of this statement.
3.    3. Some people lie to children about the “tough questions” (death, religion, sex, violence) as they are deemed not ready for the truth. Is this ethically justifiable?
4.    4. “White lies” are those made with the best of intentions - to spare hurt feelings or boost morale and self-esteem. What are the pros and cons of “white lies”? Is it possible that we ourselves are the major beneficiaries of the “white lie”?
5.    5. Do you view life in terms of long-term relationships or a sequence of individual transactions? How does this view affect your approach to lying?
6.    6. Some cultures place a higher priority on honour or politeness than they do on honesty. Are there any rules that can be drawn about the value of honesty across cultures?

HAT Forum: Policing in the 21st Century

HAT Forum
Saturday 24 January 2014
519 Church St. , Meeting Room 304
Topic: Policing in the 21st Century
Proposed by: Dick Combeer

Why do big city police forces engender the most public scrutiny? What would policing, carefully and completely based on Humanist principles, look like? Is it a fair characterization that big city police forces are based on locker-room machismo? Are such cultures irredeemable? Have strides been made in the past 20 years to eradicate gender and race bias? Are further strides necessary? Can they be gradual?

How brutal is brutal? If you were a police chief faced with a massive crowd of violent protestors at a highly visible and sensitive event, what would you do? Are the police, with heavy weaponry and dehumanizing masks and vests, their own worst enemy? Is police use of force the problem or a by-product? How different is the situation in Canada and in Toronto from the United States? What are some of the underlying sociological causes of societal breakdown that result in police violence? What possible remedies? Is there any hope? Can anything positive be said for carding?

Petition for sex education curriculum including consent

Two Toronto middle school students are campaigning to include consent as a topic in updated sex education curriculum. You can sign the petition at

Recall that the last time the province considered updating the sex education curriculum, in 2010, the government abandoned all changes in the face of a public campaign by fundamentalists. The new proposal, over 4 years later, has much the same content as the abandoned version, which HAT had supported. Humanists should learn from our failure in 2010, and be more active in pressing for a long-overdue update.

A news article with a little background on the overall changes:

An article about the aforementioned campaign:

Book Discussion: The Caged Virgin

HAT's monthly book group will meet on Saturday, February 7 at 2:30 PM to discuss

The caged virgin: an emancipation proclamation for women and Islam

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Email the coordinator or leave a phone message (see HAT contact info) for location.

"Hard-hitting, outspoken, and controversial,The Caged Virginis a call to arms for the emancipation of women from a brutal religious and cultural oppression and from an outdated cult of virginity. It is a defiant call for clear thinking and for an Islamic Enlightenment." -- from the summary in the library catalogue.

HAT Forum: The Charlie Hebdo massacre

HAT Forum
Location: The 519 Community Centre, 519 Church St. just north of Wellesley, Meeting Room 304
Date & Time: Saturday Jan 17, 11:00 to 13:00
Proposers: Richard Dowsett & Dick Combeer

The staff of Charlie Hebdo paid the ultimate price for the magazine's editorial stance and its refusal to stop satirizing their chosen targets in the face of firebombs and mounting death threats. Unfortunately, several innocent bystanders also paid this price and the repercussions spread out from there with world-wide impact. 
  1. What is the value of satirical media (Jon Stewart, Charlie Hebdo, Private Eye etc) to society? 
  2. What are the costs to civil society? 
  3. Should we impose limits to certain forms of satire to try to lessen the costs? (i.e. hate speech provisions, libel, slander, defamation?)
  4. Could a Charlie Hebdo type attack happen in Canada? Would their form of satire even be permissible in our society under our laws in the first place?
  5. Are you satisfied with the response of the various media to this event and their ability to bring focus to the key issues? What biases do you detect and what are the sources of their biases?
  6. How do your humanist principles inform how you view this event? Would they have lead you to do the same things in the many roles or act very differently?

HAT Forum: Can a successful politician be moral?

Date: Jan 10, 2015
Time: 11:00 to 12:30. Note: shortened meeting so all involved can attend Debbie Pond's talk on human trafficking at OISE at 1:00.
Location: 519 Community Centre, 519 Church St. (@ Wellesley), Meeting Room 304
Proposer: Richard Dowsett
Topic: Can a Successful Politician be Moral?
In this instance, "successful" is defined as maintaining power by being re-elected consistently and "moral" is defined as "holding firm to a set of guiding principles that determine what are acceptable behaviours and outcomes".
1. Does the system of government which requires trade-offs and compromise penalize those politicians that will not play the game of "horse-trading" or swapping influence with other politicians?
2. Does the really electorate want a politician who is true to their word on every issue even if that means, in reality, only appealing to certain sectors?
3. Should a politician try to represent all of their constituents in all matters even if this means going against their own moral principles? i.e. voting against their conscience?
4. How is the situation different if the morals employed are derived from religious sources via revelation and tradition versus from social contract or ethical philosophy?
HAT meetings are free and open to members and the public. Call (416) 966-1361 for location information. ___________________________________________________
The Humanist Forum meets Saturday morning 11am-1pm.
The Monthly Meeting, is usually the second Saturday at 1:30pm; specifics should be found on this blog.
The Steering Committee meets the first Wednesday of each month, at 7pm.
The Book Group usually meets on the first Saturday afternoon of the month.