Controversy within CFI after Calgary Pride decision

There have been some recent events that caused a bit of dissent among members of CFI Calgary, our local CFI Regina, and the national CFI Canada regarding support of Calgary Pride. I thought that I would gather up some of the posts, links, and information and provide it for anyone interested.


First, the Calgary Pride parade decided to tell the Calgary Police Service that they wouldn't let them march in uniform because of the impact that can have on POC and other groups who feel threatened by uniformed, organized police. This was a decision that took over 12 months and multiple meetings and was supported by the CPS.


CFI Calgary, without getting approval from CFI Canada, issued a statement about their decision not to participate in Pride,  essentially pulling their support and making a public declaration about it.


Calgary Pride issued a response (copied from a public comment on CFI Calgary’s original post)

A reply from Calgary Pride - Trevor Ashcroft, Treasurer & Director of Administration:


Thank you for your feedback. Your voice is heard and appreciated. This decision was made after careful dialogue between Calgary Police Services, and Voices.


Our intention is to provide space for members of the Calgary Police force, while ensuring that marginalized Trans, People of Colour and Indigenous individuals feel safe attending the event. We have asked CPS to represent themselves in a manner conducive to our goal of providing safe space to this marginalized part of our community for which they agreed to in the spirit of ally ship, continued mutual respect and education. To be clear, the police are not banned from participating. The optics of their participation has been mutually adjusted to remove institutional representation such as their uniform, weapons and marked vehicles. These meetings between Calgary Pride, VOICES and CPS took place multiple times over a 12 month period. It was with careful thought and consideration that we reached our mutual decision.


We encourage and applaud their presence at the parade.


Your feedback is being collected, alongside the feedback of others for further review by the board.


A letter was then issued by some Calgary secularists with support from CFI Regina stating disappointment in the decision. The Regina Executive Board voted unanimously to support this letter as we felt that it was warranted where the statement by CFI Calgary was not.


This is the letter:


To The Calgary Centre For Inquiry,

We who have sent this letter are doing so to inform you that we were gravely disappointed in your decision to withdraw from the Calgary Pride Parade this year. Your letter betrays a profound ignorance regarding the arguments against police uniforms in Pride. We find ourselves wondering whether you bothered to “inquire” about them at all.

Your statement that you support “science, reason, human rights, and secular values” is contradicted by your decision to ignore the overwhelming evidence that currently, police services in Alberta and Canada do not “[support the] freedom of speech and safety “of queer people of color. Currently, they are active aggressors against queer people of color.

This has nothing to do with individual officers and this is not a case of a few “bad apples”. Anyone attempting to frame the argument that way is deliberately deflecting. Racism is institutionalized in our justice system and that system actively works to protect those within it who do perpetrate racist acts.…/Police_Carding_in_Calgary_Backgrounder.pdf

People of color are disproportionately targeted by police in Alberta. They are also far less likely to be given protection and justice when they are the victims of crime, as evidenced by the issue of MMIW. Currently, rather than acknowledge these issues and work to fix them, representatives within the police services have simply denied reality. In many cases, the issue has even been framed as some kind of mutual distrust that both parties are responsible for fixing, ignoring the fact that only one group has a massive amount of institutional power and a societal obligation to a high standard of conduct, regardless of circumstances.

Pride Parades today are a result of queer people of color resisting police. The fact that white LGBTQA+ folks are supported by law enforcement now is not an indication of successful acceptance of the LGBTQA2S+ community as a whole, and queer people of color are not obligated to make space for aggressors within their movement. Furthermore, police are required to protect peoples’ rights and safety. Doing so is not some special favor they bestow upon people; it is literally the bare minimum requirement of their job, and it does not entitle them to an official presence within the parade.

Disallowing uniforms is not discrimination: ,

and the fact that your organization has chosen to defend clothing over marginalized people is extremely disheartening, particularly in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, VA, as well as several extremely racist events in Alberta. With irrefutable evidence that White Supremacy is alive and well, it falls to those of us who oppose it to actually ACT in opposition to it. Denouncing racism is meaningless when our actions uphold the systems that perpetuate it.

As members of the secular community, it is our obligation to inform you that your decision is harmful to us as a whole. Queer people of color do not want to attend events or give their time and money to groups who dismiss their voices and experiences, most especially when the evidence of what they are saying is overwhelming, and the group is one that prides itself on using a scientific approach. Given the fact that so many communities of color tend to be very religious, we fail our fellow atheists spectacularly when we do not ensure that our spaces are inclusive to them.

CFI Calgary’s decision has done damage to the atheist community of Alberta. We expect you to take immediate steps to mitigate this damage, beginning by upholding your organizations own values.

“CFI Canada values science, rational thought and critical thinking; we strive to ensure our actions are informed and directed by evidence and sound decision-making procedures. “

Your chapter needs to be better informed on the subject of racism in the Canadian justice system, instead of pretending that it is simply a thing of the past.


Following that the Centre for Inquiry Canada issued a statement of retraction regarding the Calgary branch’s original letter.

In the wake of this criticism, some perhaps very harsh; Helen, who was acting head of the Calgary branch decided to step down.

At this time, for some reason the Calgary based Legion of Reason Diversion Podcast issued its own statement.

In it they make some rather harsh statements about CFI Canada retracting Calgary’s letter but not admonishing the Regina branch for supporting the letter from CFI Calgary members who were not on side with Helen.  They proclaim to not accept the evidence of institutionalized racism. Even though institutionalized racism is an accepted fact among experts in the social sciences and is backed by multiple veins of evidence. I’ll leave that for you to judge on your own though. It seems to me that this shows a total lack of understanding of how social science is conducted and is the sociology equivalent to creationism or climate change denial.


The branch leader of CFI Regina commented on that post

Aiight, I'll chime in. I'm the current branch leader of CFI Regina. Like it or not, this was a policy statement by CFI Calgary. If they chose not to participate and said nothing, nobody would have cared. Incidentally, CFI Regina also did not officially have an entry in this year's Regina Pride parade due to the majority of its members, who marched with CFI in the past, marching with other organizations.


As such, a policy statement *should* (even as a matter of courtesy) be sent out to other branches and CFIC beforehand because it does affect us all. Because we are a part of a larger organization, as you mentioned, a policy statement on our public pages implies CFIC approval. Furthermore, I reached out to Helen to try to speak to her about it before this letter went out. It was time sensitive and she could not make time before the letter went out. I reached out to all CFIC members/exec that I was aware of, and was only able to ascertain that they had not approved her message either at an organizational level. I've met Helen before and found her to be quite intelligent, articulate, and pleasant and I still feel the same way about her today. I did delay the issuance of the CFI Regina support on that letter from Calgary Secularists, but it was beyond my control after a certain period of time. I supported the content, but wanted to wait until I spoke to Helen in case I was missing something.


My personal opinion is that CFI Calgary did mishandle this situation, as did CPS. If CPS marched before wearing uniforms with "no problem", that is fine. But if the LGBT community in Calgary has gained the strength to stand up and say that it makes them (even a small portion of them, ie VOICES) uncomfortable, the correct response from CPS is, "We understand and respect your position. We will go plain clothes and continue to show our support for as long as necessary to make proper reparations for the inappropriate actions of the police service in years past." It is my understanding that CPS agreed to go plain clothes. So why is CFI Calgary being offended on their behalf? Are they amplifying voices from CPS who told them that they weren't in favour of CPS's own decision? is that their place to do so?


Remember, marching in or attending a Pride Parade is an easy way of supporting the LGBTQ community. Being allowed to advertise your organization in the parade*, is a way of the LGBTQ community supporting YOU. That support from the LGBTQ community should be earned, not demanded. *(whether by showing a company logo, displaying political party emblems, or wearing a uniform)


The (not so) veiled threats against CFIC are in my opinion, unwarranted and unneeded. CFIC does great things both here and abroad and atheists, secularists, freethinkers, and agnostics benefit from having a national organization that can do things that we can't do alone. Going back to our group-think mentality in basements of night clubs may feel better, but won't really challenge anyone to grow and change as an individual, and would likely continue the atheist movement as being very white cis male dominated. I say that as a white cis male with privileges.


So in conclusion, yes CFI Regina is full of reasonable, rational social justice warriors and I hope to keep it that way. Social justice still values empowerment. I share Bill's frustration with vitriol towards speakers or organizers for any little thing, but I'd rather have them express their frustrations than internalize them as their fault, or leave the group. Every speaker at an event has held problematic beliefs at one time or another, it's all about how we/they change and grow and hopefully those speakers can be viewed by their most recent body of work. I too see problems with the platforming/deplatforming debate, free speech in Universities, gender equality, and other problems plaguing the atheist movement. We don't get better by going back to our basements.


I hope we can all continue our discussions respectfully and get past this to keep fighting for the greater causes of secularism, humanism, equality, and justice for all.

Upon hearing that a couple of the Pride organizers agreed with them and decided to start an alternative Pride where the police can wear their uniforms they declared victory in Trumpian style insulting those organizations they disagree with.


A couple hours after this last post by LoRD, David Ince posted on the CFI Calgary Facebook page

I wrote this blog as a response to the various happenings surrounding this issue to help inform, and specifically because my local CFI branch was called out by the LoRD podcast. This isn’t intended to speak for CFI Regina in any way and is, for the most part just a report of the facts as they happened.

I, personally was very disappointed in the decision by Calgary CFI and I’ve said as much in comments sections. I don’t care to spend time calling names or engaging with science denial but I haven’t been a fan of the Legion of Reason in a long time because of their stance on social issues and their biased coverage of the incidents on college campuses. It is my view that their opinions are on the wrong side of the evidence and that they had no business calling out CFI Canada or CFI Regina. That said,  I’m going to share a couple more perspectives on the situation from my fellow Regina CFI members.

David Richards – member of CFI Regina said on his facebook page

Marching in or attending a Pride Parade is an easy way of supporting the LGBTQ community.

Being allowed to advertise* your organization in the parade, is a way of the LGBTQ community supporting YOU.

That support from the LGBTQ community should be earned, not demanded.

*(whether by showing a company logo, displaying political party emblems, or wearing a uniform)


James B.  – member of CFI Regina said in a message*

This shouldn't just be brushed off as "not participating" since they deliberately wrote a carefully worded letter.

I think a major thing they are missing, is that the decision we had a problem with was not that they didn't participate in the parade it's that they also published an open letter in criticism of the parade's decision thereby taking the side of CPS and essentially staging a little protest/boycott over the decision to ban police in uniform. There's disagreeing with pride's decision, and then there's disagreeing with it SO MUCH that you have to write an open letter to, I dunno, show how pro-police you are, or something?

I just don't see the big deal. If I was with a particular employer, and said "hey, I'd like to march in the pride parade with a few of our co-workers. We can even bring a banner to show the company's support" ,and someone said, "Well actually, did you know your CEO contributes money to hard right candidates with strong anti-gay viewpoints? We're not that cool with your company actually. Please join our march but do not do so representing your company", I'd say "ok, that makes perfect sense, I'll be there.", and I sure wouldn't want or need CFI trying to be my white knight and boycott the parade in protest.


In summary, here we are with a group who is upset with a decision that Pride organizers made so they decided not to participate but not just, not participate. They also chose to write a public letter to Pride chastising them for their decision. The decision was something that one can understand even if I disagree with it. Writing the letter went too far. They did so without consulting CFI National and without discussing it with any other CFI branches. Some members of their group were frustrated and disappointed and wrote a new, public letter expressing their feelings on the subject. CFI Regina supported that letter publicly. CFI Canada published a retraction of the Calgary letter. The CFI Calgary branch leader steps down, then the Legion of Reason Diversion podcast went on to criticize CFI Canada for the retraction and CFI Regina for standing against the Calgary branch’s very unnecessary letter. The whole thing could have been avoided if CFI Calgary had simply not participated rather than grandstanding their disapproval of the Pride decision all over their public page.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from another Canadian podcaster and activist, Ian Bushfield when he shared the CFI Calgary letter on his facebook page.

A skeptic group vocally sides with police over the express decision of the LGBTQ community. Don't agree with Pride's decision? Don't attend, but don't try to pretend you're a bigger ally to the LGBTQ community than the people actually organizing the march.



Cory Johnston
host of the Brainstorm podcast and The Hardcore Skeptic Examines