Better Late than Never: Coverage of the first CFI Canada Conference!

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. I recently attended the first annual CFI National Conference in Toronto (and promptly got the flu upon returning to Vancouver). Oh and the massive amount of SkeptiCamp planning. First, some catch up. I was pleased as heck when the Centre for Inquiry hired me to be the executive director for CFI Vancouver. Not only has it given me the opportunity to interact with so many great skeptical organizations and groups and think tanks, but it’s allowed me to live and breathe skepticism. (It tastes great.)

CFI stands for the Centre for Inquiry — a non-profit think tank that operates internationally and promotes skepticism, critical thinking, secular humanism, free inquiry and free speech. For more info on what CFI does and the history of how it got where it is today check this out.

CFI eventually set up shop in Toronto and that became the main headquarters of CFI Canada. In the last few months CFI Canada has become its own entity, separate from CFI in the United States, although the two groups still work very closely together. Basically all that’s changed is that if CFI Transnational got sucked into a parallel dimension, CFI Canada would continue to exist.

Also over the past few months CFI Canada became a registered educational charity, which not only allows us to issue tax receipts to donors. But it also opens all sorts of doors when it comes to funding and charitable actions previously unavailable to us.

So as a way of expression our joy and excitement over the past few months, CFI Canada decided it was time for a Canadian skeptical conference. And that’s precisely what happened on 4 March, 2010.

Now, while I’d love to go through the conference point by point, I doubt I can remember everything nor could I do everyone justice. I also encourage you to check out episode 53 of Radio Freethinker for interviews and impressions from the conference. You can also check out this blog post by my co-host Daniel Gipps and see his coverage of the CFI conference.

I left Vancouver Wednesday night, arriving around 1am in Toronto. Probably got about four hours of sleep that night but would become a trend over the course of the conference.

The first day was a lot of administration stuff over at CFI HQ in Toronto. Rather nice for me since back in Vancouver we don’t have a physical location. The conference officially opened with registration and art gallery show casing some of the art work from speakers who would talk later in the weekend.

Friday the conference kicked off for good by starting with a series of presentations by various leaders in the CFI organization. Lots of great material was presented, including

  • “Multimedia” projects and “The Great Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign” with Katie Kish.
  • “Public Relations and Outreach” by yours truly, Ethan.
  • “How to give a kick-ass interview” with Derek Rodgers.
  • “How to raise money” with Skeptic North’s own Mitchell Gerskup.
  • “Forging campus/community partnerships” with Nick Sagos.
  • “Doing more skepticism” with Will Mount.

and general group organizing topics, such as

  • “From Scratch to Success” with Dan Riley.
  • “How to attract members” with Diana L. Glennie.
  • “Event planning” with John Xu.

There was lots of great information from those talks, but probably too much for me to include here. I can say however, that it was eagerly taken in by the audience who were mostly skeptic and humanist campus group leaders and activists.

After the presentations we did a number of group workshops dealing with common issues found on campuses around the country. Everything from secularizing the convocation address, getting equal treatment for non-believer clubs, working with faith based clubs, publishing in your student paper.

The next day brought a series of great talks by various professionals including such greats as Christopher diCarlo, Paul Kurtz, and Ron Lindsay.

Probably the highlight of the day was Christopher diCarlo responding to James Harrod‘s claims that culture emerged two million years ago, as opposed to the widely accepted belief that culture did not appear until the late Palaeolithic (which syncs up with the “out of Africa” theory).

Overall, what was my highlight of the conference? What did I take away most?

I guess that would have to be a new found respect for the skeptical movement in Canada. We are not just an off-shoot of American skepticism. We are not just following in the footsteps of giants. We have our own battles in skepticism and secularism. Whether it’s God in the national anthem, public funding of religious schools, alternative medicine getting funding in various provinces in Canada, or even the wide spread acceptance of woo and magical thinking in hospitals and medical teaching in our universities…there is a wide array of skeptics and freethinkers striving to change society.

Personally I find it heartening that so many dedicated people are working so hard to advance these goals. I think this makes a statement about the movement in our country. Perhaps is time to consider that Canada needs skeptics to be more up front and direct with our message. There’s been a lot of thought and discussion about when Canada will see a convention on par with The Amazing Meeting. I think what I realized is that, with a little hard work, we could have our own Canadian skeptical conference that is just as incredible and fun as TAM or anything else in the world.

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  • Ethan Clow

    Ethan Clow, born and raised in the Vancouver area, is best known in the skeptical community as Ethan the Freethinking Historian, co-host of Radio Freethinker, a skeptical podcast and radio show on CiTR in Vancouver. And as the former Executive Director of the Centre for Inquiry Vancouver. Ethan graduated with a B.A. in History from UBC in the fall of 2009 and has an active role with skeptical movements in Vancouver and British Columbia. He was an executive member of the UBC Freethinkers, a campus club that promotes skepticism and critical thinking. He still maintains a close relationship with the UBC Freethinkers and helps plan events and organizes skeptical activism as best he can. Currently he works for the Centre for Inquiry as the Executive Director of CFI Vancouver.