The Centre for Inquiry is the third atheist group whose events I’ve attended, after the then-new Secular Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics for Reason, Knowledge, and Science (SHAARKS) in Miami and the Humanist Association of Ottawa. I enjoyed both sets, because I urgently needed a space in my life where being an atheist was a given and not something I had to carefully guard on pain of losing friends. One set I had to abandon when I graduated from the University of Miami and, promptly, left town; the other I set aside because it seemed geared to an older crowd and because my preternatural awkwardness kept me from feeling at home there.
The one that stuck, the one that made me want to come back and get involved and watch the Internet for their upcoming events and eat and drink with its members in pubs—that was the Centre for Inquiry. It was the Centre for Inquiry that seemed to hit on that magic combination of activism, public events, and community that could and did engross me. I put effort into this organization. I wrote web site content and provided public presentations. Ania put far more, aggressively promoting CFI-Ottawa’s biggest venture ever despite being effectively sabotaged by CFI-Canada’s then-executive director and known MRA Justin Trottier. We sought sponsors, cultivated relationships with other organizations, promoted other events, attended protests, designed media, and handed out flyers at Gay Pride.
We stuck around through the protracted process of getting Justin Trottier removed from his management role in the national organization, and then his de facto replacement Michael Payton, both for what seemed to veer madly from sheer incompetence to active antipathy toward CFI-Ottawa and its events. We stuck around through the growing pains of an organization still finding its voice and its priorities. Like so many other corners of the atheosphere, the Centre for Inquiry still had to decide whether it would be an inclusive and welcoming space for people marginalized elsewhere for reasons other than their atheism, or whether it would perpetuate the same inequalities and claim reason and science as their justification. It looked, for all intents and purposes, to be an enthusiastic CFI-Ottawa executive body against a complacent membership and a complacent-at-best national organization, and that was a battle we could win.
That’s when I began noticing cracks.
A member here, a volunteer there betrayed involvement in causes contrary to the Centre for Inquiry’s stated values, in particular the unambiguous commitment to humanism, skepticism, and rational thought. I had a Code of Conduct citation come and go based on me being aggressively critical of a post from another CFI branch that suggested that Justin Trottier was being restored to prominence; it turned out to be old news from before his most vigorous removal, so I let the matter go. One local fixture famously had her clock cleaned by Matt Dillahunty on the subject of bodily autonomy for people with uteruses. Another spends most of his free time instigating “debates” between people he ostensibly agrees with and people who hold values he claims are antithetical to his but whom he clearly likes much better than the others and pointedly values politeness over not harming people. Several turned out to be active and vocal supporters of A Voice for Men, the Canadian Association for Equality, the Slymepit, and other wells of organized atheist misogyny, much like their fallen hero Justin Trottier, and therefore implacably opposed to most of the points in Paul Kurtz’s statement of humanism as they relate to the role of women in society, by which CFI specifically purports to conduct its affairs.
It was and is disgusting enough that an organization with the gall to call itself “humanist” and claim a commitment to “transcending divisive parochial loyalties” could carry itself in a way that would appeal at all to such derelict humans, or that they’d find such a place anything but hotly opposed to their destructive ideas. But the lure of the “big tent” is strong, and in a volunteer-run organization the choice is often between excluding fundamentally unsuitable people who want to be included and things not getting done. But we stuck around, because we had the reins and we had the chance to define an organizational culture that would be inclusive, intersectional, smart, and safe—the exact opposite of what MRAs and “secular” pro-lifers require to exist.
This is the specific case of the general rule by which I govern my Internet affairs. Any space that will have me will challenge and deal with transphobic, anti-feminist, and other bigoted chicanery wherever it appears, and make sure to be deeply, hotly unwelcoming to such ideas and to those who insistently hold them. One of these offenders was someone I knew outside of CFI, and that made it all the more urgent for me to challenge the noisome ideas that flowed from her Facebook presence to mine. I challenged her repeatedly and inconclusively, we had long conversations that seemed to begin to move her, she sent me a video by a prominent YouTube MRA that was so loaded with pretentious falseness that I couldn’t get past the first five minutes. But she was CFI and she was a contact in other contexts as well, and leading her out of her anti-humanist errors would improve her, my life, my Facebook feed, and CFI-Ottawa alike.
She changed scripts and started posting derogatory comments about people with ADHD, including the oft-repeated, oft-debunked slur that the disease is a lie invented to sedate unruly children with high-powered stimulants. (Because that makes sense.) When called on that slur and the harm it does to thousands of people who could and should be diagnosed with ADHD but aren’t because they aren’t the white boys who actually are over-diagnosed, she doubled and tripled and quadrupled down. When the lot of us pointed out that, as a vocal self-identified autistic person, she should know way, way better than to spread dangerous lies about “overdiagnosis” about a misunderstood mental condition, she told her detractors that if they’re this bad at handling “reality” they should kill themselves. She earned herself a blocking from Ania and an unfriending from me in that moment. But even then, after a tense conversation with me, she rendered an apology that got the blocking rescinded and let her far enough back into my good graces to restore Facebook friendship.
The MRA nonsense continued, to the point that some of the earlier items probably happened here and not above. I got into a long spat with a physicist friend of hers who frequents CFI and Ottawa Skeptics events, which inspired a blog post. When that argument over bog-standard MRA talking points offered as CAFE’s mission statement finally petered out and I vented my accumulated spleen on my own timeline, she felt the need to tag him into the conversation, ostensibly to defend himself. I squashed that immediately, but the attempt was noted for what she almost certainly didn’t think of it as but what if effectively was: sic’ing a fellow MRA on me in my own space.
I kept her around until she posted a genuine, unapologetic link to the A Voice for Men homepage, directing her fellow anti-feminists to a “safe” and “supportive” place for people like them. The implication that it is feminists who persecute MRAs, and not MRAs who spam rape hotlines, make death and rape threats by the thousands against prominent women in various fields, and massacre people in the name of opposing feminism, was too much of an insult to tolerate. I removed her from my friends list, and I left a public message so that she would know why and so others would know what kind of behavior is not tolerated in my sphere:
Fast forward four months. Let me emphasize that: fast-forward four months. Four months. Four months.
Four months later, coincidentally just after CFI-Ottawa experienced a change of leadership that put the power in the hands of the obsessive devil’s advocate from earlier and one of the MRAs, and somewhat longer than that since the last time CFI-Ottawa did something I could get enthusiastic about, I get an Email from Centre for Inquiry Ottawa’s leadership team:
The following conversation ensued on 8 November 2014:
I considered deleting the relevant line once I found it, after about 30 min of looking through status updates from, I stress, four months ago, but I could not bring myself to comply with such bullshit reasoning in such a bullshit request, so I instead changed its share settings to “Friends only” from “Public” and specifically excluded or unfriended every CFI-Ottawa personality I could remember. I later learned that I missed a few.
I have redacted the names of people whose relationship to CFI is not a matter of CFI press releases because of potential professional consequences and to avoid a potential torrent of MRA abuse. Should this matter escalate, those names will be made public.
|Email from Seanna Watson to me: “OK, registered. Do you by chance have screenshots, or any other documentation? (If not, I’ll need to interview you to get some specific actions I can cite – hope that’s ok.)”Email from me to Seanna Watson: “I’ll see what I can dig up.”
Email from me to Seanna Watson: “Unfortunately, most (maybe even all) of the story happened on [redacted]’s facebook rather than mine and the worst of it happened to Ania (who has [redacted] blocked), so it does not appear to me that I can produce effective records.”
|Email from Seanna Watson to me: “OK, we can still proceed with the information to the best of your recollection. I’ll send you some questions as a framework for the information I need to gather.”Email from me to Seanna Watson: “Sounds like a plan.”|
I was annoyed that having my own Facebook interactions policed by CFI-Ottawa’s management whenever they touched upon CFI or other members thereof was becoming a pattern. I was incensed that CFI-Ottawa’s leadership team had felt the need to dredge up a conflict that I had thought settled four months ago. I was completely blown away that the person who earned that dismissal had the gall to bring it before the leadership team when she remembers exactly the stream of abuse she directed at me and mine for the month prior that I had not reported because I thought we had solved the matter between us like adults. I was also satisfied that, by remembering that abuse all too well, I had turned this situation to my advantage, so I gloated.
|Facebook status from 8 November 2014: “The person who called down a CFI code of conduct investigation on me over a status update I made in JULY should have remembered how much shit they put me and Ania through before they did that. Counter-claim filed.
The sad part is, CFI-Ottawa has only just barely been worth my time for months now. It would be much easier and comparably rewarding to simply jump ship now and end this bullshit policing of how I handle CFI-Ottawa’s and members thereof’s recent anti-feminist nonsense…but if I do that, I don’t get to make life more difficult for my antagonists for a while first.
I will have justice, and I will fuel my quest with spite, and it will be glorious.”
Apparently, this was so unacceptable that it got me attention from Eric Adriaans, the current National Executive Director of Centre for Inquiry Canada, on 10 November 2014:
|Email from Eric Adriaans to me:
“Hello Alex Gonzalez,
As National Executive Director of CFI Canada, I am contacting you regarding your relationship with CFI Canada.
Mr. Gonzalez, it has come to my attention that a recent facebook post has been published on your account with the following text: [quote from previous screenshot removed]
There are a number of details in this post which are, as far as I am concerned, inappropriate and unacceptable. For this reason, I’d like to verify a few details regarding this post and your perspective:
1) Can you confirm or deny publishing this post?
2) Have you reviewed the Statement of Values and Code of Conduct documents?
3) Do you recognize where and how this published statement directly conflicts with the Code of Conduct?
I would appreciate some time to discuss this issue with you via phone; you may call my cell at 226-374-0612 or if you prefer, we can communicate by email.
Mr. Gonzalez, my interest is to ensure a healthy and tolerant environment within CFI Canada. Given the issues that we engage as an organization, it is inevitable that people will find that they disagree on issues or perspectives from time to time. When these occassions arise, it is each party’s responsibility to approach the relationships with respect and a focus on our goals as an organization. We do not have to agree on all matters to cooperate on our goals.
I can assure you Mr. Gonzalez, that I wish to understand these comments – on the assumption that they are yours – and reach an expeditious resolution. Your response to this email is appreciated.”
|Email from me to Eric Adriaans: “Yes, I published that post, after undertaking a number of measures to make sure that people who might feel targeted by it would not see it and therefore that it would serve its intended purpose of allowing me to vent and cope with a preexisting unacceptable situation in a supportive environment populated by understanding friends. Clearly, I did not succeed as well as I would like, because this conversation is taking place.
It has been a long time since I reviewed the Code of Conduct and Statement of Values, so I do not recall their exact contents. Given that the aforementioned status update is a direct response to just how little many of CFI-Ottawa’s members think of CFI’s ostensible values, I do not expect that any review thereof will reveal my venting as problematic.
As such, I do not recognize where my actions conflict with the Code of Conduct or any other attempt at defining how reasonable people conduct themselves.
If I am in error, I would be delighted to be directed to online postings of both documents, as I sought them out recently and did not find them.
If it pleases, I can offer the detailed account of the grievances that cause me to think that the existing Code of Conduct investigation against me was poorly aimed, and which thus prompted me to seek emotional support from my online friends in this manner.”
|Email from Eric Adriaans to me: “Hello Mr. Gonzalez,
Thank you very much for your prompt reply. You may find copies of the Statement of Values and Code of Conduct documents at this location:
I suggest that you carefully examine both the intent of these documents and the motivations you have expressed.
My interpretation of your comments, both in the post and in your response to me, is as follows:
1) The comments are directed specifically to individuals who requested a review of your behaviour; as such, these comments and your subsequent “counter-claim” are retaliation and not merely venting as you claim; the public nature of the Facebook tool further indicates to me that this was a threatening statement targeted to these individuals and not a private expression of frustration.
2) You have indicated that your motivation is “spite” and desire to make life difficult.
3) You think members of CFI in Ottawa do not accept or hold regard for CFIC’s values; I am extending my interpretation of your comments to include that you do not respect CFIC’s stated values.
4) You do not hold significant value for your contributions to CFIC’s work as it is “barely worth my time”.
5) Your stated, self-appointed, objective is to “handle CFI Ottawa’s and member” behaviour and opinions.
At this time, and based on my interpretation, I do not observe a need to continue the relationship between you and CFI Canada as a volunteer or member;
1) Retaliation of valid process is not tolerated; you have made it clear that you’re actions are retaliatory in nature.
2) Spiteful motivation is not acceptable; again this is something you have clearly stated.
3) If you do not hold CFIC’s values in regard, it clearly follows that you will not attempt to fulfill or uphold them.
4) As a volunteer it is not your role or responsibility to “handle” the opinions and behaviours of others in the organization.
5) Since you do not value your contributions to CFIC and merely wish to make things difficult among people, I see no reason to engage with you on the matters.
If you have further information which you wish to share with me, I am willing to receive that information at your convenience. In the meantime, I will advise the CFI Ottawa leadership (who I have not asked for opinion on this matter) that my decision is that your privilege of a volunteer relationship with CFI Canada is now withdrawn.
I shall also advise the Ottawa Branch that you are no longer an invited guest to CFIC events and activities – this is to prevent any errors in communication on the part of any involved party; I am prepared to re-evaluate this second detail at such time as there is sufficient evidence that you and others will not pursue retaliatory, abusive or harassing behaviour. Finally, should you wish, I will ensure that any membership fees you may have paid for the current period are refunded.
Mr. Gonzalez, this decision is based on your behaviour towards and communication with people and your relationship with the organization. Your statements of intention and objective, as contained specficially in this email exchange, are from first to last not acceptable and certainly not indicative of any intention on your part to pursue the mission, objectives and values of CFI Canada.”
Take note of that: Eric Adriaans thinks that my leveling a Code of Conduct investigation into someone who harassed me for a month after they started one against me is in opposition to the values of the Centre for Inquiry.
|Email from me to Eric Adriaans:
0) Thank you for the links. I will review them.
1) Since you went through the trouble to find a status update you would not have been able to see on your own (since we’re not friends on Facebook), it was likewise within your ability to notice that none of the people who made or reviewed the existing Code of Conduct claim, or otherwise associated with it, are able to view the status update now in question, nor are any of the relevant people named. If I was “directing” something at them, I’m rather bad at it.
2) Oh, absolutely. When I notice that a fellow CFI volunteer is actively in support of several organizations that are anti-humanist in the extreme and making my own online spaces unsafe for me and my friends; when that same fellow CFI volunteer tells my diagnosed partner that ADHD is a “fake” disease and her medication makes her some sort of pharma-zombie and then, when this insult is pointed out, instructs her and anyone else who thinks she was out of line to kill themselves because they clearly can’t handle living in reality; when, after a conversation with a friend of hers not to my knowledge involved in CFI-Canada I posted about the unpleasantness of dealing with MRAs like him and her she summoned him to harass me further, a move I rapidly quashed; and that volunteer has the sheer gall to report my status update pointing out exactly why I removed her as a friend on Facebook as a Code of Conduct violation FOUR MONTHS LATER, conveniently eliding the month of aforementioned harassment that preceded it…CLEARLY, I am the problem, and CLEARLY, my feeling spiteful in their general direction is a greater offense than any of the above.
3) If my being angry at the above, and in particular at how CFI-Canada in general and CFI-Ottawa in particular have become refuges for organized anti-feminists who are members or supporters of groups currently being investigated for hate crimes in the United States, is more of a problem for CFI than THE FACT THAT THERE ARE ORGANIZED MISOGYNISTS IN CFI…well, I can’t support those values. My values preclude tolerating misogyny, organized or otherwise, as do the stated values of every level of CFI.
4) It is my responsibility to “handle” the opinions of any of my Facebook friends who have the temerity to air them where I can see them. Their membership in CFI ought to be irrelevant.5) My past contributions to CFI are treasured memories that have been deeply tarnished by CFI’s current practice of finding my rhetoric more of a problem than the fact that the person who instigated it harassed me and people I care about for about a month before I took away her ability to do so and is actively advocating for organizations opposed to CFI’s mandate. I did not bring a Code of Conduct investigation at the time because I thought the matter settled at the time without the need for such. Clearly, I was mistaken.
|Email from Eric Adriaans to me:
“As I indicated, my decision is based on your actions/communication and my comments are specifically for you. The actions and comments of others will be between me (as NED) and those individuals.
Indeed, had the issues remained a personal matter between you and your personal network, I would not have been involved. However, given that your comments and actions have been brought into your relationship as a CFIC volunteer, that is where I am obligated to respond. I recommend that you re-read your statements and consider for yourself that you brought this into the purview of CFIC relationships.
As regards the specific opinions or views of individuals in the organization, that is not my concern in context of your behaviour as a CFIC volunteer. It is important that you recognize that my decisions is based on your expressed tactics and intentions and is completely apart from your position on the matters you are now communicating.
I am not aware that there are presently “organized mysogynists” in CFIC as you assert. However I am more than comfortable stating that mysogyny is fully rejected at the board and management level of the organization. I will not undertake a debate with you regarding details since this is, frankly, quite apart from your actions and communication. I wish you well in your interests and pursuits but cannot accept your inclusion in further activities where your stated objectives are to enforce your views on others or to make the lives of others difficult if they don’t adopt your views. I’m certain you can appreciate what it is I am communicating to you.
As I indicated, I will ensure that your membership dues (if paid for the current perio [sic]) are reimbursed.”
Yes, you and your organization are opposed to misogyny. That’s why the new heads of CFI-Ottawa are a raging Internet misogynist and someone who posts a rich assortment of misogynistic Internet content to “spark debate” and preferentially removes from his sphere people who have a problem with that, as opposed to people who applaud him for populating his Internet presence with God’s truth.
|Email from me to Eric Adriaans:
“With all due respect, Mr. Adriaans, it was not I who brought my comments into my “relationship as a CFIC volunteer.” That happened when someone to whom I’ve been nothing but civil in person decided that a status update I made four months ago lamenting her membership in and support of anti-humanist organizations whose mandate is exactly opposed to CFIC’s decided that my own Facebook page, with which she was by then forcibly uninvolved ,was worth targeting for CoC intervention, despite having no bearing on either my or her efficacy as a CFIC volunteer then or now.
I found the charge laughable compared to the campaign of harassment that induced the offending comment, and I told the Internet so once I stated my intention to CFI-Ottawa’s leadership council to levy my own Code of Conduct claim against my accuser based on said harassment. Is it the CFIC’s position that members are not allowed to comment on or criticize CFIC decisions?I can name a few members/sympathizers of organized misogynist groups within CFI-Ottawa, if you like. Since there is apparently an interest in making sure that CFIC’s members and volunteers enthusiastically support CFIC’s values, I have no doubt you will find this information most useful and will act with all deliberate speed to utilize it,
With even more due respect, the only “values” I aim to “impose” are CFIC’s own–specifically opposition to misogyny in all its forms.”
But in the end, the colors show.
|Email from Eric Adriaans to me:
“As regards whether people are able to criticize CFIC decisions, that is more than acceptable. There is no policy which precludes criticism of decisions. That is not relevant to your case and I’m not debating that with you – my decision is based on your statements and actions.
As regards your statement of imposing values, a part of my decision is exactly becuase it is not your role within CFI Canada to impose anything on other members and volunteers. It is your behaviour that is problematic.
As regards naming of people you suspect of holding views different from your own, I do not request that information from you. I am communicating with you regarding your behaviour, not the behaviour of others. If I have concerns with the behaviour of others, that will be a conversation between me and those individuals.
Mr. Gonzalez, I do not have any further matters relating to your behaviour as a CFI Canada volunteer to discuss with you and I wish you well in your interests and pursuits.”
Email from me to Eric Adriaans:
“If the only descriptor you see fit to render for people who support A Voice for Men, the Slymepit, and CAFE is “holding views different from your own,” rather than recognizing that very nearly everything about those organizations is flatly opposed to CFIC’s mandate as a humanistic and inclusive organization, then…you know what, I don’t WANT to be part of your organization.
You have made it quite clear that your organization values superficial politeness above the health and well-being of its members, to the point of being more prepared to harbor people actively opposed to CFI’s mandate than people who are angry about that. You have made quite clear that you’d rather get rid of someone who is angry about being harassed and then having their RESPONSE TO BEING HARASSED held up as a Code of Conduct violation, then in doing something about their harassment.
Good day, sir. I hope your upcoming effort to remove people who became members of CFIC despite being opposed to CFIC’s stated values proceeds as successfully as your current effort to purge people who are angry that that hasn’t happened already.
I also hope the door hits you on the way out.”
It ended as it began: with a door slamming.
Eric Adriaans thinks my problem with having MRAs around me can be described as intolerance for “people you suspect of holding views different from your own.”
Eric Adriaans can fuck right off and take CFI-Canada with him. If this is how I am going to be treated, then I am done. I did not come to CFI have its members harass the most important people in my world. I did not come to CFI to have its members turn their own Code of Conduct into a harassment tool against me. I did not come to CFI to have its own management take my harasser’s side and bar me from any attendance or participation whatsoever in CFI functions because I had the chutzpah to not take it lying down.
I did not come to CFI to tolerate bigotry. And I am not going to.
Facebook status update from 10 November 2014:
“Welp, where most of the rest of CFI-Ottawa’s regulars that aren’t terrible people left on their own as the organization deteriorated, I stuck around long enough to get kicked out.
Why? Because when someone made a bullshit Code of Conduct allegation against me, I returned fire with an account of the harassment that that person subjected me and mine to for a month prior, and I was public about it. And because I will not countenance supporters of the organized misogyny of A Voice for Men, Secular Pro-Life, the Slymepit, or Canadian Association for Equality in my presence.
I’m weirdly honored. I wonder if they’ll finally notice that my name in their files is hideously misspelled.”
Thought I would let you know, I did not file this complaint
I'd be curious to learn who did, then. If indeed this situation is not about to turn even more absurd than it already is and you aren't lying to me, then some interesting questions arise.