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An Interview with Pat O’Brien (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2016/02/22


An interview with Pat O’Brien. He discusses: earned positions on the board of the B.C. Humanist Association, as President of British Columbia Humanist Association, on the board of Humanist Canada, and as President of Humanist Canada; operation of the British Columbia Humanist Association at the provincial-scale; common problems in the midst of leadership at national and provincial magnitudes; personal and social fulfillment, and duties, necessitating involvement with grassroots initiatives and ambassadorship such as Center for Inquiry Canada and Atheist Alliance International; personal career as a Proper Master in film and television; conduct, duties, and responsibilities as the Board Vice-Chair for Center for Inquiry Canada; duties and responsibilities that come from influencing the public mind whilst holding an important position; and the importance of flagship publications.

Keywords: Atheist Alliance International, British Columbia Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry Canada, Humanist Canada, Pat O’Brien.

An Interview with Pat O’Brien (Part Two)[1],[2],[3],[4]

8. You earned positions including “board of the B.C. Humanist Association (BCHA), President of BCHA and then on the board of Humanist Canada (HC), eventually taking over as President of HC.”[5],[6],[7] HC, as an organization, exists within the philosophy of “education, reason, and compassion.”[8] With more depth, the organization defines itself:

Founded in 1968, Humanist Canada has its roots in the former Humanist Fellowship of Montreal. This fellowship was an organization of humanists that was founded in 1954 by Drs. R. K. Mishra, Ernest Poser, and Maria Jutta Cahn. Lord Bertrand Russell and Dr. Brock Chisholm were its first patrons.[9]

As the past president of Humanist Canada, your insight, from experience, into the membership involvements and activities, organizational structure and internal dynamics, theory and practice, positions and tasks, internal humanist membership sustainability and national public outreach, seems deep, comprehensive, and relevant to me.[10]  How does one run a large organization from the national scale?[11]

You don’t, you let it run itself. It has been said many times that trying to get Humanists to agree on something is like trying to herd cats. I learned early on that as a leader I could not rule from above, or make unilateral decisions. The membership is highly educated and smart they do not respond well to decrees or being told what to do or what position they should take on a matter so one learns to be inclusive, trying to reach consensus. Without going into too much detail, the reason I resigned was because I felt in a particular circumstance unilateral action was the best course to take and still believe I made the right decision, but it lead to me being forced to resign. In the end, my decision was upheld.

9. You held the presidency of the BCHA too.[12] How does one operate a provincial-scale organization?[13]

It is easier because you meet regularly with members, they know who you are and there tends to be more trust. Again though, the members are smart, sceptical people who will question everything so you have to not only know what you are talking about but must be willing to compromise. All Humanist groups function democratically and all decisions must be discussed and voted on at least the board level. The other thing about running a local group is that it is easier to plan and hold events. Most of the work that gets done even in a national organization is initiated and run by local groups.

10. What common problems emerge, and solutions require implementation, in the midst of leadership at the national and provincial magnitudes?[14],[15]

The biggest problem is fundraising. It is difficult to get Humanists to part with their money. We can’t offer eternal salvation so when we do fundraise it has to be a specific initiative. Even then, most Humanist living in Canada do not feel the need to be out there advertizing and being social activists, most are happy with weekly or monthly meetings where they discuss topics of interest. This does not require much money so the donations reflect this.

11. Your biographic information from CFI Canada concludes:

In the interim Pat was an ambassador for Atheist Alliance International, sitting briefly on their board. Pat is involved in many grassroots initiatives in his hometown of Vancouver where he has a successful career as a Props Master in the film and television industry. Pat is also an award winning documentary filmmaker.[16]

What personal and social fulfillment, and duties, necessitate involvement with grassroots initiatives and ambassadorship?[17]

I am someone who wants to make a difference in my community. I like being part of social change and I think we need more people like that who are willing to take on leadership roles to try and make our society better. I really do believe, and the evidence is on my side, that the world would be a better place with less religion. My goal is not to stamp out religion but to show people there is an alternative to living a full rewarding life that does not include believing in the unbelievable and hopefully they will see us as a suitable alternative.

12. What does “Props Master in the film and television industry,” personal career, implicate for you, e.g. tasks, responsibilities, projects involved in, capabilities and limitations, and so on?[18]

My job is what I do so I can afford to do the things I really enjoy such as being part of the Humanist/Skeptical community (and playing golf). I am also very lucky to have a job I really like. It is very rewarding to know that my work entertains people and allows them an escape from their daily lives.

13. You work for CFI Canada. Another secular organization, a registered educational charity, devoted to “educate and provide training to the public in the application of skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic enquiry through conferences, symposia, lectures, published works and the maintenance of a library.”[19] Your core position exists within the board, as Board Vice-Chair.[20] What conduct, duties, and responsibilities remain expected with this position within CFI Canada?[21],[22]

As the board member from BC I keep an eye on things in the west and try to engage the membership here. I also am the media representative in BC so if a story is in the news and they need the Humanist/Atheist side, I often will get the call. As Vice Chair, all that really means is that I take over the duties of the Chair if he or she is unavailable.

14. Your representation in the media emerges in numerous avenues internal and external, obscure and mainstream, pro and con, to CFI Canada, and Humanist Canada.[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28],[29],[30],[31],[32],[33],[34],[35],[36],[37],[38],[39],[40],[41],[42],[43],[44] What duties and responsibilities come from influencing the public mind through the media, especially whilst holding an important position in an organization in the educational charity sector?

I think it is the most important thing I do. Communication is the key to understanding and I take my responsibility as a communicator very seriously. It sometimes means I have to tone down the message I would like to give, when one is on TV talking to the masses, one must be succinct and clear, without putting people off to the point where they turn the dial. It is a fine line because to many religious types my very existence as an atheist is offensive to them. So my job is show them that I am a regular person with some (I hope) interesting things to say, and if I can educate one person or show one person a new way of looking at an issue then I call that a win.

15. Many, many organizations, formal and informal, with concomitant publications exist for the distribution of principles and values interrelated with critical thinking, humanism, naturalism, and secularism.  For example, the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP, the old title)/The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI, the new title) publishes Skeptical Inquirer.[45],[46],[47] What importance do flagship publications, such as Skeptical Inquirer, have for the “no religious affiliation” individuals and groups?[48]

They are very important. It is vital that our point of view is out there in the public. Magazines, TV and radio programs are essential to both creating a sense of community and as a means of education, without being pedantic.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Board Vice-Chair, Center for Inquiry Canada (CFIC/CFI Canada); Past President, Humanist Canada; Past President, British Columbia Humanist Association.

[2] Individual Publication: February 22, 2016 at; Full Issue Publication: May 1, 2016 at

[3] Bachelor of Science & Bachelor of Education, Science, Biology, and Education.

[4] Please see Trapper, J. (2011, October 10). Dr. Robert Buckman, renowned oncologist, comedian and Star columnist, dead at 63. Retrieved from

[5] Please see Humanist Canada (2015). Humanist Canada. Retrieved from

[6] Please see Twitter (Humanist Canada (2015). @Humanist_Canada. Retrieved from

[7] Please see Twitter (Humanist Canada (2015). @Humanist_Canada. Retrieved from

[8] Explicit statement of the values, mission, and vision, as follows:

Values Our key values are to uphold honesty, reason, critical thinking and cooperation in every facet of human interdependence. Mission We promote the separation of religion from public policy and foster the development of reason, compassion and critical thinking for all Canadians, through secular education and community support. Vision Our vision is a world where reason and compassion guide public policy and beliefs are respected— provided that they are compatible with the rights of others.

Please see Humanist Canada. (2015). Humanist Canada Brochure. Retrieved from

[9] Please see Humanist Canada (2015). Humanist Canada. Retrieved from

[10] Please see Humanist Canada (2015). Humanist Canada. Retrieved from

[11] Please see British Columbia Humanist Association (2015). British Columbia Humanist Association. Retrieved from

[12] Please see British Columbia Humanist Association (2015). British Columbia Humanist Association. Retrieved from

[13] Please see Humanist Canada (2015). Humanist Canada. Retrieved from

[14] Please see British Columbia Humanist Association (2015). British Columbia Humanist Association. Retrieved from

[15] Please see Center for Inquiry Canada (2015). CFI Canada Board of Directors. Retrieved from

[16] Please see Atheist Alliance International (2015). Atheist Alliance International. Retrieved from

[17] Please see Atheist Alliance International (2015). Atheist Alliance International. Retrieved from

[18] Please see CFI Canada (2015). About Us. Retrieved from

[19] Please see Center for Inquiry Canada (2015). CFI Canada Board of Directors. Retrieved from

[20] Please see Adriaans, E. (2014, December 18). Center for Inquiry Canada Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

[21] Some definitions within the Center for Inquiry Canada Code of Conduct define a board member as “community,” as follows, ““CFI Canada’s Community” means any and all clients, personnel, members, Board Members, Friends of the Centre, Councillors, donors, supporters and all those individuals and organizations who have a responsibility toward CFI Canada and an interest in its success.” In addition to this definition, other statements have value within in with respect to the position of board members.  In sections G and H.2., the Center for Inquiry Canada Code of Conduct: “A breach of the Code of Conduct is subject to disciplinary or legal action in accordance with applicable policies and procedures as approved by the Board of Directors from time to time. The nature of disciplinary action will take into account harm to the individual, harm to CFI Canada and its reputation, and whether or not there was an unequal power relationship. Disciplinary action includes dismissal, where circumstances warrant…H. Responsibilities 2. Members of the Board of Directors, Branch Directors, the National Executive Director and other Officers of CFI Canada are responsible for oversight, applying and implementing this policy in each of their respective jurisdictions.” In other words, a serious position with responsibilities for particular activities and, therefore, consequences for certain misconduct.

[22] Please see Global TV (n.d.). BC1- Atheist ad rejected in Vancouver. Retrieved from

[23] Note, the title of “Center for Enquiry Canada” in the Global TV interview provided a faulty title for the educational charity within the interview for O’Brien.  The correct title remains “Center for Inquiry Canada.”

[24] Please see Abbass, V. (2014, June 18). Pacific Spirit. Retrieved from

[25] Please see Johnson, P. (2014, June 12). Pacific Spirit: Atheists demand proof for God’s existence. Retrieved from

[26] Please see The Agenda with Steve Paikin (2013, December 13). How to Get Atheism in Advertising. Retrieved from

[27] Please see CFI Canada (2012). If we raise $40,000 by December 31, 2012 a generous donor will match it!. Retrieved from

[28] Please see Peat, D. (2009, March 6). Humanists see light at end of subway tunnel. Retrieved from

[29] Please see Canada Press (2009, March 6). More Godless Advertising. Retrieved from

[30] Please see Egan, D (2007, January 17). Preaching the Word of Atheism. Retrieved from

[31] Please see The Drew Marshall Show (2009, March 7). Special Guests. Retrieved from

[32] Please see Context with Lorna Dueck (2007, June 19). Atheism: Is Faith Stupid. Retrieved from

[33] Please see Mcelheran, T. (2009, February 4). Group wants atheist ads on city buses. Retrieved from

[34] Please see Randi, J. (2009, February 5). Next, They’ll Be Hunting Witches in Nova Scotia!. Retrieved from

[35] Please see CBC News (2009, February 3). ‘Good without God’ ad campaign raises questions in Vancouver. Retrieved from

[36] Please see Kiely, B.J. (2009, January 25). Atheism II- Humanism. Retrieved from

[37] Please see O’Brien, P. (2007, January 17). Restructuring HAC. Retrieved from

[38] Please see O’Brien, P. (2006, August 2). Morality Into Wine. Retrieved from

[39] Please see Rau, K. (2009, March 24). Religious believers less likely to notice own mistakes: study. Retrieved from

[40] Please see AsianPost (2009, February 19). Outloud! With Gurpreet Singh. Retrieved from

[41] Please see Akkad, O.E. (2009, April 10). This is your brain on religion. Retrieved from

[42] Please see Laidlaw, S. (2008, march 15). Darwin exhibit survives thanks to unlikely backers. Retrieved from

[43] Please see Tam, C. (2013, December 7). Atheism group says ad rejected by Vancouver billboard company. Retrieved from

[44] Please see O’Brien, P. (2014, August 12). On Atheists. Retrieved from

[45] Please see Frazier, K. (2006, December 4). ​It’s CSI Now, Not CSICOP.

[46] Please see The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2015). The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved from

[47] Please see The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2015). Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved from

[48] Please see The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2015). Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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