When I first arrived in Canada and began making the rounds of the various Humanist circles out here, I was fortunate enough to meet Ian Bushfield, executive director of the BC Humanist Association. Besides just being a really cool person to talk to, I also recognized in him a fellow positive Humanist, someone who wants to take an active role in making the world a better place. Ian is just the type of person I had in mind when I began thinking about profiling positive Humanists and so I’d like to share a little about him and the remarkable work of the BC Humanist Association.
Autumn: Tell us a little about yourself, your position with BC Humanists and how you ended up as the executive director and really, just how you became a Humanist.
Ian: I wasn’t really exposed to religion growing up. My family was basically secular – our Christmas was mostly about food, family and presents – even though I grew up in rural southern Alberta. When I started at the University of Alberta, I was very involved in student life and found that there were dozens of religious student groups but no real alternative voice. So together with some friends, we founded the U of A Atheists and Agnostics and had over 300 members in our first week!
I ran that group for two years before moving to Vancouver and read up on all the various flavours of freethought (atheism, agnosticism, Humanism, skepticism, The Brights, etc). I think I slowly came around to identifying as a Humanist through this reading and its greater connection with social justice. Shortly after arriving in Vancouver, I got involved in the BC Humanist Association and have identified that way since.
I was on the Board for two years, first as secretary and then as president, before being appointed executive director. I’ve always felt the secular movement has a huge opportunity in an increasingly non-religious Canada, particularly among the younger demographics, and I’ve really worked to build that positive and progressive community. My wife and I moved to the UK for a couple of years but I’ve recently moved back and I’m excited to be continuing that work.
Autumn: How does Humanism inform your everyday actions and decisions?
Ian: I think the main Humanist values are reason, compassion, and hope. This means – and my background in engineering and science help – that I approach most issues with an analytical and skeptical mind but I also want to keep in mind the human costs and the importance of dignity. I’m not a pure utilitarian seeking to maximize happiness but rather I want to work to end injustice wherever I can (or at very least support those who are best able to). Hope means that I believe tomorrow can be better than today but it’s going to take some effort.
Autumn: Speaking of hope and justice, tell us about the Humanist Action campaign other than that it shares the same name as us.
Ian: I think the goals are the same – your website describes itself as “a vehicle to encourage Humanists to live out their Humanist values” and that’s what I want to see our campaign do. Humanist groups are great at meeting the intellectual and philosophical needs of their members – our meetings tend to be lively and everyone has an opinion – but Humanism is about more than just debating ideas. I think if we actually want to affect change we have to get out there and be active. So our campaign is about just that – putting our values into action. So under this umbrella we’ll be running fundraisers for local and international aid charities, coordinating crisis responses, volunteering in the community, and whatever other acts we can take part in to improve the world. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?
And I want to stress that I want this to be entirely driven by our members. Our first activities – fundraising for Syria and taking part in the Light the Night walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – were suggested by and are being led by our members.
Ian: In addition to taking part in the Light the Night walk on October 17, we hold weekly meetings in Vancouver, a monthly book club, and have a Winter Solstice Dinner coming up on December 19. We’re also helping raise awareness of Humanist events going on in towns and at universities across BC, including in Surrey, Fraser Valley, Comox, Victoria, and the Okanagan. I’ll also be speaking with CFI Okanagan on October 21. .
Autumn: Tell us more about your current effort to raise money for Syrian refugees.
Ian: By now everyone is familiar with the refugee crisis that follows years of civil war in Syria. Seeing other humans in crisis, we felt we had to help in some way. Based on our research of different aid organizations’ records at delivering the most impact, we decided to start to coordinate our members’ donations. All of the funds go directly to MSF and we’re able to show how much we’ve raised collectively. So far our members have contributed $575.
Autumn: That’s awesome! How can someone in BC get involved with BC Humanists?
Ian: It’s very easy, just sign up for updates at to keep up with our latest updates and of course like us on and follow us on . We’re entirely funded by memberships and donations, so I encourage everyone to join and donate. As a charitable organization, we can issue tax receipts for any donations.
Thanks to Ian for taking the time out to give us a look at the BC Humanist Association and all their great work! Humanist Action is highlighting the BC Humanist Association’s Medecins Sans Frontieres campaign throughout October and November.