Toronto AA Intergroup Finally Lets Agnostics, Atheists Back In

By Victoria Kim 02/09/17

The Toronto-based AA group was accused of discrimination based on religious creed in 2014.

A support group.

After years of trying to keep secular AA groups out of its official directory, the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup (GTAI) has lost this battle. This month, AA Agnostica reported that GTAI finally agreed to once again include agnostic and atheist AA groups in its meetings directory.

GTAI “de-listed” the secular groups, Beyond Belief and We Agnostics, back in 2011 because they removed and replaced any reference to God in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

In September 2014, a local member of We Agnostics, Larry Knight, filed a claim against AA World Services and GTAI with Ontario’s human rights tribunal, accusing GTAI of discrimination based on religious creed.

“The only requirement for membership in AA is this desire to achieve sobriety and to help others in this achievement,” said Knight in a January 2016 hearing. But GTAI clearly wasn’t moved by his argument, and said in a statement, “It is a bona fide requirement that groups that wish to be part of this intergroup must have a belief in the higher power of God.”

According to AA Agnostica, GTAI was finally swayed by AA’s General Service Office (GSO) in New York, which “was planning to cut off its ties” with the Toronto intergroup. After a few face-to-face meetings facilitated by the human rights tribunal—the last of which occurred this past January—GTAI revised its position, conceding that a group should be recognized “regardless of the specific beliefs or practices of the group members or the group as a whole.”

“GTA Intergroup acknowledges that the manner in which individual AA members or groups of AA members interpret and apply the Steps and Traditions in their own lives is a matter for those individuals alone,” said the intergroup in January.

However, as AA Agnostica notes, GTAI seems to remain in denial. In the same January statement, it also said, “It has been, and remains, the GTAI’s position that there has been no discrimination against the complainant, or indeed anyone else, let alone on the prohibited ground of creed.”

Nevertheless, it’s another solid victory for those in AA who benefit from the 12-step program but don’t relate to the references to God. Secular AAers enjoyed another milestone last fall, when the AA Grapevine monthly magazine devoted a special section to stories by AA agnostics and atheists in its October 2016 issue.

John S. of Beyond Belief wrote at the time that the issue “will go down as an important event in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous … Never before in the Grapevine’s 72-year history has there ever been an issue devoted to atheist and agnostic members.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr