BCHA set to sue Vancouver over inaugural prayer

Yesterday, lawyers for the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) asked the City of Vancouver for a public commitment to respect the constitutional duty of religious neutrality. The City was warned that the BCHA is preparing to commence legal proceedings.

Last fall, the BCHA identified the City of Vancouver as one of seven municipalities that included a prayer or religious content in their 2022 inaugural council meetings. Vancouver's ceremony included five religious representatives who delivered a 13-minute collective prayer. The BCHA wrote to the City in November asking for a commitment to end the practice. In response, we were told that staff "will address this matter with the Mayor-elect" in the future but that the contents of the inaugural ceremony were ultimately up to the next incoming mayor.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BCHA:

The precedent is clear: Local government must be inclusive of everyone. Sponsoring one religion or religion in general above non-religion creates a hierarchy of beliefs in the City. It says that some people are more welcome than others in the community.

Dr Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Research Coordinator, BCHA:

The Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear, municipalities cannot include prayer in meetings. This ruling applies to the City of Vancouver, as much as every other municipality across the country, and it applies whether it is one, two, or five prayers. By including prayers in their 2022 inaugural meeting, Vancouver sent a clear message that elevated some religions over others, and religion over non-religion.

Earlier this month, the BCHA announced it was also preparing to take the City of Parksville to court over prayers in its 2022 inaugural council meeting.

Vancouver City Council replaced the prayers said at regular council meetings with 'welcoming remarks' in 2012. The most recent inaugural meeting to include a prayer in Vancouver was in 2005 when Sam Sullivan was sworn in as mayor.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada found that prayers at municipal council meetings were unconstitutional as they violated the state's duty of religious neutrality. Since 2020, the BCHA has been auditing compliance with the decision among municipalities in BC and across the country.

Video release

Watch the prayer


The BCHA is being represented by Joel V. Payne, Allen/McMillan Litigation Counsel.


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