Campbell River punishes secular charities for compassion, rewards golf course & churches

Campbell River city council voted on September 28 to cut the property tax exemptions for the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society and the local art gallery.

The Mental Health Society operates a supervised consumption site and the Art Gallery has been making an effort to support people experiencing homelessness in the city, including those who have been left with nowhere to sleep but in front of the gallery’s doors.

Only Councillor Tanille Johnston opposed revoking the two exemptions.

These tax exemptions were worth about $17,000 and $10,000 respectively and will now have to come from those charity’s operating revenues. Council also considered a motion to strip a $13,000 exemption from the local arts council but that was defeated in a narrow 4-3  vote.

Meanwhile, council did approve a 50% tax exemption for the non-profit Storey Creek Golf Course, which is worth $17k. Notably, staff recommended the golf club receive no exemption. The curling club also received a 50% exemption worth $30,000.

We also confirmed that 17 churches will receive over $100,000 worth of exemptions. Notably the non-Christian churches: Mormons, Sikhs and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are set to only receive exemptions worth 70%, while the Salvation Army will get 90%.

Name Approved Taxes
St. Peter's Anglican Church 100% $14,185
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church 100% $4,376
St. Patrick's Parish 100% $21,807
Campbell River Church of Christ 100% $5,927
Campbell River Church of the Way 100% $3,088
Campbell River Vineyard Christian Fellowship 100% $3,904
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐Day Saints in Canada 70% $5,739
Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada* 100% $9,252
Governing Council of Salvation Army in Canada 90% $4,999
Guru Nanak Sikh Society 70% $4,840
Christian Life Fellowship 100% $7,367
Seventh Day Adventist Church 100% $4,552
Trinity Presbyterian Church 100% $6,004
Trustees of Rockland Congregation o Jehovah's Witnesses 70% $3,864
Campbell River United Church 100% $6,175
  Total $106,079

*The Foursquare Gospel Church receives exemptions for three properties in Campbell River.

The Guru Nanak Sikh Society actually wrote in to protest the seemingly differential treatment they are receiving but council didn’t listen. The Society wrote: "We are a community of new to Canada immigrants. This is a key point as we have been graded lower on multiple metrics purely based on miscommunication or the lack of information being provided to our community members of the Sikh Temple."

Another church – the Discovery Community Church – was denied an exemption this year as their application was late. It was due by the end of July and only received in mid-September.

So Campbell River council is happy giving $100,000 to churches, almost $50k to a golf course and curling club but is out to punish two secular organizations that have shown compassion to people experiencing homelessness or are using drugs.

In another amendment, council agreed to reduce all exemptions by 10%, so most churches should now receive 90% exemptions.

The final policy must be passed by the end of October, so the Art Gallery is hoping that they still have a chance they could reverse these changes but it seems unlikely given the size of the majority that voted to end the exemptions.

Ultimately, this story underlines the importance of our call for municipalities to adopt clear and consistent public benefits tests prior to dolling out thousands of dollars in tax relief. Although even in this story, staff completed matrix evaluations based on existing policy to rank each application but those recommendations were ultimately overruled by political considerations.


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