Colwood councillor calls for end to religious property tax exemptions

"This may not be a popular take,"

began Councillor Ian Ward at an October 10, 2023, Colwood City Council Meeting. In his speech, Councillor Ward outlined why two churches in his community should not receive permissive tax exemptions this year.

Permissive tax exemptions are granted at the discretion of a city council to exempt property from taxes that aren't covered by a statutory exemption. For example, a place of worship is exempt but ancillary land, including parking lots, may not be. Provincewide, the BCHA estimated these exemptions for religious groups increase the tax burden of homeowners and small businesses by $12.5 million in 2019. However, some communities do not grant exemptions to religious groups and others require applicants to clear a public benefits test.

In the meeting, the Council debated its annual permissive tax exemption bylaw. Included on that were three churches in the city that receive exemptions: The Anglican Church of the Advent, Colwood Pentecostal Church and West Side Bible Church. In 2022, those churches received permissive tax exemptions worth $31,340, $23,492 and $10,998, respectively.

Councillor Ward singled out the Pentecostal and West Side Church, noting the latter states on its website "the unsaved will be cast into the lake of fire to suffer eternal conscious punishment." Among the unsaved, according to Ward, are members of the LGBTQ community and women who've had an abortion.

I don't want my tax dollars to support folks that are willing to take away fundamental human rights to folks that also are residents of our community.

Conversely, Ward said the Anglican church was "quite progressive" and "have openly embraced all of the cultural shifts in our society."

Ward's motion to remove the exemptions from the two churches was ultimately defeated 6-1.

I represent the 33% of people who have no religious affiliation. They're atheists. And they don't agree with funding religious organizations.

Each community was required to pass its permissive tax exemption bylaw by October 31 this year. We previously saw debates in Campbell River and North Cowichan over what kinds of organizations should qualify for the benefits.

Watch Councillor Ian Ward's speech on our TikTok, where over 40,000 people have already watched it, or on YouTube.

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