Governments in Canada provided subsidies of up to $2.6 billion for the advancement of religion in 2017, according to a new analysis by the Centre for Inquiry Canada. The Government of British Columbia alone provides as much as $156 million.
The numbers come from the first part of The Cost of Religion in Canada, a report produced with support from the BC Humanist Association. Using data obtained from returns submitted by charities to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), it estimates the cost to taxpayers of providing tax receipts for donations to charities that "advance religion."
Across Canada, religious charities issued tax receipts for nearly $7 billion in donations in 2017. Over $1 billion of those donations were to charities based in British Columbia. Using estimates for the value of those tax write-offs, the report estimates the total cost of subsidizing religious charities to be between $1.6 and $2.6 billion nationwide.
Those losses are split between the federal and provincial governments. British Columbia alone forwent between $53.6 and $155.6 million.
The report focuses only on charities that identify one of their purposes as the "advancement of religion," which is one of four "heads" of charity (the others being relief of poverty, advancement of education and other purposes beneficial to the community). It therefore excludes religious-based educational institutions, homeless shelters and other charities. The CRA requires that any for charity that claims to advance religion, "there must be an element of theistic worship." In other words, the Government of Canada does not consider it a charitable activity to advance a non-theistic worldviews like Humanism. The BCHA's charitable purposes are educational and in the promotion of human rights.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
This report lays out how our governments disregard their constitutional duty of religious neutrality by subsidizing and privileging the promotion of some worldviews to the exclusion of others. If people want to promote their beliefs about the supernatural, they should do it without the expectation of a public handout.
Gus Lyn-Piluso, President, Centre for Inquiry Canada:
The right to be religious is a personal freedom we enjoy in Canada. However, Canadian taxpayers, as citizens of all faiths and citizens of no faith, should not be forced to subsidize the advancement of religion through tax exemptions.
Previous work by the BCHA has shown that the Government of BC provides over $1 billion to religious-based healthcare facilities, $265 million goes to private religious schools and 88% of municipalities provide some exemption to religious properties (beyond their place of worship).
The BCHA has also consistently argued that Canada's charity laws need to be modernized to provide equity between theistic and nontheistic belief systems.