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Toward a modernized charity framework for Canada

The BC Humanist Association today called on the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector to support new legislation defining what a charity is and for that legislation to create equality between religious and nonreligious worldviews in Canadian charity law.

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Permissive tax exemptions in Greater Victoria

When a journalist from Saanich News reached out for a story on permissive tax exemptions in the District of Saanich, I decided to go through and look up the detailed policies for most of the municipalities around Victoria. Even within a very small region, we're able to see a wide variety of approaches taken by different councils.

Every municipality below grants at least some permissive exemptions for religious properties but how they decide which to provide, and how they report them, varies greatly.

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Who reaps the most rewards? The landscape of independent school funding in BC

Christian and Catholic groups are receiving a disproportionate amount of BC's Independent School funding, according to an analysis released by the BC Humanist Association today.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

Last week we showed how BC's Office of Independent Schools has been overseen by evangelical Christians for three decades. So it's not surprising to see hundreds of millions of dollars go to Christian and Catholic schools in greater proportion than one would expect from the religious demographics of the province.

23% of British Columbians identified as Christian or Catholic in a 2016 poll by the BCHA (or 45% in the 2011 Census). However, 62% of the $358 million dollars given to independent schools went to Christian and Catholic schools in the 2017-18 school year.

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"I asked for evidence-based treatments and it was refused to me."

There is a risk that we are going to be forcing people, or trying to force people, to engage in a service or a support that is legitimately not right for them.

Karen Urbanoski, a scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research in Victoria, told this to journalist Bethany Lindsay in a CBC feature piece on Byron Wood's human rights complaint over being required to attend Alcoholic's Anonymous by his former employer.

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Fox in the henhouse: Oversight of BC independent schools

The Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools, a department of the Ministry of Education, is responsible for the oversight of independent schools.

Janet Steffenhagen’s thorough reporting in the Vancouver Sun in 2007 found that every inspector of those schools going back to the 1980s was connected to an Evangelical Christian School. This trend has continued through today and it raises the question of why the one office designated to oversee BC's private schools has been run entirely by people coming out of a faith group that accounts for approximately 13% of British Columbia and, as we'll show next week, a fraction of the independent school community.

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Permissive tax exemptions in Kamloops

After releasing the responses we received to our survey of BC municipalities' various approaches to permissive tax exemptions for religious organizations, I spoke to Radio NL in Kamloops about their city's approach.

Kamloops, like most cities in BC, does give permissive tax exemptions to religious properties and doesn't apply a clear public benefits test. However, the local details provide a glimpse into how complex these questions can be across the province.

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It's time for public funds to go to public education

As students return to schools across the province today, so will the nearly half a billion dollars that continue to flow to private schools in BC.

The Province of British Columbia currently provides private schools (also called independent schools) with public funding equivalent to up to 50% of the funding per-student that a neighbouring public school receives. The total handout to private schools in British Columbia for the 2018-19 school year is budgeted to be over $425 million.

The BC Humanist Association supports the principle of public funds for public education and has called for the phase out of public funding to all independent schools. Through the summer we have been looking into independent schools and over the coming weeks, we will be releasing our findings from looking into these schools.

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Permissive tax exemptions in Vancouver

As British Columbia's largest city, it makes sense for the City of Vancouver to be the first municipality we profile in our Fair Property Tax Exemptions series. However, Vancouver is actually a fascinating case for the way the city council has set its priorities.

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What BC cities give religious property tax exemptions? A look at our data

As we've outlined, city and town councils across the province have the freedom to exempt certain lands from property taxes. In an effort to understand what cities have done, earlier this year we wrote to every city, town, village and incorporated district in BC and asked them. While most communities provide these exemptions to religious properties, we found a sizable proportion require organizations to demonstrate a public benefit prior to receiving the exemption and a small number of communities that choose not to provide any permissive tax exemptions.

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Starting a conversation about permissive exemptions for churches

With an understanding of what a permissive exemption is, it's worth discussing some of the issues that are raised by municipalities granting these exemptions to religious organizations.

Provincial and municipal governments grant exemptions from property taxes as a way to recognize and promote the public benefit of certain institutions. As far back as the Magna Carta, the advancement of religion has been seen as a good in and of itself. This has led to religious properties being granted the statutory exemptions discussed above.

However, as British Columbia becomes increasingly secular, it’s worth questioning this basic assumption. As of 2016, only 27% of British Columbians said they practice a religion or faith and only 11% attend religious services weekly. Despite the emptier pews, churches across BC are still granted automatic exemptions from property taxes.

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