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A Public Good?

Property tax exemptions for places of worship in British Columbia


The BC Humanist Association released a report today calling on municipalities to adopt regular benefits tests for tax exemptions granted to places of worship. These tests, the report states, are necessary to ensure potential recipients of tax exemptions — which total millions each year — provide services that benefit the community as a whole.

This measure would provide much needed safeguards to prevent tax funds from supporting organizations that operate as private clubs, discriminate against protected groups, operate commercial enterprises, or break the laws, such as COVID-19 regulations.

Two types of tax exemptions can apply to places of worship in BC: statutory tax exemptions that are granted automatically by the provincial government, and permissive tax exemptions that can be granted by municipal governments. 

Tax exemptions can be positive tools for governments to support the work of groups that provide beneficial services to the public. However, they require municipal governments to increase taxes elsewhere to cover funds that would otherwise be collected. As a result, the report states that there are a number of important steps that municipal governments should take to ensure these exemptions are fair, transparent, and in the best interest of the public.

The report reveals the value of tax exemptions to places of worship in BC is considerable. In 2019, as much as $45.9 million in potential tax revenue was not accessed by municipalities as a result of statutory tax exemptions, and an additional $12.5 million was granted in permissive tax exemptions. This totals $58.4 million in tax exemptions for 2019, roughly $12 per British Columbian.

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Responses to Municipal Prayer Report

At the end of November 2020, the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) released our report, The Duty of Neutrality Beyond Saguenay: Unconstitutional Prayers at Municipal Councils in British Columbia. This study investigates the practice of beginning municipal council meetings in British Columbia (BC) with a prayer, a practice that was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), in 2015. We identified 23 BC municipalities that included prayer in their 2018 inaugural council meetings. None were found to do so in regular council meetings.

As part of our investigation, we reached out to these 23 municipalities and informed them of the Saguenay decision and the implications that it would have on their inaugural meetings. A number of these municipalities responded to us, and several of them pledged to bring their procedures at future meetings into compliance with the constitution. Some wrote that they would take our letter under advisement, and a number did not respond.

After releasing our report, a number of municipalities have expressed their commitment to ending prayers in their inaugural meetings. The Supreme Court ruling was clear that municipal governments have the “democratic imperative” to maintain true neutrality by abstaining from all religious activities. When officials engage in a religious practice, no matter how inclusive it may seem, it indicates a preference for that religious tradition over others. In refraining from religious practices, such as prayer, municipal governments create a neutral space where all citizens feel comfortable to participate.

Here we wanted to summarize the impact of work on these various municipalities.

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2020 In Review

This past year has been an unprecedented one on many levels. With the mass lockdowns, deaths, and other losses brought on by COVID-19, it has been an important time to stay true to our humanist values of morality, compassion, scientifically backed reason, and compassion.

In the face of these challenges, we at the BC Humanist Association have strived to continue empowering humanists and fighting for religious equality. To that end, our team completed numerous presentations and reports, launched new campaigns targeted at our member’s needs, and created a series of regular virtual events.

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Memorials & Grief: A Guide for Humanists and Non- Religious People in B.C.

The B.C. Humanist Association has created two guides to discuss issues that humanists and other non-religious people may encounter around the ends of their lives. This guide, on Memorials & Grief, is for anyone non-religious (humanist, atheist, agnostic) and living with the death of a loved one, or simply interested in learning more about the humanist perspective of life & death.

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BC Humanist Association welcomes proposed legislation to expand access to medical assistance in dying

Since our last response in January 2016, there has been a significant amount of research into the demand for medical assistance in dying (MAiD), and experience of the 13,000 Canadians who received their wish of an assisted death in Canada since legislation. However, there are also many people who would have otherwise wished for MAiD, but were excluded from the eligibility criteria until now. Amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada will pave the way for more Canadian adults to fulfill their wishes of a death with dignity, a cause that the overwhelming majority of Canadians support.  

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End-of-Life: A Guide for Humanists and Non-Religious People in B.C.

End of life care in Canada has historically been a field of medicine steeped in religion, believed to be the work of Christian chaplains—not doctors—for the purpose of preparing for an afterlife. With a growing number of non-religious people in the world and the multiculturalism of Canada, the landscape of end of life care is changing. The legalization of medical assistance in dying, non-religious pastoral support networks, and advance care planning education offers an opportunity for non-religious people to think of death and dying in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

With that in mind, the B.C. Humanist Association have created a guide that discusses issues that humanists and other non-religious people may encounter when considering and planning for the end of their lives. This guide also sheds light on the unique experience of living a life with no expectation of punishment or reward when it’s over and identifies barriers to a death with dignity, along with measures to improve it.

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Farewell for a while

A special note from our Executive Director, Ian Bushfield:

Today is my last day of work before I take off for a few months to raise a young Humanist.

It's been an incredibly productive summer. Our amazing team of Emily, Alexandre, Adriana and Teale have hosted livestreamed events, finished what was called "a masters thesis worth" of research and put us on solid financial footing going into the fall.

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BCHA condemns proposal to create College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The BC Humanist Association is calling for the scrapping of a proposal to create a "Regulatory College of Complementary and Alternative Health and Care Professionals" by a committee tasked with modernizing BC's provincial health professions regulatory framework.

The new regulatory college is being proposed to amalgamate existing colleges for chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. In January, the BCHA called on the committee to "end the recognition" of these professions and enshrine evidence at the core of its reforms.

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Legislative Prayer Across Canada

Canada is often viewed as a diverse and multicultural country. Multiculturalism and ‘freedom of conscience and religion’ are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. From this, the Supreme Court of Canada has established that Canada is a secular country through what has been called the state’s duty of religious neutrality. Nevertheless, legislative assemblies across Canada continue to begin each day’s sitting with a prayer, which is most often Christian in nature.

Here we provide an overview of the diverse practices that surround legislative prayer across Canada today.

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Prorogation kills bills to ban conversion therapy, reform MAID

The BC Humanist Association is calling on Members of Parliament (MPs) to commit to the quick reintroduction and passage of two bills this fall after an announcement yesterday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was proroguing Parliament until September 23.

With prorogation all bills are wiped from the order paper. This included ones that would ban conversion therapy and make changes to Canada's assisted dying laws. The BCHA recently launched a petition in support of the ban on conversion therapy and has long campaigned for broad access to medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Both bills had not passed first reading in the House of Commons.

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