Latest Updates

Have an omelet and pray, with the Prime Minister

This morning, the Prime Minister, leader of opposition and an untold number of Members of Parliament gathered, over Zoom, to join in the annual National Prayer Breakfast. While the American version of the event is probably more familiar to most people, Canada has in fact had its own Prayer Breakfast for several decades.

We had Adriana Thom, our Policy Researcher, look into answering a few questions about the event.

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Religion doesn't protect contracts from judicial scrutiny

The BC Humanist Association is welcoming a unanimous decision by Canada's highest court that affirms that religious organizations can be subject to judicial scrutiny.

The case stems from five individuals who sued their former church following their expulsion from the congregation. The members alleged church leadership failed to follow their own internal bylaws and they asked the courts to uphold their rights as members of the church.

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The "support group" loophole?

Religious services remain banned in BC during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet at least one Vancouver church has continued meeting under the guise of a support group.

Love Quest International Church says on its website that it launched "The Good Life Support Group" in late February 2021 as a response to the pandemic. It appears to have been meeting in person weekly at Strathcona Church in East Vancouver. Dr Bonnie Henry, BC's Provincial Health Officer (PHO), first issued an order prohibiting in-person religious gatherings and worship services on November 19, 2020 - an order that was upheld by the Supreme Court of BC in March 2021.

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BCHA joins calls for COVID-19 data transparency

At its April 19, 2021 meeting, the Board of Directors of the BC Humanist Association adopted a motion joining calls for greater data transparency from governments and decision makers to provide for greater accountability in their response to COVID-19.

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BCHA reacts to 2021 provincial and federal budgets

Yesterday the Government of Canada released its 2021 budget and today the Government of BC released its budget.

The BC Humanist Association is celebrating investments in childcare, reconciliation and efforts to combat systemic racism.

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BCHA joins call to decriminalize poverty in Vancouver

The BC Humanist Association has joined calls from community to divest from policing and invest in community programs in the City of Vancouver.

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The stars are aligned: It's time for legislative astrology

Building on its research-driven advocacy around religious prayers in the legislature and municipal councils across British Columbia, the BC Humanist Association is asking today why our provincial politicians have thus far limited their spiritual considerations to more traditional approaches to understanding the universe.

In its new report, Separation of Religion and Government in Retrograde, the BCHA considers the impact of the astrological star signs of MLAs on the province's prosperity.

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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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