North Cowichan grants tax exemption to Christian camp, denies CPC

Recently, North Cowichan municipal district council denied a property tax exemption to a crisis pregnancy center.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are religious, generally Christian, run organizations that try to "help" pregnant women by either discouraging them from abortion or really pushing adoption and continuing with the pregnancy.

This one, House of Grace, described its position to The Discourse as protecting life from conception but that position was unavailable on the centre's website. The organization does disclose that it is Christian.

House of Grace had applied to the district to be exempt from property taxes that they owe for their facilities. The Council has a policy to grant exemptions based on the organization's benefit to the community. A full exemption for the CPC would have been worth $1,522.

While this exemption would not likely have created a significant additional burden for other property owners to carry, it would have still represented the municipality subsidizing an arguably anti-choice organization.

We were therefore pleased to see local activists press the council to reject this application and for a 4-3 majority of the council to agree with them.

At the same time the council as a whole flip-flopped over whether to grant a similar exemption to a local Christian youth camp, Camp Qwanoes. The camp receives a variety of exemptions for its properties in the district, which cost the district $26,679 in foregone revenue.

That camp has been in the news after local school districts ended their partnerships upon learning camp counselors are required to sign a statement of faith that excludes LGBTQ2S+ individuals. Reasonably, many suggested that the municipality should take a second look at whether the camp provides a substantive benefit to the community while it discriminates in its hiring practices.

Initially, council voted 5-2 to reject the camp's tax exemption. Following a speech from the camp's director, council reversed its vote at a subsequent meeting and agreed 6-1 to grant. The camp argued that they "welcome all campers regardless of background or beliefs" and they had previously received the exemption without question.

Additionally, North Cowichan grants permissive tax exemptions to 15 places of worship worth $83,237.

These decisions by North Cowichan's council underlines why our work on emphasizing the importance to municipality's adopting a robust public benefits test to determine which organizations qualify for

North Cowichan deserves credit for maintaining an application process that probes the benefit of each applicant and for its transparency in publishing those applications as part of their meeting packages; however, there doesn't seem to be a clear evaluation process for those applications. A more robust process might involve staff assessing the applications against a matrix to ensure that the community's priorities are reflected in the kinds of organizations who receive such benefits. Although, even that approach can be subject to political whims, as we saw in the recent politicization of permissive tax exemptions in Campbell River.

Across BC this month, every municipality is concluding their own annual permissive tax exemption bylaws. Make sure you reach out to your own mayor and council by the end of the month to find out what kinds of organizations you're indirectly subsidizing.

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