Prayers end in MD of Bonnyville following BCHA advocacy

Council meetings in the Municipal District of Bonnyville, Alberta, no longer open with a prayer. This follows the BC Humanist Association releasing a report that identified it as one of eight Alberta municipalities that violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On April 9, 2024, the MD of Bonnyville opened with a prayer by Councillor Josh Crick. His prayer referenced "Lord" and ended in amen. At the next meeting, on April 23, the Council proceeded straight to approving the agenda without any opening prayer. No meetings since then have included a prayer.

The BCHA had written to the MD of Bonnyville, and other municipalities in Alberta that we identified as having included prayers in their regular or most recent inaugural meetings, asking each of them to end prayers and commit to observing the state's duty of religious neutrality in future meetings. We referenced the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in MLQ v Saguenay that found opening a city council meeting with a prayer unconstitutional.

On May 6, we published The Last Municipality Standing, which looked at municipal prayers across Alberta.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:

Advocacy works. We've seen time and again that a local government will violate the Supreme Court's precedent until they're called out on it.

In many smaller communities, it can still be risky for someone to stand up and object to these practices, which is why we've continued to do this work.

As explored in The Last Municipality Standing, council prayers have a sordid history in the MD of Bonnyville. The district had ended the practice in 2019, only to resume following the election of Barry Kalinski as Reeve in 2021. In early 2022, the Reeve apologized for asking a staff member to deliver a prayer before council.

Dr Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Reseach Coordinator, BC Humanist Association:

I am pleased to see that MD of Bonnyville has discontinued its unconstitutional practice of opening meetings with prayer. It is important that everyone feel welcome at municipal council meetings. When a municipality opens a meeting with prayer, it sends the message that one religion is more important than others and is more important than non-religion. This practice violates the state's duty of religious neutrality, which the Supreme Court of Canada described as a democratic imperative in the Saguenay decision.

Notably, Reeve Kalinski is a member of Bonnyville Pentecostal Church and was stranded in Haiti earlier this year while on a mission trip. The District itself announced this in a press release that concluded, "We pray for Reeve Kalinski’s safety, his safe return, and for the people of Haiti as they go through this challenging time." Kalinski returned home safely in late March 2024.

Timeline of prayers in MD of BonnyvilleTimeline of prayers in MD of Bonnyville (from The Last Municipality Standing).

See the comparison of the MD of Bonnyville's April 9 and 23, 2024, meetings on our TikTok.

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