Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes delivers the inaugural address at council’s swearing-in ceremony in November 2018. The ceremony included blessings from representatives of two Christian churches. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes delivers the inaugural address at council’s swearing-in ceremony in November, 2018. The ceremony included blessings from representatives of two Christian churches – a fact highlighted in a report released by the BC Humanist Associaton on Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes delivers the inaugural address at council’s swearing-in ceremony in November 2018. The ceremony included blessings from representatives of two Christian churches. (Black Press Media file photo) Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes delivers the inaugural address at council’s swearing-in ceremony in November, 2018. The ceremony included blessings from representatives of two Christian churches – a fact highlighted in a report released by the BC Humanist Associaton on Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)

Atheist group claims Christian-based prayer at inaugural Vancouver Island council meetings violates court ruling

Blessings violate Supreme Court decision that prayer in council is discriminatory

Several Vancouver Island communities, including Victoria and Saanich, are among B.C. municipalities that have included prayer during council proceedings.

The BC Humanist Association, a self-defined voice for atheists, agnostics and the non-religious of B.C., released a report Tuesday that found 23 out of 162 B.C. municipalities had included prayer during their 2018 inaugural meetings. The association claims those prayers are in violation of the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada’s Saguenay ruling and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees “freedom of conscience and religion.”

“The separation of religion and government is fundamental to democracy,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, research coordinator for the BC Humanist Association. “You can’t have a democracy that excludes some people or that favours some people over others. That’s just not a good functioning government.”

The Supreme Court’s 2015 Saguenay decision – Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay – ruled that prayer in municipal council meetings was discriminatory and should not be permitted.

READ ALSO: Quebec adopts bill that bans religious symbols for state workers

Responding to an argument that abstaining from prayer amounted to bias in favour of atheism or agnosticism, the Supreme Court noted a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality, writing that “true neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another.”

The BC Humanist Association notes that, since that decision, many councils across Canada have abolished prayer from council meetings – but evidently not all have done so. The investigation targeted 2018 inaugural meetings that followed a province-wide municipal election. Inaugural meetings were selected because they tend to include more ceremonial elements.

While none of the B.C. municipalities investigated included prayer in regular meetings, several Island communities had included Christian-based prayer or blessings in their inaugural 2018 meetings including Victoria, Saanich, Lake Cowichan, Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

READ ALSO: City of Victoria considers scrapping funds for Christmas decorations

The City of Victoria’s meeting opened with a multi-faith blessing from a reverend of the Christ Church Cathedral.

“May God, your God fill you with hope, motivate you with faith, and bind you together in love,” preached Reverend Ansley Tucker.

The City of Victoria adamantly denies the use of prayer in its 2018 inaugural meeting and says it is fully in compliance with legal obligations to preserve religious neutrality.

“Although there was a First Nations Blessing delivered by a Songhees Nation Elder and an Invocation delivered by the Dean of the Christ Church Cathedral as part of the meeting, neither constituted a religious practice,” said Bill Eisenhauer, spokesperson for the city. “The review of the Invocation makes it clear that, although delivered by a religious official, it was not a prayer but a contemplative appeal to help guide council’s future deliberations. Neither discriminated against anyone or contravened Canadian law, including the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the 2015 Saguenay case.”

The District of Saanich included two prayers; a ‘blessing’ and a ‘multi-faith blessing’ – both delivered by clergy of Christian sects.

The latter was performed by a pastor of the Victoria Church of the Nazarene. That pastor specifically referenced “our Father in heaven” and ended the blessing with, ‘in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

The District of Saanich has declined a request for comment.

Phelps Bondaroff maintained that citizens – religious or not – should care about religious prayer being included in municipal proceedings.

“If you have the inclusion of one group, you’re excluding other groups and you’re suggesting the state endorses or supports, in some way, the religion you’re including,” he said. “There’s lots of different denominations of different religions, it’s impossible to accommodate them all.”

READ ALSO: City of Victoria employee tests positive for COVID-19


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

city councilCity of VictoriaReligionreligious freedom

Just Posted

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stood at 6.3 per cent in May 2021, nearly unchanged from April’s rate of 6.2 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stagnates at 6.3 per cent in May

Latest figures reflect conditions before lifting of public health measures

Victoria police are looking for Delmer Esau who was last seen in Esquimalt June 1. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Search continues for man last seen in Esquimalt

Delmer Esau, 35, hasn’t been seen since June 1

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) Saturday announced a COVID-19 exposure at Oak Bay High School. (Black Press Media File).
Oak Bay High School subject of COVID-19 exposure

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) said possible exposure happened June 9-10

The District of Saanich has pinpointed funding requests to Oak Bay and Victoria to help offset the purchase price of the Kings Park greenspace and keep the property intact. (Courtesy District of Saanich)
Saanich requests funding help from neighbours to preserve Kings Road green space

District hopes Victoria and Oak Bay will join them in protecting urban green space

Thriving Toots Wilderness School is trying to buy a 98-acre plot of undeveloped land from the Boys and Girls’ Club of Greater Victoria in Metchosin. (Contributed/Thriving Roots)
Hopeful buyers of Boys and Girls’ Club land in Metchosin would keep it wild

Nature-based school, partners trying to secure financing to buy 98-acre property: school director

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read