Seven B.C. municipalities have been identified by a secular organization for allowing prayer at a council meeting in contravention of a Supreme Court of Canada (SCOC) ruling.
A report by the BC Humanist Association (BCHA) states prayers were offered at inaugural council meetings of Vancouver, Delta, Colwood, West Kelowna, Parksville, Tumbler Ridge, and Belcarra in Nov. 2022 following municipal elections in Oct.
“We’re an organization committed to secular values,” said Ian Bushfield, BCHA executive director. “Part of that is the separation of religion and government.”
The report references a 2015 SCOC ruling that ‘opening municipal council meetings with a prayer was an unconstitutional violation of the state’s duty of religious neutrality.’
It stems from a 2006 complaint by a Saguenay, Quebec resident who raised a concern about the opening of municipal council meetings with prayer.
Bushfield said the report, titled ‘We Yelled At Them Until They Stopped’, is a result of research of inaugural council meetings across B.C. in 2018 and 2022.
Of 162 municipalities identified, 26 included prayers in 2018 and seven in 2022.
Bushfield added the BCHA has reached out to councils that have previously included religious invocations at inaugural meetings.
“Some gave the cursory ‘message has been received’…but a number have actually responded quite positively to us.”
Some councils have updated their bylaws or will no longer include prayers at inaugural meetings, Bushfield added.
“We’ll also do a follow-up with all municipalities before the 2026 inaugurals.”
The report also noted a significant increase in Indigenous content at council meetings, rising from 39 per cent in 2018 to 72 per cent in 2022.
“It’s a complex thing that we don’t have strong recommendations on but we are exploring,” Bushfield said. “We want to make sure we’re sensitive to all of the history and importance of reconciliation.”
Bushfield added the BCHA is pleased to see the growth in these practices and hopes municipalities follow up symbolic measures with substantive action.