Mayor Darryl Walker gives a welcoming hug to Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell at the inaugural meeting of the current White Rock council in 2018. (Alex Browne photo)

White Rock council under fire for inaugural prayer

BC Humanist Association charges city violated Supreme Court ruling two years ago

The City of White Rock is among 23 B.C. municipalities facing scrutiny for holding prayers as part of council meetings.

In a report issued Nov. 24 the BC Humanist Association – a non-profit group representing humanists, atheists, agnostics and the non-religious – called out White Rock and other municipalities for beginning their 2018 inaugural council meetings with a prayer.

This, the association stated in a media release, is “a violation of the state’s duty of religious neutrality, as established by the Supreme Court of Canada.”

READ ALSO: Most municipalities no longer begin council sessions with prayer: BC Humanist report

Having prayers also “excluded people they are bound to serve” the association asserted.

City corporate administration officer Tracey Arthur responded that White Rock “is an inclusive city where people of all faiths and beliefs are welcomed.”

But she added that staff will be “taking a look” at whether a prayer would be included in the 2022 inaugural meeting.

“Including a prayer has been the tradition at White Rock City Council’s swearing-in ceremony and inaugural meeting, as it was in 2018,” she told Peace Arch News.

“That is a unique circumstance, since prayers are not included with the regular council and committee meetings.”

READ ALSO: New White Rock mayor promises ‘an open city hall’

In its release, the association noted that starting municipal council sessions with prayer was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the ‘Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay’ decision in 2015.

“Since then, all municipalities across the country should have complied with this ruling and discontinued the inclusion of prayer in meetings.”

The association said it has contacted all 23 municipalities to inform them of the Saguenay decision and to “ensure future sessions are conducted in a manner that is inclusive and constitutional.”

Other cities named were 100 Mile House, Armstrong, Chilliwack, Clearwater, Creston, Dawson Creek, Lake Cowichan, The City of Langley, The Township of Langley, Nanaimo, Nelson, North Vancouver, Parksville, Peachland, Port Coquitlam, Qualicum Beach, Saanich, Spallumcheen, Terrace, Trail, Victoria and Williams Lake.


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