June 28, 2010, EFC Identifies Municipal Government Challenges Facing Faith Groups – OTTAWA – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has released a 20-page report entitled Zoned Out: Religious Freedom in the Municipality. It is an introductory guide that seeks to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the religious freedoms of faith groups and the process of engaging with local government when they encounter zoning challenges from municipal government.
“The report is a response to the increasing number of calls and letters that we’re receiving from faith groups,” explains Faye Sonier, EFC Legal Counsel. “As churches are moving or expanding, or neighbours discover congregations are caring for the needs of others such as the homeless or disabled, they are facing new difficulties with municipal governments in regard to zoning permits. This is a significant hurdle for members of any not-for-profit association seeking to assemble for worship and service.”
“Unfortunately, there appears to be some misunderstanding about the applicability of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to municipal government entities and their actions. They are in fact subject to the Charter and their decisions are required to reflect that,” continues Sonier. “As recently clarified by the Supreme Court of Canada in its Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony decision, religious groups benefit from the right to religious freedom – including worship, expression and service – in the same way that the law has defined for individuals.”
The study provides a brief overview of the scope and extent of religious freedom in Canada, identifies the place of municipal law in the broader Canadian legal landscape and offers suggestions for courses of action that groups facing challenges might take.
“Why are churches apparently facing greater challenges now? It’s not clear. Some anecdotal evidence identifies several potential reasons,” Sonier explains. “Perhaps municipalities have been caught off guard by an increasing number of applications, partly due to new immigrants seeking to establish places of worship. Perhaps another factor is the potential loss of revenue associated with designating property for places of worship as tax exempt. Perhaps, most simply, it is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a ‘church’.”
“Regardless, religious freedom remains a cornerstone of our free and democratic society and faith communities need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities,” says Sonier.
For more information or an interview contact:
Gail Reid, Director, Communications
(905) 479-5885 ext. 227