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Langley Township could strip tax break from churches defying COVID health orders

Council debated a draft of the motion on Monday, Jan. 11.
Langley RCMP has twice issued fines to Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Churches and non-profits that normally get a break on their taxes could run into trouble next year in Langley Township if they violated provincial health orders this year.

Township Councillor Kim Richter put forward a motion Monday that would yank the permissive tax exemption status in 2022 from any organization that doesn’t abide by the rules of the Provincial Health Officer.

“I think we have to put our foot down,” Richter said.

“There are lots of organizations out there that get the grant… and they abide by the rules, and they should continue to be supported by public monies,” Richter said.

But the ones purposely ignoring public health orders don’t deserve to continue to enjoy the benefits of public tax dollars, Richter said.

The November health order, recently extended to early February, shut down a number of businesses, including movie theatres, live plays, dances, and galas, and severely restricted attendance at funerals and weddings. The order included church services.

However, some churches in B.C. have defied the order, including the Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove.

READ MORE: Police warned Langley church will face more fines for in-person worship: court documents

Buildings that are places of worship in B.C. get an automatic statutory property tax exemption, but the property around the place of worship – including parking lots and open land – can get a further permissive tax exemption. That exemption is the one that could be affected by Richter’s motion.

Township administrator Mark Bakken was asked about the potential legalities of Richter’s motion, and he confirmed that it is up to local governments whether they want to give permissive tax exemptions or not.

“The grant is not within anyone’s rights to obtain,” Bakken said. The Township could eliminate it for all properties if it wanted, and some communities have, he said.

Other councillors were broadly supportive of the idea.

“I don’t believe this motion says we’re going to censor what you’re saying, how you’re saying it,” said Coun. David Davis, who noted that there are virtual and parking lot church gatherings taking place within the bounds of the health orders. “It’s just saying we can’t support a tax deduction if you are disobeying the head medical ministry.”

“I’ve been disappointed by the action of some of the groups in our com that have chosen to disregard the orders that have come from the ministry,” noted Coun. Blair Whitmarsh, saying he was also supportive of the general idea.

Coun. Petrina Arnason was one councillor who raised the issue of a court challenge over the order, including a possible Charter of Rights challenge.

“There are unfortunately groups that would like that to happen,” she said.

After some debate, Richter suggested sending the motion to Township staff for a look at the final wording and any legal implications. The vote passed with Coun. Bob Long opposed.

The motion is expected to come back at a future council meeting for a vote after staff have reviewed it.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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