Langley RCMP has twice issued fines to Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

No action on tax penalty for churches defying COVID orders in Langley Township

Council heard that such a move would be legal, but couldn’t be retroactive

The Township of Langley is within its rights to withhold a tax break from churches or other non-profits that violate public health orders, staff told council on Monday.

But as of yet, the council has not taken action to crack down on local churches that have been breaking the rules and gathering for services on Sundays.

Churches, temples, and other religious gathering places in B.C. are usually eligible for two property tax exemptions. The first is provincially mandated the covers the building where worship takes place. The second covers other lands – grassy areas or parking lots – and can be granted, or not, by local civic governments.

The report, brought in Monday, noted that the Township can set up next year’s applications for a permissive tax exemption so that it includes a question – the applicant must confirm they have not received a fine for contravening a Public Health Order.

“However, the Township is unable to retroactively alter exemptions that have already been approved,” the report says.

Earlier this month, Councillor Kim Richter had put forward a motion that would have penalized churches or other non-profits that violated the Public Health Orders related to COVID-19.

Churches in B.C. have been forbidden from having indoor services since November, when restrictions were tightened as COVID-19 infection numbers rose.

The motion was in response to the Riverside Calvary Chapel, which has been fined several times for defying the order.

READ MORE: Langley Township could strip tax breaks from churches defying health orders

Several other churches in the Fraser Valley have also faced fines in recent weeks for refusing to follow the order, while other religious leaders have encouraged people to continue following the order, holding virtual church services, or gathering in cars in parking lots.

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