A leading faith periodical has accused the B.C. Humanist Association of being “hardline secular activists.” Former Saanich councillor candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been researching the subject of permissive tax exemptions for the group. (Submitted). A leading faith periodical has accused the B.C. Humanist Association of being “hardline secular activists.” Former Saanich councillor candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been researching the subject of permissive tax exemptions for the group. (Submitted).

Humanist group with Saanich ties accused of being “hardline secular activists”

B.C. Humanist Association wants public benefit test for charitable organizations including churches

A group with Saanich ties stands accused of being “hardline secular activists” by a leading Canadian faith publication.

Daniel Proussalidis, director of communications at Cardus, a self-described “non-partisan, faith-based think tank,” used that term in an article for Convivium, which describes itself as an “online space that brings together citizens of differing convictions and religious confessions to contend for the role of faith in our common life.”

Convivium’s publisher is Peter Stockland, a longtime Canadian journalist. Father Raymond J. de Souza, a prominent national voice among Canadian social conservatives, edits the publication.

The article describes parliamentary testimony before a Senate committee from the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC), whose chief executive John Pellowe defended the tax exemptions of religious institutions as a source of public good, even liberal democracy itself. Within this context, Proussalidis warns Canadian groups could match the demands of activists in the United Kingdom who are “pushing for the elimination of the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose.”

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“While that exact call hasn’t been heard in Canada recently, the B.C. Humanist Association – a charitable organization – is campaigning to convince municipal councillors to put the squeeze on houses of worship that enjoy broad property tax exemptions,” Proussalidis said. “The activists want religious organizations to prove their value to the community before getting these exemptions.”

Saanich resident Teale Phelps Bondaroff has been researching the issue of permissive tax exemptions for the organization in arguing that charitable organizations must undergo a public benefits test.

“Paying your fair share is a great way to benefit the community. Saanich council only managed to add $500,000 to its affordable housing fund this year, but gave away over $773,898 in permissive tax exemptions to places of worship,” said Bondaroff.

“Given that we are in a housing crisis, we may want to consider how to best allocate limited resources to maximize the benefit to the community.”

As for his relation with B.C Humanist Association, Bondaroff has been researching the issue on the group’s behalf.

“But my comments are my own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of that organization,” he said. “Creating public benefits tests and reviewing permissive tax exemption policy was also a component of my platform when I ran for Saanich council.”

Proussalidis’ article concludes with the observation that it is not clear yet when the Senate committee would produce its report.

“Until it’s delivered, Canadians of good faith might want to push senators in the direction John Pellowe’s testimony points,” said Proussalidis. “The alternative could be letting hardline secular activists move Canada along the U.K.’s uncharitable and unacceptable path.”

According to the article, Pellowe told the committee that charitable status for places of worship encourages donations of both time and money that benefit all, noting among other points that religiously active Canadians are more generous than non-religious Canadians. According to the article, Pellowe also drew a link between the charity law, the free exercise of faith and Canada’s liberal democracy.

“Religious belief, such as the value and intrinsic worth of every human being, and religious rights blazed the trail for many other rights, including freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” he said, according to the article.

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