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B.C. Humanist Association threatens to sue Vancouver Island city over council prayer

Andrew Gulevich of the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church delivers a blessing at Parksville city council's inaugural meeting on Nov. 7, 2022. Andrew Gulevich of the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church delivers a blessing at Parksville city council's inaugural meeting on Nov. 7, 2022.

The B.C. Humanist Association has announced plans to sue a Vancouver Island city for breaching religious neutrality by including a Christian prayer in council.

The prayer took place during the inaugural meeting of Parksville city council following the 2022 civic election, and was delivered by a local pastor.

"I've been asked to pray a blessing so that's what I'm going to do," Andrew Gulevich of the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church said at the meeting. "I invite you to pray with me to our God."

Chief Michael Recalma of the Qualicum First Nation offered a blessing at the same meeting, though his remarks were not referenced in the BCHA's complaint.

The Supreme Court of Canada found opening council meetings with prayers was unconstitutional in a unanimous 2015 decision, calling the practice a "breach of the state's duty of neutrality."

The B.C. Humanist Association has been monitoring local governments' compliance with the decision since 2020, and last year called out seven municipalities cross the province for continuing to include prayers in their inaugural council meetings, including Vancouver.

In a statement, executive director Ian Bushfield said the organization reached out to Parksville officials and asked them to "observe the law" prior to the council's Nov. 7, 2022, inaugural meeting, and followed up twice seeking confirmation that the city would stop including prayers at council.

"So far, we've received no formal response," Bushfield said. "We're following through to ensure Parksville observes its Constitutional duty."

Last week, the association's legal counsel delivered a letter to Parksville warning that a lawsuit would follow if the city did not commit to ending the practice.

"Any reasonable person observing the prayer would readily conclude the City of Parksville is explicitly guided by religious faith," the letter reads. "Including prayer in meetings risks making non-believers, non-religious people, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and people from other faith traditions feel isolated, uncomfortable, and excluded."

Parksville Mayor Doug O'Brien has not responded to a request for comment on the legal threat. A spokesperson for the city declined to comment on Friday, telling CTV News the matter is with Parksville's lawyers. Top Stories

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