Taxation of Churches: Religious institutions in Iqaluit are no longer exempt from property taxes

Following the discovery of unmarked graves at former hostel sites and ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Nunavut’s capital on Friday, the city of Iqaluit has passed a bylaw that could require churches to start paying property taxes.

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Religious organizations in Canada are generally exempt from paying taxes. Iqaluit’s new charter, first proposed by the mayor last year, requires churches and other community groups to apply for tax breaks. Applicants must meet a strict set of conditions, and total annual funding available to all groups is capped at $300,000.

City Council approved the third and final reading of the bylaws on April 12, meaning local churches risk only receiving partial or no tax breaks from 2023 onwards.

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“It’s unfair, it’s a kind of revenge, a kind of game,” said Father Daniel Perreault, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, Iqaluit’s only Catholic church.

Father Daniel Perreault is the pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, Iqaluit’s only Catholic Church.

Jeff Semple / Global News

Perreault said the bylaws could limit the church’s ability to provide free services — from weddings and funerals to hospital and prison visits.

“It won’t kill us. It’s just another thing that makes us suffer a little more,” he told Global News. “Some churches can even go bankrupt because of this tax.”


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Pope Francis arrives in Edmonton to begin 6-day Canadian visit and apologizes for Indigenous residential schools


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Last year, 16 local organizations were exempt from paying property taxes under the city’s previous rules, including eight religious institutions.

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In a statement, a spokesman for the city of Iqaluit said that “the intent of these bylaws is to provide all community-level organizations with a fair opportunity to apply for full or partial property tax exemption.”

“This is not a church specific charter,” the spokesman said.

The Saint Jude Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit could be forced to start paying property taxes next year, along with other religious institutions and community groups.

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Nunavut MP Lori Idlout also defended the statute in an interview with Global News in Iqaluit, noting that the remote northern city is already struggling to pay for basic services.

“Everyone lacks resources,” she said. “It’s not fair to the rest of the community to have to bear the burden of a religious group that is itself part of the history of colonialism.”

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The statute has proven polarizing in the community, which is home to about 7,500 people. The per capita impact of residential schools was higher in the North than elsewhere in Canada due to the large Indigenous population.

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But despite their traumatic history with the church, around three-quarters of Iqaluit’s population still identify as Christian, according to Statistics Canada.

Mass on Sunday morning at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Iqaluit.

Jeff Semple / Global News

Global News recently participated in the Sunday morning Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption, where parishioners from diverse ethnic backgrounds recited scriptures in English, French and Inuktitut. The pews were packed with several dozen people bowing their heads as Father Perreault prayed for those who “hate the Church.”

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Asked about the significance of the Pope’s forthcoming visit, Father Perreault admitted he did not know what to expect.

“It’s going to be a great day for all of us,” he told Global News after the service. “But for a lot of people it will be another opportunity to hate us even more. It’s their choice: love or hate. It’s a decision.”

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The pope will spend just three hours in Iqaluit, where he will take part in a public event hosted by members of the Inuit community and a private meeting with some survivors of Nunavut’s boarding school.

Abraham Tagalik attended Sir Martin Frobisher Federal Day School as a child. The former radio host and co-founder of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network told Global News he welcomed the Pope’s visit and hoped for a heartfelt apology.

“It’s good that he’s coming. It’s almost surreal,” Tagalik said.

Boarding school survivor Abraham Tagalik grills freshly caught arctic char on the banks of the Sylvia Grinnell River in Iqaluit.

Jeff Semple / Global News

While grilling freshly caught arctic char on the banks of the Sylvia Grinnell River, he explained why he believes the discovery of unmarked burial sites has only hastened the decline of the Church’s role in Nunavut.

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“In the early days, our parents went to church very often and followed the teachings of the Bible,” he said.

“Today’s young people don’t go to church, they don’t read the Bible, they’re not religious at all. I think it was kind of forced upon us at that point. It was all part of our conversion,” he said.

“They’ve lost the control they used to have.”


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What the Pope’s visit means for boarding school survivors


What the Pope’s visit means for boarding school survivors

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https://globalnews.ca/news/9014669/church-taxes-iqaluit-bylaw/ Taxation of Churches: Religious institutions in Iqaluit are no longer exempt from property taxes

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