Drop the nonsense

Nick Wihnan

Dear editor:
I wish to respond to council’s action re: taxation of local church property.
Upon review of council’s intent to tax all church property, we have investigated this matter and have reached a serious conclusion, which we feel is important to share with you.
The conclusion reached is that it is illegal for a municipality to collect taxes from any church in Canada.
These rights are enshrined in law, with the purpose that tax-free exemptions for churches provides the incentive for these churches to refrain from being politically active.
The tax-free status is borne in the Charities Act (that is also why your collection plate donations are tax deductible). The Supreme Court has ruled on this matter and a legal opinion should be obtained prior to the implementing of this tax.
The Assessment Act requires all land must be assessed for taxes. However, even though the property value is determined, there are exemptions to its application for taxes (i.e., one exemption is the property of the church).
The Constitution also embodies the principle of religious beliefs and has ensured, through “legislative principle,” that courts protect the tax-exempt status of churches and church property.
In other words, for a municipality to tax a church within its municipal tax rolls would require a change in legislation on both the federal and provincial levels.
An over-riding issue in the original concept of tax forgiveness was the fact that churches survived on volunteer donations of its members, and were classed an non-profitable organizations. I wish to add most churches are having a difficult time with declining members, surviving on minimal membership donations at the collection plate.
Even if this matter was legal, a move of this nature would close several churches in Fort Frances—a result which is totally unthinkable and unacceptable in my opinion.
In the Supreme Court case of Toronto vs. Mt. Sinai Hospital, water and sewer rates (user fee) were considered a tax and it is my understanding the hospital was exempt from paying the tax imposed upon them by the City of Toronto (note the exemption for a church and a hospital are one and the same).
Council may have opened a can of worms with this issue of church taxation.
In the case of other municipalities that tax churches, the taxes collected may have been collected illegally, over time, because most rural churches were built on someone’s property and no one ever questioned the taxes because, in most cases, the property was never severed for the sole designation of church property and the person who paid taxes on his/her property continued to do so.
If the property was severed, and a request for charity status was applied for, no taxes would be paid.
I trust council will do its homework on this matter and drop the nonsense of church taxation in Fort Frances.
I humorously question who else does council want to tax next? The Boy Scouts? Girl Guides?
Let’s get back to reality here.
Council’s written response and position on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Yours truly,
Nick Wihnan
Fort Frances, Ont.