A city in Canada scheduled to have a visit from Pope Francis recently passed a bylaw that may soon require churches to pay property taxes, a move some consider anti-religious.
The City of Iqaluit, the capital of the province Nunavut with a population of around 7,500 people, passed a bylaw in April regarding tax relief for nonprofits and charitable organizations.
The new bylaw, slated to take effect next year, repeals earlier bylaws that named specific religious entities for tax exemption and creates an application process if a nonprofit seeks partial or complete tax exemption.
Tax exemption eligibility requirements include the applicant demonstrating “financial need,” that they own the property for which they seek relief and that they “must not disparage or restrict others.”
According to the new bylaw, the city will also cap the annual funds allocated for property tax relief to $300,000.
Father Daniel Perreault, pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption, the only Catholic church in Iqaluit, denounced the new measure in an interview with Global News earlier this week.
“It is unfair. It is a kind of revenge, a kind of game,” said Perreault. “It will not kill us. It’s just one more thing to make us suffer a little bit more.”
The city sent a statement to Global News saying the new bylaw is meant “to provide a fair opportunity, to all community-based organizations, to apply for full or partial property tax relief” and was “not a by-law specific to the church.”
News of the new taxation measure comes as Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iqaluit on Friday as part of his penitential trip to Canada in response to revelations of abuse at Catholic-run residential schools for indigenous populations.
Last year, 215 graves of indigenous children were discovered on the property of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, which closed in 1978.
Soon after, an alleged mass grave near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which had over 700 unmarked graves, made headlines.
In June 2021, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell stated that he wanted local churches to pay taxes in response to the then-recent discovery of purported mass graves at former residential schools.
“We’re not retaliating against them; they literally killed thousands of children,” Bell alleged in an interview with Nunatsiaq News at the time.
“Tax exemptions, as a whole, are supposed to be for groups that do the community good. It’s very clear that the Catholic church hasn’t done the community any good.”
Some scholars have disputed the claims of mass graves, noting that Marieval was part of an official cemetery and Kamloops had only been confirmed as having “probable burials.”