Ottawa city council puts pause on prayer after top court ruling

A silent moment of reflection will replace the prayer that has opened Ottawa city council meetings for more than a decade while city staff take a moment to look at the implications of a Supreme Court ruling today.
Ottawas City Council will observe a moment of 'reflection' instead of a prayer after Supreme Court ruling. 2:48

A silent moment of reflection will replace the prayer that has opened Ottawa city council meetings for more than a decade while city staff take a moment to look at the implications of a Supreme Court ruling today.

Canada's top court ruled today the municipal council in the Quebec town of Saguenay cannot open its meetings with a prayer, saying reciting a Catholic prayer at council meetings infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

Ottawa city council didn't open their meeting with a prayer following a ruling from the Supreme Court. (CBC)
Ottawa council meetings had begun with a prayer since 1999, but minutes after the Supreme Court decision, mayor Jim Watson announced the change.

"As it will take some time to fully assess this lengthy decision, city council will not be saying a prayer this morning, and will be reviewing this practice through the city clerk and solicitor, to ensure that the city of Ottawa conforms with the Supreme Court's ruling," said Watson.

Instead, Watson invited the audience to stand for a moment of silent reflection, a practice expected to continue while council waits for further direction.

Watson, who considers himself a Christian, said the city will respect the court's decision.

"I always thought that our prayer was very respectful of all religions and cultures, and it was non-denominational, but the court has ruled, and we'll take the ruling seriously," he said.

Rabbi Reuven Bulka said it was unfortunate religion had to be something divisive. (CBC)
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who happened to be in the audience for today's council meeting, said the new direction was a good compromise.

"I would have no problem if in fact people had a moment of reflection, so that anyone and everyone could feel comfortable, I don't think that's something that would cause discomfort."

But he said it was unfortunate religion had to be something divisive instead of unifying.