British Columbia

White Rock Pride Society alleges discrimination after parish refuses to rent venue

The White Rock Pride Society says it is being discriminated against after a Catholic Church-owned community centre refused to allow it to rent the venue.

Society said rental declined after parish was notified it was a for a Pride event

Star of the Sea Community Centre in White Rock is owned by the local parish. The White Rock Pride Society says it is being discriminated against because its request to rent the hall was refused. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

The White Rock Pride Society says it is being discriminated after the local Catholic parish refused to rent a venue it owns to them.

Ernie Klassen, president of the Pride Society, said the hope was to hold a dinner-and-dance event at the Star of the Sea Community Centre to raise funds for a camp that supports LGBT youth.

The hall is owned by the Star of the Sea Parish.

He says he confirmed with the parish that the hall was available and then asked if holding a pride event there would be a problem.

"They said, well, we'll get back to you," Klassen recounted.

"They phoned me later in the day and said that, as you maybe thought, there are going to be some issues, and we don't believe we can rent the hall to you."

Ernie Klassen says the parish's decision not to rent the hall to his organization for a pride event is discriminatory. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

He said the society then put the rental request in writing. They received a reply from the parish lawyer confirming that the rental would not happen, because the pride society does not align with the values of the Catholic Church.

Possible legal action

Klassen said he has attended several events at Star of the Sea. He said the community hall does not advertise itself as a strictly Catholic space and he and others in the society were surprised by the refusal.

"The intent of us going to approach the Catholic Church was not an attempt to poke the bear," he said. "The intent was just to organize a fundraiser and use a facility that promotes itself as a community centre."

This is the second fundraiser the society has held, he explained. Last year's, held at a local Elks Hall, sold out and 200 people had to be turned away.

He said the society is being welcomed back by the Elks but they want a bigger venue to grow the event.

The society will meet on the weekend to discuss next steps, he said, including possible legal action.

"It's no longer just about where we're going to move the event," he stated. "It's, 'should we allow ourselves to be discriminated against?'"

No comment

While the B.C. Human Rights Code addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation, it also gives exemptions to groups like churches for freedom of religion.

The parish referred all calls from CBC News on this story to the archdiocese in Vancouver.

The archdiocese initially promised a statement then later said it had decided not to comment.

With files from Belle Puri

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