Taxing churches that provide support in Iqaluit is unfair, churchgoers say
Mayor Kenny Bell plans to put the idea forward at a city council meeting
WARNING: This story contains information some readers may find distressing.
Some Iqaluit churchgoers say it would be unfair to tax churches in the city.
Following the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked burial sites belonging to children at former residential schools in the country, Kenny Bell, the mayor in Iqaluit, announced late last month he would propose a motion at city council to remove land tax exemptions to churches.
Jacoposie Tiglik volunteers with and attends St. Jude's Cathedral, Iqaluit's Anglican church.
"It was a bit shocking to hear about it," Tiglik told CBC News in Inuktitut. "We are being seen as if we are really rich. In my opinion, that is unpleasant to see."
Tiglik said the church relies on many unpaid volunteers, like himself, who should have a say in the decision.
"Instead of taxing the church, he should approach the volunteers and ask if the church can do better at serving."
Looee Arreak, a gospel singer based in Iqaluit, said taxing the churches would mean taxing places where some people come to heal.
"These churches are the forefront in helping the poor and the needy and those who are hurting because of post traumatic stress disorder."
Arreak said there's a lot of addiction in the city — stemming from residential school trauma that's passed down from generation to generation. The church helps by providing counselling to people who are struggling, and funeral services if a loved one has died.
"We see families that are in trauma, in shock, trying to fundraise for the funeral cost of a loved one that has [died by] suicide because of post traumatic stress disorder. If you're going to tax the churches, at least put the [funeral] costs down," she said.
What Bell should do, she said, is listen to what Inuit want.
"I talked to some elders and they weren't happy with the mayor's comments and decision, they told me 'we don't want another non-Indigenous person doing this to us,'" she said. "I would suggest that he [Bell] consult with us, with the community, with the people who deal with everyday issues."
CBC News reached out to Bell for comment on this story. In an email, he declined an interview request saying "I don't think there is more to be said on this," and that "many Inuit are happy" with his motion.
Church leaders react
Places of worship are exempt from property tax in Iqaluit, but other church buildings — like the soup kitchen or community halls — are not. That's why St. Jude's Cathedral paid more than $20,000 in property tax last year.
David Parsons, the bishop for the Arctic Anglican Diocese, told CBC News the money is raised through church offerings.
"We serve the entire community, not just the parishioners, we're not just congregational," he pointed out. "We're not the ones who charge for funerals or anything else. Our buildings are used to be able to reach out to the entire community."
Parsons also apologized for his church's role in Canada's residential schools.
"I think it's important for me to say as a non-Indigenous Christian, a Canadian and a bishop, that I apologise for our Canadian government's assimilation policy and prejudice against Indigenous peoples, and I apologize for the Anglican Church of Canada, as a bishop. We rejected our own policies in order to submit to these policies of our Canadian government."
Daniel Perreault, the priest at Our Lady of the Assumption, the Catholic parish in Iqaluit, said Bell was "overreacting" with his motion.
"The fact that it is a reaction to something is not a good idea," he said. "The finding of these children's bodies is not nice, it's a tragedy … but we have to know that we all knew children were buried around residential schools."
Perreault said there was a high rate of death between 1870 and 1958 in all of Canada — not just in residential schools — and the bodies had to be buried somewhere.
"There is no surprise. The surprise is with the new instruments we find this, and it stirs the pain of people."
Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is 100 per cent free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.
In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason.
In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.
With files from Toby Otak