IQALUIT, Nunavut — Iqaluit's mayor says he plans to make a motion to remove a land tax exemption for churches in Nunavut's capital city.
Kenny Bell says he decided to do so after the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced Thursday that 751 unmarked graves had been detected at its former residential school, which was run by the Catholic Church.
"We need to stand up and fight for Indigenous people across the country," Bell said Friday. "If Inuit, First Nations and Metis are thriving across the country, Canada will be thriving. We need to make sure that happens."
As in many other parts of Canada, religious institutions in Iqaluit are not required to pay taxes on the land they occupy.
Money from land taxes is used to pay for municipal services including road clearing and maintenance.
"Currently, they don't pay anything for their area," Bell said.
Bell said because there's no tax class for churches in Iqaluit, the motion will be to direct staff to remove the land tax exemption on churches. Then, a new tax class will likely have to be created.
"As a non-Indigenous man, I think it's my duty to help where I can and stand with Indigenous people," Bell said.
Bell is encouraging municipalities across the country to remove their land tax exemptions for churches. He also said the Catholic Church should apologize for its role in residential schools.
"If they don't want to apologize, then the only thing we can do is tax them. I think we need to do that as a country."
Many churches and religious organizations in Canada are also exempt from paying federal taxes under the Income Tax Act.
Bell said because there's no tax class for churches, it's difficult to tell how much the churches would be required to pay if the exemption was dropped.
"This is a small symbolic step. The tax on them is not going to kill the church by any means. It's not meant to. It's meant to show that we want the apology. We want the church to acknowledge what they did and move forward."
Bell said he hasn't heard from any of the city's churches and plans to make the motion at the next city council meeting on July 13.
"I'm not anti-religion. I'm not anti-church. What I am anti is burying kids in unmarked graves away from their families and not even telling their families," he said.
Bell also called on all non-Indigenous Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its 94 calls to action.
"Talk to your mayors, your councils, your MPs. Ask them to make sure they follow through with these calls to action."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press