Two SD&G councils take steps in wake of prayer ruling

The Cornwall city council chambers, pictured here in April 2015, is one of two SD&G councils where prayers are held to open council meetings. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled April 15, 2015 that can't happen anymore because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

CORNWALL/SD&G – Two SD&G councils are already taking steps after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that a municipal council in Quebec cannot open its meetings with a prayer.

The country’s top court ruled unanimously that reciting a prayer at council meetings infringes on freedom of conscience and religion. The ruling will have ramifications in SD&G and across the country.

Cornwall has a rotation of representatives from various religions that open the city council meetings.

“What we do now is part and parcel of our procedural bylaw. I’ve spoken to Helen (Clerk Helen Finn) about it a couple of minutes ago. She’s researching it right now. We need to have some more research where we can say how it impacts us directly,” CAO Norm Levac tells Cornwall Newswatch. “We’re certainly looking at it. Obviously, this sounds like something that will cause a review of our procedural bylaw.”

South Stormont recites the Lord’s Prayer en masse before opening its council meetings.

Director of Corporate Services, Loriann Harbers, tells Cornwall Newswatch the timing of this ruling isn’t bad since the municipality is going through a review of its procedural bylaw. She says it will be up to council to make any changes.

Mayor Jim Bancroft says they will respect the high court. “Certainly, we’re going to respect the ruling and that decision has been made so we will not move forward until we correct our procedural bylaw totally,” Bancroft says. “Any future meetings will not have the Lord’s Prayer because we’re not going to break the law either.”

Bancroft says the ruling is pretty fresh and he’s still reviewing it. He says they will look at other alternatives, such as singing Oh Canada. Bancroft says the procedural bylaw review will likely come next week.

North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan says, to the best of his knowledge, there has never been prayers recited at township council meetings.

The county council is prayer-free, as is South Dundas and North Stormont. There are no prayers at North Glengarry and South Glengarry either – they open their meetings with the national anthem.

The City of Ottawa moved this morning to immediately suspend the opening prayer at city council meetings until the decision is analyzed.

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