B.C.’s Supreme Court has rejected a “public place of worship” property tax exemption appeal for a private island near Swartz Bay.
Knapp Island is home to the Shin Mei Spiritual Centre, which is a combined centre for teaching the Shinto and Buddhist practices. Shinto is Japan’s native belief system, and Buddhism is a faith that originated in India.
Previously, the centre operated on Salt Spring Island at the Bright Woods Spiritual Centre and was open to the public. In 2021, the centre moved to Knapp Island.
When it operated on Salt Spring Island, it was granted a property tax exemption as it was open to the public. However, the Knapp Island property has been deemed by BC Assessment for the 2022 tax year to not be eligible for property tax exemption as the island near Swartz Bay is not open to the public.
Knapp Island is owned by the Matsuri Foundation of Canada, which operates the Shin Mei Spiritual Centre.
The Property Assessment Appeal Board had previously ruled that Knapp Island is used as a place of private worship, not public. The B.C. Supreme Court ruling notes that Matsuri accepts that it is a place of private worship, but argues it should be eligible for property tax exemption regardless.
Matsuri’s argument is that other Gulf Islands are also places of private worship and have been granted property tax exemption.
“It is also well established that the fact that others may not be in compliance with the law is not a defence to one’s own non-compliance with the law. Nor is it a reason for the Board or this Court to sanction non-compliance,” the ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Francesca Marzari says.
Marzari rejected Matsuri’s appeal and noted that the property assessor is “generally entitled to its costs” since it was successful in the appeal.
The Property Assessment Appeal Board also maintained the value of the north parcel of the Island at $4,410,000, while the south parcel’s value was increased to $8,534,000.