North Cowichan council denies tax exemption for pregnancy centre

North Cowichan council denies tax exemption for pregnancy centre

It appears a crisis pregnancy centre in the Cowichan Valley will not be getting a tax exemption from the Municipality of North Cowichan, which may be a first across Canada.

The House of Grace, a Christian-based crisis pregnancy centre, has only been operating in the Cowichan Valley for 15 months.

It provides services to women facing unexpected pregnancies and to those who’ve had abortions.

It applied this year for the first time for a property tax exemption in North Cowichan and was recently turned down.

“It was a concerning decision because, as to my understanding, we’re the first non-profit pregnancy centre across Canada to be denied the permissive tax exemption,” said Corina Finlay, executive director at House of Grace.

Finlay says she believes they’re being targeted for being faith-based, though she says they doesn’t counsel women against having an abortion.

“We certainly don’t. We speak with women about their choices and give them their liberty to choose according to their own values and we provide them a safe space at the House of Grace,” said Finlay.

But some in the community don’t believe the information provided by House of Grace to women is entirely complete. Rhoda Taylor argued to North Cowichan municipal council against a tax exemption.

“They are providing support and counselling that’s not medically informed, and entirely in my perception, accurate. They have the right, of course, to exist and do what they wish but that does not mean my tax money should go to support it,” said Taylor.

The property tax bill for House of Grace is slightly more than $1,500 this year.

Three North Cowichan councillor’s voted to give the tax exemption to House of Grace, but four – including the mayor – voted against it.

“We heard concerns from the community about some of the services the organization provides, whether that fits with the community’s broader values and whether that was duplicating services that are currently offered through our public health system,” said Mayor Rob Douglas.

Douglas said council will be reviewing its tax exemption policy before potentially granting the typical 10-year tax exemptions for the 70 organizations that have had them. Collectively, they value more than $600,000 a year.

“We’ve given ourselves a year to do that and then hopefully we’ll be in a better position this time next year to determine next steps – which could be granting one-year extensions or going back to this 10-year period, which is obviously a lot better for these organizations in terms of certainty,” said Douglas.

The executive director says The House of Grace will apply again next year for a tax exemption with the hope it will meet any new criteria set out to get one.

Earlier this year, abortion activists in the U.S. rallied to mark 50 years since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that has since been overturned.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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