The Knights of Columbus annual nativity scene atop Terrace City Hall on Dec. 14, 2021. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)

The Knights of Columbus annual nativity scene atop Terrace City Hall on Dec. 14, 2021. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)

Knights of Columbus remain hopeful nativity scene ban will be reversed

Group representative did meet with the mayor

The Knights of Columbus remain hopeful the city will reverse its decision to ban the Catholic fraternity from continuing its decades-old tradition of putting a nativity scene on the roof of city hall.

“One of our members did meet with the mayor,” said Paul Vandermeer, the Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus chapter.

“He said he would look into it and that he would seek a legal opinion.”

That meeting with the mayor follows the only other contact the Knights have had from the city — a letter from city administrators, not city council, in October telling the club the Christmas observance won’t be permitted, said Vandermeer.

“It cited that Supreme Court ruling,” said Vandermeer of a 2015 unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada which backed up a complaint first filed by a resident of Saguenay, Quebec in 2007 objecting to having a prayer open each meeting of that city’s council.

That complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal was upheld but the mayor of Saguenay appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal which ruled in his favour. The original complainant then asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the matter.

Although the Supreme Court found in favour of banning prayer, it did not rule on the matter of symbols.

“We’re still in the fight,” said Vandermeer of the desire of the Knights of Columbus to have the nativity scene return to city hall.

City of Terrace communications officer Tyler Clarke did confirm the city had a legal opinion but did not respond to a request from The Terrace Standard for a copy.

“Yes, we have received a legal opinion on this nativity scene,” said Clarke in an email. “We’ve been in contact with the Knights of Columbus regarding this, and we will have no further comment on this matter.”

A group email sent by The Terrace Standard to Bujtas and to the newly-elected council of Chris Apps, James Cordeiro, Inder Dhillon, Brian Downie, Dave Gordon and Sarah Zimmerman asking if they were prepared to reconsider the decision at the next council meeting was met with silence.

“On numerous occasions, we’ve said that this was an administrative decision, not a council decision, so reaching out to council regarding this likely wouldn’t have yielded a different result,” said Clarke in the same email.

In an earlier email, Clarke asked that all communication with the mayor and council first be referred to him.

Terrace city hall is not the only local government in Canada to have found itself embroiled in controversy regarding a nativity display on public lands.

St. Catherines, Ontario city council voted 6-5 Nov. 8 to once more allow a nativity scene to be placed on the lawn of city hall.

Placing a nativity scene at city hall there dates back to 1965 but senior administrators stopped the practice in 2020 and again last year in an attempt by city administrators to be “respectful of all faiths,” indicated coverage in the St. Catherines Standard.

Leading up to the council vote, a representative of the Catholic Women’s League in St. Catherines told council the nativity scene is part of the city’s cultural heritage.

That same position has been expressed by Terrace and area residents wishing that the nativity scene here be allowed at city hall.

The motion agreed to by the St. Catherines council also states “the same courtesy [of exhibiting symbols] be extended to other religious groups”.

(With files from the St. Catherines Standard)

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