Nearly 350 letters have been sent to city hall following the decision by city administrators to ban a nativity scene from its traditional Christmas season placement by the Knights of Columbus on the roof of city hall.
While confirming the number at 344, city communications official Tyler Clarke said he had not done a count to determine how many were in favour of the decision and how many were not. Clarke said letters sent to the city do not mean they will automatically become items on the agenda at a council meeting.
“It is up to council’s discretion if they would like to speak on correspondence received, at which point, it would then be added to the agenda,” he said. To date, council members have been silent on the decision to ban the nativity scene that was reached by their administrators late this fall.
Mayor Sean Bujtas has called it an “operational” decision.
City officials earlier cited a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which held that there should not be Christian prayer at council meetings. But that decisionwas silent on the matter of religious symbols.
The existence of the letters surfaced at the end of a Dec. 12 council meeting when Peter Vandermeer, the Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus chapter, stood during the public question period in an attempt to have the nativity scene matter discussed.
Bujtas quickly dispatched Vandermeer, saying that because the topic was not on the agenda it could not be discussed. That’s based on a council procedural bylaw which affirms that a topic cannot be discussed if it is not on the agenda or subsequently introduced as a late item.
“Council was not in a position to consider Mr. Vandermeer’s question,” said Clarke.
When Vandermeer asked about the letters city manager Kris Boland confirmed more than 300 had been received both for and against. Speaking later, Vandermeer said he was disappointed the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity that does charity work in Terrace, were not permitted to make a presentation.
“We had given evidence that the reasoning used for the ban, the supreme court decision, was in fact in error,” Vandermeer said. “We had hoped the city would retract its decision.”
He said the Knights regarded the nativity scene as a way for people to reflect on the Christian belief in the birth of Christ. “It was never to offend anyone, just for people to think about that.”
In a way, Vandermeer continued, the discussion generated by the ban has accomplished that.
“I would like to add that the city has been gracious to leave the lights on the tree in front of city hall as lights at Christmas are another way of recognizing the birth of Christ.”