Mayor Clarke’s prayer defied warning from CBRM’s lawyer

Citizen gadfly Madeline Yakimchuk has turned up a memo from CBRM solicitor Demitri Kachafanas advising the mayor and council that continuing include prayers at council meetings would defy the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling and potentially expose the municipality to expensive litigation it would likely lose.

The memo is dated April 17, before the April council meeting, at which Mayor Cecil Clarke made a public display of his attempts to evade the ban, and this week’s meeting, which featured the text of a prayer in the agenda and a moment of “silent prayer.” Both displays provoked public protests from the gallery.

Here is the text of Kachafanas’s memo:


TO: Mayor and Council
FROM: Demetri Kachafanas. Regional Solicitor
CC: Michael Merritt, CAO
DATE: April 17,2015
RE: Prayer at Council Meetings

Dear Mayor and Council:

1 was asked to provide a memo on the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding the opening prayer in the City of Saguenay, Quebec.

While the particulars of the decision must be carefully dissected I offer the following preliminary points:

The Court ruled that opening prayers at Council meetings contravene a municipal government’s duly of neutrality on matters of religious belief.

The Court said Canadian society has evolved and given rise to a “concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard.

“This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.

The Supreme Court is imposing a duty of religious neutrality. Even a non-denominational prayer it would still offend the duty to be religiously neutral Being neutral is not simply not favouring one religion over another, it would extend to a duty not to favour religion over non-religion and the rights of non-believers. A prayer is in and of itself a religious act.

While Council has the democratic right to make resolutions. If a prayer is introduced at each meeting, in my opinion it would still offend the municipality’s duty to remain religiously neutral and would fly in the face of the Court’s ruling.

Simply defying the ruling and continuing the prayer may expose the Municipality to a legal challenge and quite likely damages (The original award of damages against Saguenay by the Human Rights Tribunal on the case was $30,000.00)

While the judgment applied to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Charter is almost identical in wording. Therefore a successful legal challenge by a community in another province is unlikely and would be an uphill battle. Many Cities
across Canada have stopped reciting prayers since the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Yours truly,

Demetri Kachafanas

That will be quite enough cheap grandstanding, Your Worship.