Iqaluit city council votes to replace opening prayer with moment of silence

“This is a matter of equality, it’s a matter of inclusion”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms hangs in the centre of the Iqaluit City Council chamber on Dec. 10. “It’s settled law in Canada. The act of praying before a municipal meeting is illegal and is a violation of the charter that hangs on our wall right here,” said Coun. Kyle Sheppard during Tuesday night’s meeting. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

For many decades, Iqaluit municipal council meetings, like public meetings everywhere in Nunavut, opened with a prayer. Last night, that practice came to an end.

By the conclusion of the Dec. 10 meeting, Iqaluit city council had voted four to three in favour of replacing the opening prayer with a moment of silence—a first for Nunavut.

“This is a matter of equality, it’s a matter of inclusion. It’s not a religious debate, it’s not a discussion of the merits of prayer, it’s settled law in Canada. The act of praying before a municipal meeting is illegal and is a violation of the charter that hangs on our wall right here,” said Coun. Kyle Sheppard, who alongside councillors Romeyn Stevenson, Joanasie Akumalik and Janet Brewster voted in favour of the change, with councillors Solomon Awa, Malaiya Lucassie and Simon Nattaq voting against it.

In April 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that praying before a municipal council meeting violates an individual’s freedom of religion and conscience.

Shortly after, then Coun. Kenny Bell brought a motion to the city council to remove the opening prayer and replace it with a moment of silence.

The motion was defeated by three votes to two and the council moved on.

Although Tuesday’s meeting began with Nattaq leading a prayer, it was only the first time that he has done so during the new council’s sitting.

During Nattaq’s absence at the first meeting, Mayor Kenny Bell opted for a moment of silence and during the second council meeting, Deputy Mayor Janet Brewster opted for a reflection.

“When we start our meetings with a prayer it’s stressful for me,” said Brewster during last night’s discussion, which was initiated by Nattaq.

“It’s not any judgment on anybody’s choice of religion or freedom for religion. It stems from my experience with working at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.”

An emotional Brewster then spoke about listening to the stories of residential school survivors being made to pray many times a day.

“In this space [city council] if I get up and walk out, then I feel like I’m disrespecting those of you who are choosing to pray. Whether or not that’s the intent or whether or not you accept that I get up and want to leave, the impact is still that I am drawing attention to myself and my beliefs. This is a very personal thing, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to do that here.”

Before introducing a motion to direct the administration to change any necessary bylaws by removing the word prayer and replacing it with a moment of silence, Sheppard read a portion of the reasoning shared by the Supreme Court for the decision that struck down the ability of municipalities to pray before meetings.

“By expressing no preference, the state ensures that it preserves a neutral public space that is free of discrimination, and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally.… A neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals…. On the contrary, a neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity.”

Coun. Stevenson then seconded the motion.

It was Akumalik who had the last word before the vote.

“Regardless if I have a moment of silence or prayer, my God is still going to love me.”

The next council meeting will take place on Jan. 14.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by allain on

    why the moment of silence, how about get right to working considering there is a lotttt that has to be done in this city!

  2. Posted by Move on on

    Shouldn’t have been a discussion in 2019 in the first place, let alone a 30 minute one. I’m concerned about the councillors who thought it would be a good use of time to make a stink about this.

    Now move on and get to business. Prayers aren’t going to fix utilidor.

  3. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    we all have the right to believe in what we want to.

    that is the beautiful thing about our free country.

    if you want to believe in your God, great.

    if I want my belief to be respected, great.

    if I want to believe I hold the winning Lottery ticket, AWESOME.

    just don’t force your beliefs onto me or my Family.

  4. Posted by oh ima on

    As much as I commend City Council move to remove prayer, I find it cowardice that it was done while Simon Nattaq was absent! I mean if your committed to something have to right to state your case that will defend his right.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      I believe you misread the article. Nattaq wasn’t there for the first meeting after the city council was elected, which was back in November. He was there for the vote on the subject at this past Tuesday’s meeting.

    • Posted by Opnions don’t matter now on

      Dear oh ima;
      The Supreme Court of Canada > Simon Nattaq
      The end

  5. Posted by There is no God on

    This is great news, I’m glad to see we are slowly catching up with the modern world and recognizing that religion has no place in government. Prayers are pointless and a waste of time, no one is listening.

    • Posted by Spock Knows on

      I used to be a bit skeptical, opting for pure science. However, after the death of a loved one, there was an event that no scientist could explain – such a release of physical energy, involving the moment of death, days after the death. It was when skeptical me said ‘if there is a God, please look after my loved one’
      Due to the stigma attached to such an event, I have been relatively silent – but the only explanation is an afterlife.
      It’s too bad that churches, and people’s interpretation of a book written by fallible men, have ruined religion and hide the nature of something more powerful than humans.

    • Posted by Annoyed on

      I’m not sure who is more annoying, religious fanatics or atheist fanatics. Both types are simply offensive, boring and simple-minded.

      For the record, I am not religious and have never gone to church in my life.

      But there is one pathetic mental masturbator in particular who constantly fills the NN comment section with endless boring diatribes in favour of atheism. Whoever you are , it’s time to give it a rest buddy, we get the point, it’s time to move on.

      It’s also common in Nunavut for people to turn to prayer when they are grieving a tragic loss, such as a suicide or a murder or the death of a beloved relative.

      I don’t believe in prayer but it takes a special kind of lowlife scumbag to mock people when they turn to prayer to grieve a tragic loss.

    • Posted by Pathetic Mental Masturbator on

      I agree with you on the absence of a god and think it’s important that as a society we grow out of these fantasies, in fact it’s imperative in my mind. The problem is not exclusive to religion though, people easily accept and live by ideological principles of almost any kind without giving those the kind of critical evaluation that any idea of consequence should receive. This needs to be incorporated into our education system for children at a very young age, and it needs to be considered foundational for all other learning and treated with the kind of urgency and priority we have given to STEM subjects.

  6. Posted by Tommy on

    “Regardless if I have a moment of silence or prayer, my God is still going to love me.”

    At least one of them understands the chamber is going to turn ugly.

  7. Posted by The Ols Trapper on

    Nice to see Iqaluit City Council deciding to follow the law. For the 3 councillors who voted against the measure, do you realize that you would willfully violate a Supreme Court ruling? (hint – the SCC is the highest court in the land).

    For these councillors I would ask them to state their beliefs openly and make them a matter of record so we have an idea which of the 4,200 particular religions and superstition systems they believe in.

    Maybe it’s a prophet who dies and comes back to life, maybe it’s got a guy with 10 rules for living carved in stone, maybe it’s reincarnating forever, maybe belief in space aliens and getting your own planet, maybe a war of good against evil, maybe a feathered serpent rules us.

    It would sure be nice to know what these councillors really think.

  8. Posted by Israel MacArthur on

    Now, when will prayers stop in the public schools? Complete violation of Nunavut law there, should be easy pickings for some lawyer I’d think.

    • Posted by Bliblibliblibli on

      Are kids made to pray in schools in Nunavut, in 2019? Is that right? ….

  9. Posted by John K on

    The only place religion has in the public sphere is in Language class with the other fairytales. Use the minute of reflection to pray to yourskyfairy

  10. Posted by Godbot on

    Rage on. Jesus said if you refuse me, I will refuse you.
    A moment of silence is a private matter like God. It will work for some people. Except more creepy things like disappearances and tragedies.

    • Posted by iThink on

      Just to clarify, since there will be no more opening prayers at city council meetings you are suggesting there will be more “creepy things like disappearances and tragedies.”? What a strange a perverse belief.

  11. Posted by The Native on


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