Heritage designations could pose fewer complications for religious and Indigenous organizations in Ontario when they undertake repairs and alternations in places of worship and spiritual practices. Proposed amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act and an associated regulation would relax municipal oversight and ensure that projects meeting prescribed conditions could be approved to proceed within 30 days.
The measures are part of Bill 139, the Less Red Tape, More Common Sense Act, 2023, newly introduced omnibus legislation to amend 20 provincial statutes. The proposed changes have been posted on Ontario’s regulatory registry for public comment until December 3.
As proposed, proponents would submit an affidavit or sworn declaration along with their applications to declare that their planned project is slated for space where religious or spiritual practices occur, and involves alterations connected to and necessary for those practices. The application must contain a description of the proposed alterations and their impact on heritage attributes in the space.
Qualifying alterations could not include an addition to the building, and religious organizations would have to be registered charities in Ontario. If all parameters are met, municipalities could impose no further terms or conditions and would be required to issue a notice of consent within 30 days.
“The objective of the proposed changes is to provide certainty and shorter timelines for religious organizations, Indigenous communities and Indigenous organizations to move forward with proposed alterations required for religious practices, in situations where the requirements of the provision are met,” advises an accompanying statement. “The changes would ensure that they can continue their religious practices or Indigenous religious or spiritual practices with limited interruptions or complications should they need to alter a property designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.”
Municipalities, religious and Indigenous organizations are encouraged to participate in the consultation and respond to questions the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism poses. It’s expected the finalized amendments will come into force on January 1, 2024.