Toronto Interfaith Council poised to launch by year end

  • November 2, 2006

Toronto Mayor David MillerTORONTO - Faith may be the next force in municipal politics in Toronto, and Mayor David Miller thinks that's a good thing.

The Toronto Interfaith Council is still working on writing bylaws and articles of incorporation so it can operate as a non-profit organization in Ontario, but the city's mayor is hoping the group takes off.

"I think the council can do two things," Miller told The Catholic Register. "It brings us together. It's also a very strong platform to ensure Torontonians in our poorest neighbourhoods aren't marginalized and ignored."

Organizers say they hope the Toronto Interfaith Council will be legally incorporated before the end of 2006. An initial meeting between the mayor and the council is tentatively scheduled for late November, depending on the outcome of Nov. 13 municipal elections.

A dozen faith groups have participated in talks leading up to founding the Toronto Interfaith Council over the past year. Major Christian churches are represented, including Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists and the United Church of Canada. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others have signalled an intention to participate.

Volunteer organizer Liz Chappel can't quite fathom why there has never been an interfaith council in Toronto, which is frequently called the most multicultural city in the world. Smaller Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Calgary, Mississauga and Brampton, have multifaith advisory bodies which assist their city councils whenever faith and politics mingle.

"I don't think (in the past) it has had the kind of welcoming support it has had this time around, and I think that has made all the difference," she said.

City officials and politicians have been asking for a way to gather information and input from faith communities, said Chappel.

"It is as much responding to an expressed need from some politicians as it was faith groups saying, 'You know, we're missing the boat here in

Toronto,' " she said.

One thing the Toronto Interfaith Council will not do is speak for the churches, synagogues and mosques on matters of belief or policy. The founding organizers have agreed the new council won't make statements on issues unless they have perfect consensus.

The end result, however, should be that city government will proceed with a new awareness of what faith communities contribute to city life, according to Chappel.

"We will have a better informed municipal government. We'll have an opportunity for the faith groups to have some organized say in issues that affect the people who belong to those faith groups and to all faith groups in general," Chappel said. "We will have an increased awareness that faith has a role to play in community and political life."

As far as Miller is concerned, the churches and temples of the city are a resource for better government.

"Bridging between the faiths will allow us together to reach out more effectively to people who need it the most," he said.

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