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City hall nativity display set to return to St. Catharines despite concerns over ‘inclusiveness’

Picture of a Nativity Scene that was set in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini).

A nativity display that’s been a staple at city hall in St. Catharines, Ont., during the Christmas season since 1965 is set to make a return, despite some opposition from some locals suggesting it’s not inclusive.

On Monday city council voted 6 to 5 to resurrect the scene on the lawn of city hall following a hiatus in 2020 and 2021 over concerns it was not respectful of all faiths.

The push for its return was spearheaded by an address from a spokesperson from the Catholic Women’s League who said the nativity display represents “a universal symbol of peace, love and hope.”

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“A very large percentage of our citizens expect to see the nativity publicly displayed at city hall,” Monique Finora told councillors.

“The nativity is much more than a decoration, it’s a declaration to love and help each other.”

Finora went on to submit the scene, depicting the birth of Jesus in a manger, doesn’t compromise diversity, inclusivity and equality but suggests those “values are celebrated.”

St. Andrew’s councillor Joe Kushner echoed those sentiments, suggesting the setup is no different than when flags representing various groups are raised throughout the year at city hall.

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“We’re inviting other groups to participate at city hall, and to me, that is very positive and it would send a signal to the community, let’s celebrate our differences in order to understand one another better,” Kushner explained.

But Saleh Waziruddin, chair of the city’s anti-racism advisory committee, told councillors that city property shouldn’t have religious displays and suggested the nativity scene is not universal to all faiths.

“It may appeal even to a majority, but it does not appeal to all of us in the same way,” Waziruddin said.

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Waziruddin says he received affirmation of his position during a social sustainability committee meeting which voted in favour of recommending council not bring the nativity scene back.

“It’s not a war on Christmas, but it’s against the city not being inclusive of all of us.”

He went on to suggest granting space would give “the majority faith community” privilege of being established on city properties.

“That sounds good on paper, but in reality, you’re not going to represent all the faiths or people who choose not to follow a faith,” Waziruddin told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

St. Patrick’s councillor Karrie Porter characterizes the whole scenario as “the most ridiculous issue” and says she’s disapointed it came during her last council meeting after not seeking re-election.

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“I don’t think it belongs at city hall,” Porter told Global News.

“We have three churches within a stone’s throw of our city hall, and it would have been much more appropriate to gift that nativity set to one of those churches.”

Porter says she’s also “outraged” the motion passed with an amendment from St. Patrick’s councillor Robin McPherson, proposing a 2023 draft budget consideration to bring on a staff position to manage the display.

“We have an under-resourced city hall and I believe that money would be more appropriate, and probably more inclusive if we … invested in a planning position for affordable housing,” Porter said.

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Monday’s decision did include a stipulation to offer the same courtesy to other religious groups wishing to submit ideas for a city hall display.

Waziruddin suggests that’s not feasible since many states don’t have a tradition of having a display or diorama, nor the time and resources to come up with one.

“And how are you going to do one representing agnostics or atheists?” Waziruddin said.

Diwali, Hanukkah and Eid have seen recognition in the form of signs on the lawn of city hall in recent years but have since been nixed due to the holidays falling on differing dates year over year.

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