Alberta gov’t. brings up ‘risky’ act of singing in church in trial against jailed pastor
EDMONTON, Alberta, May 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — During the first day of the trial of Canadian Pastor James Coates — who was jailed for over a month for defying lockdown orders — the provincial crown used as evidence against Coates video shot by a health inspector of people engaging in what she called the “risky” act of singing in his church.
The video evidence from December 2020 was presented despite the fact church elders at Coates’ Grace Life Church had warned the health inspector that it is an offense under Canadian law to disrupt a church service.
Section 176(2) of the “Criminal Code of Canada” bans interrupting or disturbing a religious service.
According to Coates’ legal counsel, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), the Crown called its only witness in the first day of his trial, Janine Hanrahan.
The JCCF says she is an “Alberta Health Services (AHS) bureaucrat who inspected the church over many Sundays from November 2020 through to February 2021.”
“Ms Hanrahan stated she went to the church balcony to count how many people were in the sanctuary, and video-recorded church members singing in worship. She further testified that Grace Life Elders told her and the RCMP it is an offence under the Criminal Code to disrupt a church service,” noted the JCCF.
The JCCF said its lawyer Leighton Grey, who represents Coates and Grace Life, cross-examined Hanrahan to ask he why she “took RCMP officers with her to the church.”
“Notes from an RCMP officer indicate that Ms. Hanrahan told police that she feared being harmed by going to the church but admitted on the stand that she did not have concerns that someone from church would harm her. Ms. Hanrahan then said that bringing the RCMP was because of media attention,” said the JCCF.
Grey asked Hanrahan if she was told by her employer that “singing was a risky behavior.”
To this question, Hanrahan replied “yes,” explaining the “the science made sense” to her.
Grey then told her that she wrote something “odd” in her notes, saying that “clapping/cheering for RCMP at Grace Life could lead to covid spread.”
Hanrahan replied that she thought this was true, going onto state that she was not told by AHS to think this way, and that it was her “own” theory, and she did not read any studies stating if singing in a church was proven to be “risky.”
Regarding Hanrahan’s comments, the JCCF said, “In other words, Ms. Hanrahan simply believes whatever AHS tells her.”
“Ms. Hanrahan confirmed that she received no additional training at all from AHS once the pandemic hit. She has been provided with no scientific data or even a basic understanding of the risk of contagion. She testified that she simply follows what she is told by AHS because it is ‘the law.’ She also testified that she does not trust any other sources of information besides AHS. She further admitted that her calculations concerning the total capacity of the church were based upon assumptions, and therefore could be wrong,” said the JCCF.
My church is “commanded to sing”
When Coates took the stand, he noted that his church is “commanded to sing” as a primary means in how his congregation worships.
According to the JCCF, Coates stated to the court that virtual services would “alter what worshiping is and would constitute a major interference in their specific beliefs.”
Coates’ trial is continuing over the next few days. The court had granted “the Government’s request that Pastor Coates not be permitted to challenge the constitutional validity of Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s orders at the trial,” according to the JCCF.
Despite this, on Monday the JCCF noted that Judge Robert Shaigec ruled against the Crown, “saying that it has to be very clear that no Charter right breach could possibly be found, and that the rule is to permit evidence and argument regarding alleged Charter breaches.”
“He completely denied the Crown’s application, saying all of Pastor Coates’ alleged Charter rights violation arguments are fair game, and the defence can present evidence of them.”
The province of Alberta’s COVID health rules enacted under United Conservative Party (UCP) Premier Jason Kenney has capped church attendance size to 15 percent and mandated mask wearing and physical distancing.
On April 7, Grace Life was barricaded by police for defying coronavirus health rules. The church has now gone underground to worship.