Alberta govt jails pastor for holding COVID-non-compliant worship services
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EDMONTON, Alberta, February 18, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A Canadian pastor jailed for ministering to his flock remains in prison, awaiting trial, after refusing to agree to bail conditions that he agree not to hold more church services that violate government restrictions justified by COVID-19.
This past Sunday, February 14, Pastor James Coates of Grace Life Church (Grace Life) of Spruce Grove, Alberta, held a church service for his congregation, which was in violation of a January 29 order by Alberta Health Services (AHS), which had demanded that the church doors shut.
The AHS order came about as a result of multiple visits by health authorities to the church over the previous weeks and months. The AHS claims that the visits showed that the church had been repeatedly violating the provincial rules forcing people to wear masks and stay away from each other along with strictures regarding building capacity.
Coates and Grace Life Church are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).
According to the JCCF, at Grace Life’s February 7 Sunday service, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) met with Coates and others, telling him they were there to arrest him and that he must stop violating the government’s orders.
The JCCF said Coates “explained to the officers that he could not do that because to do so would violate his conscience and prevent him from fulfilling his duty as a minister to lead his congregation in worship. The officers then left, without arresting him.”
The JCCF said an AHS inspector was at the church’s February 14 service to report “the activities of the attendees.”
Coates was notified this Monday by the RCMP that they planned to arrest him for defying the COVID-19 shutdown order and asked him to turn himself in. Coates complied.
He has been charged with contravening the orders put in place by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health (CMOH), Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and with “breaching an undertaking, even though he did not agree to the undertaking.”
Coates’s bail hearing was held this Tuesday. According to a statement posted yesterday by the JCCF, the Crown Prosecutor asked the court to keep Coates “in jail until his trial, which will be at least several weeks away.”
“The Justice of the Peace ordered Pastor Coates released on the condition that he stop holding church services, a condition he could not, in good conscience, agree to,” reads the JCCF news release.
“Pastor Coates is currently in jail, awaiting trial, as he will not be released unless he agrees to the condition, or the Prosecutor agrees to withdraw the condition.”
Grace Life, which can hold nearly 400 congregants, is located close to Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton. Under the current Alberta COVID rules, churches and other places of worship can operate at no more than 15 percent of the capacity allowed by the building fire code. Masks are mandatory, as are the sanitation of hands and keeping away from other people.
JCCF lawyer James Kitchen told LifeSiteNews that the constitutionality of the Justice of the Peace’s insistence that Coates be released only on the condition that he halt all future church services “is linked to the constitutionality of the public health orders.”
“The condition is only asking Coates to comply with the public health orders — which do violate freedom of religion and peaceful assembly as protected by sections 2(a) and 2(c) of the Charter,” Kitchen told LifeSiteNews.
Kitchen told LifeSiteNews he could have the pre-trial dates for Coates as early as the end of this week and that, ideally, he would like to see a trial “within a month,” but that is unlikely.
“This has to be quick, but things can only move so fast. To have a trial within a month would be fast. That is what I hope for,” Kitchen told LifeSiteNews.
Kitchen noted that it is possible — but far from certain — that Coates will be released from jail before his trial. He also told LifeSiteNews that the JCCF will be filing an appeal to Coates’s bail conditions “within a couple of days.”
The Parkland County RCMP confirmed in a press release that Coates is to appear in court on February 24.
Grace Life, which is located right next to a highway, had been visited multiple times by AHS inspectors, which the JCCF says is most likely due to being “snitched on.” On December 17, 2020, an AHS health inspector issued an order, which was posted online, to comply with the COVID-19 restrictions in place.
The church, under Coates, continued to operate Sunday services. However, on January 21, 2021, the AHS filed a court application so its December 17 order could be enforced. The Court of Queen’s Bench allowed the AHS’s application and then ordered the church to comply.
Grace Life has said that the frequent inspections by AHS officials could be “a potential criminal offense, pursuant to section 176(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada,” which bans the interrupting or disturbing of a religious worship service.
“AHS has taken a slow approach, compared to small business,” Kitchen told LifeSiteNews. “As far as I am concerned, all of it is harassment, Big Government overreach.”
LifeSiteNews sent inquiries to the office of Alberta’s Catholic premier, Jason Kenney, as well as the Alberta Ministry of Health, asking why the government has allowed a Christian pastor to be placed in jail for practicing his faith. As of press time, there has been no response to either inquiry.
On Wednesday, the JCCF called upon Kenney to rescind Hinshaw’s COVID orders via a scathing letter, blasting him for Coates’s arrest.
“For the first time ever, Alberta has arrested and incarcerated a Christian minister for the ‘crime’ of holding a church service,” reads a portion of the letter the JCCF sent to Kenney.
“For the past eleven months you have permitted Dr. Hinshaw to rule unilaterally over the citizens of Alberta. You have initiated no legislative review of Dr. Hinshaw's Orders.
“When suffering Albertans contact you with their stories of extreme hardship and business losses, and outrage at lockdowns, your excuse is that your hands are tied. You have stood idly by while Dr. Hinshaw closes businesses and churches and holds daily briefings to scare everyone about a virus which the data unequivocally shows has only a negligible impact on life expectancy in Alberta.”
The letter also directly challenges Kenney to ensure that Albertan’s Charter rights are respected.
“Pastor Coates and his congregation have a constitutional right to assemble for worship in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and religion. That is their obligation to God, and they are going to continue to obey their conscience and religious convictions when Dr. Hinshaw’s Orders come into conflict with the requirements of their God,” reads the JCCF letter to Kenney.
“We remind you, since it is apparent that you need a reminder: the Constitution is the supreme law in Canada, not the Orders of Dr. Hinshaw.”
Former Alberta MLA and now leader of the growing Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta Paul Hinman took to Twitter to blast Kenney as a “hypocrite” after Coates’s arrest.
“What a total hypocrite! Jason, you just arrested a pastor on Ash Wednesday! You're also overseeing a system implemented unconstitutionally by your own hand where 85% of church goers are forbidden from attending services. It's time for you to repent @jkenney!” tweeted Hinman.
Grace Life responds to jailing of its pastor with statement
In a statement posted on Grace Life Church’s website regarding the situation surrounding Coates, the church stated: “The science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective. In fact, there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus.
“We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called “pandemic” is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent.”
The statement also notes that the church recently lost one of its members as a direct result of COVID-19 lockdowns, blasting them as “unnecessary” and “harmful.”
The church statement goes onto say that people should be allowed to “responsibly return to their lives.”
“Churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back. In fact, some say we are on the cusp of reaching the point of no return. Protect the vulnerable, exercise reasonable precautions, but begin to live your lives again,” reads the Grace Life statement.
Grace Life’s statement also touches on death, noting that “life comes with risks” and that it is through Jesus Christ that one finds the message of “hope.”
“Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we are assuming a degree of risk. We accept that risk due to the benefits of driving. Yes, though vastly overblown, there are associated risks with COVID-19, as there are with other infections,” reads the Grace Life statement.
“Human life, though precious, is fragile. As such, death looms over all of us. That is why we need a message of hope. One that addresses our greatest need. That message is found in Jesus Christ. It is found in Him because all of us have sinned and have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness.”
LifeSiteNews asks its readers to take the time to defend the religious liberty of Canadians by filing out our VoterVoice Alert to free Pastor Coates.
Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney
Office of the Premier
307 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6
Email: [email protected]
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