Alberta gov’t. ticketed pastor ‘after he gave the sermon critical of the government’

The judge adjourned the trial to June 7, at which time he will give his decision on the ‘Charter breaches and potential remedy’ for Pastor James Coates, who defied COVID lockdowns.
Fri May 7, 2021 - 11:15 am EST
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Pastor James Coates GraceLife Church of Edmonton / YouTube

EDMONTON, Alberta, May 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — On the second day of Canadian Pastor James Coates’ trial, his lawyer suggested that he was given a COVID-19 health fine because he was critical of his provincial government’s health orders in a sermon.

“He just preached a sermon that’s critical of the government, which is different than the other Sundays that RCMP and [Alberta Health Services] has shown up,” said Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) lawyer James Kitchen during the trial of Coates, who is a pastor at Grace Life Church.

“We know RCMP are not acting unilaterally. They are under the direction of Alberta Health Services. The evidence at trial establishes that AHS bureaucrat Janine Hanrahan directed the RCMP to ticket Coates after he gave the sermon critical of the government,” said Kitchen.

Coates was jailed for over a month for defying COVID-19 lockdown rules. He refused to accept bail conditions which blocked his release unless he agreed to not hold church services amid severe lockdowns.

He received a ticket on December 20, 2020, under the Alberta Public Health Act, after conducting a service at Grace Life which health inspectors claimed did not follow the 15 percent capacity limit, physical distancing rules, and mask-wearing rules in place.

In a trial update on the second day, lawyers for Coates argued that “Charter freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were violated by the 15% capacity restriction on houses of worship, and by the ticket issued on December 20, 2020 pursuant to [those] restrictions.”

“Specifically, Mr. Kitchen argued the restriction violates the freedom of expression of both Pastor Coates and the Grace Life congregants. He also argued that the ticket given to Pastor Coates on December 20 (as opposed to other previous dates that Alberta Health Services (AHS) was also in attendance at the church), appeared to have been motivated by his sermon given earlier in the day, criticizing the Alberta Government. Mr. Kitchen argued the ticket was issued to punish, censor and intimidate Pastor Coates, by indirectly penalizing him for preaching such a sermon,” noted the JCCF.

The judge adjourned the trial to June 7, at which time he will give his decision on the “Charter breaches and potential remedy.”

During the first day of Coates’ trial on Monday, 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 church.

The video evidence from December 2020 was presented despite the fact that 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.

The JCCF said its lawyer Leighton Grey, who represents Coates and Grace Life, cross-examined the only witness on the first day of his trial, Janine Hanrahan, who works for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Grey asked Hanrahan if she was told by her employer that “singing was a risky behavior.”

To this question, Hanrahan replied “yes,” explaining “the science made sense” to her.

Section 176(2) of the “Criminal Code of Canada” bans interrupting or disturbing a religious service.

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During day two of the trial, Grey argued that Coates’ Charter rights were “violated by the bail condition that required him to violate his conscience and his religious beliefs into order to gain his liberty.”

“Pastor Coates’ Charter-protected liberty was violated because he was jailed for 35 days, this because the Alberta Government made his liberty dependent upon him agreeing to refrain from exercising his Charter freedoms.”

Grey also argued that Coates’ Charter section 7 “right to life, liberty and security of the person” was violated. “The Court should grant Pastor Coates a constitutional remedy in the form of a judicial stay of proceedings, which would put a stop to the prosecution.”

The judge said that there are three legal issues which have to be determined:

  1. Were any of Pastor James Coates’ Charter rights violated?

  2. If the Charter section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person was violated, is Pastor Coates entitled to a stay of proceedings on that basis?

  3. If the Court rules that these Charter rights were violated, then the next stage is for the government to provide medical and scientific evidence to attempt to justify its violations of Charter freedoms, and prove that the violations are reasonable, necessary, beneficial, and only a minimal impairment of the freedoms in question.

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 day one of Coates trial, 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 JCCF notes that the case still has a future hearing at a yet to be determined date where “the Alberta Government will be forced to produce their evidence for lockdowns.

The province of Alberta’s COVID health rules enacted under United Conservative Party (UCP) Premier Jason Kenney had capped church attendance size to 15 percent and mandated mask wearing and physical distancing during the time of Coates’ charges.

Earlier this week, the Kenney government limited churches to only 15 people.

  james coates, jccf, justice centre for constitutional freedoms

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