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EDMONTON, Alberta, March 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – An Alberta court judge today delayed a decision until Friday morning on whether to overturn jailed Pastor James Coates’ bail conditions that block his release unless he agrees to not hold church services amid severe coronavirus lockdowns.
Coates and his Grace Life Church are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).
JCCF lawyer James Kitchen was in court on behalf of Coates on Thursday afternoon to argue against the Crown that Coates’ bail conditions violate his constitutional rights to practice his faith and that he should be released until his trial date.
Kitchen told LifeSiteNews that he thought a decision would come today but was not surprised the judge decided to wait until tomorrow morning to give his ruling, especially in light of the fact of the busy court docket this afternoon.
“The thing is, (the judge) is obviously is going to give a really thorough decision, and the right thing for him to do is not hold everybody else up, while he does that, so he did the right thing, out of respect for the situation and everybody else in the court, I totally agree with him,” Kitchen told LifeSiteNews.
“I’m pleasantly surprised he is going to give a thorough decision.”
JCCF president John Carpay told LifeSiteNews, “I’ve often said, ‘Anyone who makes a prediction about a court ruling is a fool.’ You just never know.”
Around 450 people joined the online court proceedings Thursday afternoon in anticipation of a decision, which will now come tomorrow at 9 a.m. MST.
In the court proceedings, Kitchen said to the judge that if Coates' “bail condition is not lifted,” he will be “in jail for another two months (and) he has already been in jail for two weeks. That’s unacceptable.”
“Imposing upon a Pastor the condition of his release, that he not pastor, that is a stain on the justice system, that is an injustice.”
Kitchen noted that regarding Alberta restrictions on church size, “all we have is a theory – we have a theory that church above 15 percent building capacity” is a threat to public health.
“That’s not good enough to impose this condition,” said Kitchen.
Kitchen added that the Crown has had more than half a year to put together more evidence to the public that having a certain number of people in a church causes more COVID spread, noting that “we have not had that.”
Additionally, Kitchen mentioned to the Crown that Coates is not a criminal, has broken no laws, and is innocent until proven guilty, and will only be ultimately charged if COVID rules are eventually deemed constitutional.
Coates “is not yet convicted; he is presumed innocent. He is only going to be convicted is if the public health orders are constitutional. In the meantime, we are putting the cart before the horse.”
Current Alberta COVID rules state that 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.
On Sunday, February 14, Coates held a church service at Grace Life located in Spruce Grove, Alberta, in violation of a January 29 order by Alberta Health Services (AHS) demanding that the church doors remain shut. It was shortly after this date he was jailed.
He has been detained at the Edmonton Remand Centre, awaiting trial since February 16, after refusing to agree to bail conditions.
In a sworn affidavit, Coates’ wife said that her husband could not “in good conscience” agree to bail conditions. “My husband has dedicated his life to obeying his Lord, Jesus Christ by spreading the gospel message and ministering to his congregants,” wrote Erin Coates.
“My husband could not, in good conscience, agree to such a condition. James did not agree to and did not sign the undertaking. James 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.”
Coates’ bail conditions stipulate: “You will not attend or conduct services at Grace Life Church at 51529A, Range Road 262, Parkland Country, Alberta, unless you have complied with any existing orders of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Alberta Health Services Executive Officers or orders (of) the Court of Queen’s Bench. (The ‘Impugned Condition’).”
Kitchen argued in his court bail appeal application that Coates’ “Impugned Condition” requires him to “violate his conscience and to act contrary to his sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
“As such, the Impugned Condition does not merely limit his liberty, it is a severe infringement of his section 2(a) Charter rights. The Impugned Condition amounts to an attempt to change his behaviour and the effect is to punish him. Such a condition is not reasonable or in any way the ‘least onerous,’” reads the court bail application.
“Pastor Coates requests that this Honourable Court intervene to vacate the Impugned Condition in order to maintain the public’s respect for and confidence in the justice system and the courts. The Impugned Condition is ‘clearly inappropriate’ and not in the interests of justice.”
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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