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April 1, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The threat of fines and possible imprisonment will not deter over 70 Christian churches in Canada from defying COVID lockdowns and holding religious services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The churches have vowed to open for Easter services “to stand together in unity and to oppose further lockdowns.”

All churches involved have signed on to Liberty Coalition Canada’s (LCC) “We Will Gather Easter 2021” initiative. To date, eight Canadian provinces are represented: Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

In some provinces, such as British Columbia, indoor church services are banned outright due to COVID-related health rules, with the rest of the provinces enacting severe limits on church attendance size.

The “We Will Gather Easter 2021” webpage states that the churches involved hope for “three things.”

The first goal is that “many people who are needing refuge and sanctuary will flock to these churches and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Secondly, they hope that “our partners, such as End the Lockdowns Caucus and Professionals Against Lockdowns, will intentionally come to our services to take this important stand with us.”

Lastly, “we would use this list to stand together in unity and to oppose further lockdowns.”

Michael Thiessen, campaign manager for LCC, told LifeSiteNews that his organization is hopeful the list of churches will grow even more before Good Friday.

“We hope the list will grow. We are over 70 churches now,” said Thiessen.

One of the churches that signed on to the initiative is Grace Life Church in Alberta. Grace Life’s Pastor James Coates was jailed for over a month for defying COVID-related orders in Alberta.

After his release from jail, Coates went straight back to preaching — despite police trying to enter his church last Sunday.

Thiessen said that the Easter gathering initiative would have taken place even if Coates had never been jailed, adding that Coates’ ordeal should “never” happen again in Canada.

“Pastor James Coates is an encouraging story, but we had these plans regardless. Never again should governments think they can just shut down and restrict the worship of God. Many people in Canada are consumed by fear because they are only focused on the physical world, this world,” Thiessen told LifeSiteNews.

“We preach Christ crucified and that people can have eternal life if they believe in Him. The gospel is the very message people need to hear right now.”

Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, has been fined over $83,000 for defying local COVID rules to hold indoor worship services. The chapel, led by Senior Pastor Jacob Reaume, has also signed on to the initiative.

Reaume has supported Coates’ cause, and in collaboration with a few other churches released a YouTube video to defend the rights of churches to be open for worship services.

The video has been viewed over 17,000 times.

“The bride of Christ essentially right now is in captivity, and her bridegroom who purchased her with his own blood cannot be pleased with this, cannot be pleased with the way the government is treating his bride,” Reaume said in the video. “It is upon the ministers, the under-shepherds, to stand up and defend her.”

The Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario, has also signed the Easter gathering initiative.

The church’s Pastor Henry Hildebrandt has been a vocal opponent to government-imposed COVID-19 measures. Along with others from his congregation, he was fined for defying the orders. 

Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, whose Senior Pastor Tim Stephens recently defied local COVID rules regarding worship size with a Sunday service, is among the signatories, as well.

Liberty Coalition Canada describes itself as “a national network of clergymen, elected officials, small business owners, legal experts, and other concerned citizens.”

The group has launched other initiatives, such as The Church Must Gather declaration, and the End the Lockdowns National Caucus, which is a non-partisan group of current and former elected politicians with the common aim to end all “lockdowns” in Canada.