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A Canadian pastor has been formally arrested in defiance of a government order to cease holding services.
Here’s some background:
The Alberta Canadian government requirements cited for churches to be allowed to gather are:
physical distancing of at least two meters from other households
maximum capacity of no more than 15 per cent fire code capacity allowed to attend church gatherings
In December Pastor, James Coates was fined $1,200.00. On January 29, 2021, the government of Canada issued a closure order to GraceLife Church, Edmonton
“after an inspector found that nearly 300 people had attended service the previous weekend, exceeding current rules allowing 15 per cent of total capacity.
The inspector also observed staff and congregation members were seen without masks and failed to physical distance.
Police and health inspectors have attended the Sunday services held in the two weeks since the closure order was issued, and said similar violations were observed. Police said on Feb. 7, the facility was over double the current restricted capacity level.
A spokesperson for RCMP said Mounties have been working with AHS in an ongoing investigation into the activities surrounding the non-compliance of the church.”
“There are many different discussions and considerations at play in relation to the Grace Life Church and their non compliance,” said Insp. Mike Lokken, detachment commander of Parkland RCMP. “We have ensured that the church is well aware of the conditions that they need to follow and they have been afforded repeated opportunities to comply. In collaboration with AHS, we have now followed up with escalated enforcement.”
Pastor Coates’ wife’s response:
Here are some pertinent points:
Conditions for the pastor’s release on bail included that he stop preaching and he courteously refused to agree to that condition. Due to his refusal, he has remained in custody and been given two court appearances at which he continues to refuse that condition of bail.
In his last sermon before his arrest, the pastor outlines three instances where he believes civil disobedience to the government is appropriate:
When government forbids what God commands (example: forbid preaching God’s word)
When government commands what God forbids (example: commanding worship of a golden image)
When government commands what is not theirs to command (example: terms of worship for a local church because it is not their jurisdiction)
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw addressed the situation during her daily updates.
“We’ve worked very hard to work collaboratively with faith leaders in Alberta and I will say that the majority of faith leaders have been incredibly hard working have been demonstrating leadership and caring for their communities,” she said.”
“I want to reinforce these measures are mandatory not optional, and that in Alberta we have made great efforts to make sure that faith communities can continue to meet in a safe way. Those that are not following current restrictions are breaking the law (italics mine).”
Pastor Coates has not addressed media except through statements online. His attorney stated that the pastor and his congregation view the COVID-19 restrictions imposed on them as “an evil that has to stop.” A church statement reads:
“We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along. If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end – the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections. Our local church is clear evidence that governmental lockdowns are unnecessary. In fact, it is also evidence of how harmful they are.”
From a legal standpoint, his attorney claims, “Ultimately what Coates and GraceLife is doing is exercising their constitutionally protected rights under Section 2 of the Charter. The CMOH orders infringe those freedoms and the enforcement of the CMOH orders infringes those freedoms.”
It appears Alberta Canadians are about to discover the legal limitations on their freedom of religion and assembly.
Pastor Coates is represented pro bono by the charity Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. In a statement on their site, they note the following regarding the church’s history of compliance with Alberta’s dictates:
When the Alberta Government first imposed various restrictions on churches and gatherings in the spring of 2020, Grace Life initially suspended in-person worship gatherings in response to news of a novel virus with unknown severity. However, Grace Life resumed in-person worship gatherings in June of 2020 when it became clear that the Government’s initial dire predictions regarding Covid had been based on modelling that has now proven to be inaccurate. Government data and statistics continue to show that advanced age, and especially residing in a nursing home, are the leading risk factors for death from Covid, particularly where there are several serious co-morbidities. For the vast majority of the population, Covid is not a serious threat. This is especially so for children, who are statistically at greater risk of dying from the annual flu than from Covid.
Published in General
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