Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Alberta, Canada, was acquitted by the province’s criminal court after he was charged with breaches of public health orders for opening his church despite government lockdowns.
Footage of police officers taking Stephens away from his sobbing children went viral last summer as Canadian authorities made headlines for enforcing strict restrictions against public gatherings. Law enforcement at one point used a police helicopter to discover where his church had been secretly meeting after officers padlocked their building.
Stephens spent 21 days in jail and was served six provincial tickets for his alleged breach of public health orders. Four of the tickets had been dropped. The Provincial Court of Alberta cleared Stephens of the remaining tickets on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“This is vindication, not only for me, but vindication that the government grossly abused their power,” Stephens remarked on social media. “In all of this, I rejoice since the gospel of Jesus Christ went forth in power, and Christ built his church. All glory to God!”
Stephens told The Daily Wire that all charges against him personally have now been nixed. However, one charge remains against Fairview Baptist Church, which the congregation intends to adjudicate. Lawyers from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed a lawsuit against Calgary Police Service and Alberta Health Services for Stephens’ arrest in May 2021.
“While God has given me joy through this time and has poured out abundant blessings, it is important that government is held to account for its actions for the sake of everyone in our province and country,” Stephens commented.
Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was forced to resign since “putting pastors in jail turned out to be a terrible move,” according to Stephens. Premier Danielle Smith, who succeeded Kenney last month, has since apologized for the province’s violations of constitutional liberties and announced that she is accepting legal advice on pardoning those who were charged with violating lockdown orders.
“Our provincial government has certainly changed course,” Stephens continued. “Our federal government and other provincial governments still seem to have the appetite for mandates. Power can be hard to give up so it takes people of courage and conviction to do what is right in the face of coercion. That’s what we saw in Alberta. It became clear the restrictions were more based on political science than medical science. It is my hope that the church in Canada would be strengthened, and do the right thing before God.”
Lawmakers in the United States have expressed concern over the Canadian government’s actions toward pastors and congregants. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) mentioned Stephens in a letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom asking the agency to consider adding Canada to its watchlist. He noted that Canadian believers were “forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship.”
There have been similar legal victories in the aftermath of lockdown policies by American pastors who defied the mandates. Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, settled last year with local and state authorities, who agreed to pay the congregation a total of $800,000.