A provincial court in Alberta, Canada, on Monday dismissed a case in which legal counsel for a jailed pastor argued that COVID-19 lockdowns against Canadian churches violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Lawyers for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church, who drew international attention in February when he was jailed in a maximum security prison for more than a month after holding services in defiance of provincial health orders, claimed during his trial in May that provincial public health orders violated Charter rights guaranteeing freedoms of gathering, expression, and religion.
“The argument that James Coates was forced to either forsake his conscience or secure his liberty has been answered,” said Judge Robert Shaigec, who dismissed the case, according to CTV News Edmonton.
“Religious freedoms are subject to the rule of law,” he added.
Shaigec went on to assert that GraceLife Church was not singled out for punishment, as Coates’ lawyers claimed, and implied Coates’ 35-day jail sentence was his own fault because he refused to sign a bail order forbidding him from leading services.
Lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms that is representing Coates, expressed disappointment in the ruling.
“It’s obvious that government restrictions on people’s freedom to worship, assemble and associate are violated by health orders that prevent normal, regular church services from taking place,” Carpay said in a press release.
“The judge thought the restrictions were reasonable, which is not the proper legal test at this stage. Whether restrictions are reasonable should only be considered later, after the government has finally produced medical and scientific evidence to try to justify its restrictions on Charter freedoms,” Carpay continued.
“An appeal of this decision is being considered, based on serious errors in law.”
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires governments to justify demonstrably – with compelling evidence – any law, policy or health order that violates any of our fundamental freedoms to move, travel, associate, worship, assemble, and express ourselves. This very basic constitutional requirement has been ignored completely by governments at every level in the past 14 months. Unfortunately, the courts have permitted the government to delay facing accountability in regard to Charter violations,” Carpay went on.
“The government has now had 15 months to assemble proper medical and scientific evidence to justify lockdowns and the resulting violations of our fundamental Charter freedoms. Yet the government cannot or will not put that evidence before the courts. But, somehow, the Alberta government would have us believe that it has enough medical and scientific evidence to shut down hundreds of small businesses, pushing many of them into bankruptcy, and to cancel over 20,000 medically necessary surgeries, and to force Albertans into a third lockdown as of yesterday, with its resulting harms of unemployment, poverty and despair,” Carpay continued.
“The Charter requires Canada’s federal and provincial governments to support and justify restrictions on Charter freedoms whether a court challenge to those restrictions exists or not. The inability or unwillingness of the Alberta government to present medical and scientific evidence at this May 3 trial suggests that lockdown restrictions since March of 2020 are based purely on speculation, not science. If these measures were based on evidence, the government would be able to produce that evidence in court, after almost 14 months of lockdown restrictions,” Carpay concluded.
Another trial is scheduled for June 30. In Alberta, 2,246 have died from COVID-19 and more than 9,400 have been hospitalized.
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