Canadian Pastor Imprisoned After Defying COVID-19 Order
Canadian Royal Police
Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images

UPDATE: The headline and text of this story have been updated to reflect clarification that James Coates’ wife, Erin, gave to Faithwire explaining that he is not in solitary confinement as originally reported, but was quarantined for two weeks and moved to general population last Thursday.

A pastor from Alberta, Canada, awaits a May trial in prison after refusing a bail agreement that would have forbidden him from preaching.

James Coates, who pastors GraceLife Church in the Edmonton area, was first arrested in February after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) repeatedly flagged his church for refusing to abide by public health orders that capped attendance at 15 percent capacity. While their pastor remains behind bars, the RCMP have since slapped the church with even more charges, according to the Western Standard.

“Last week, on March 4, the legal counsel for GraceLife Church was served with a Summons to attend Stony Plain Provincial Court on May 5, 2021. GraceLife Church was charged as an entity for exceeding the 15 per cent allowable capacity for the services held on Feb. 21 and Feb 28., 2021, contrary to section 73(1) of the Public Health Act,” RCMP Cpl. Laurel Scott said.

“The Parkland RCMP supported the AHS investigation at GraceLife Church this past Sunday. The Church was non-compliant with the Public Health Order in that it was over the allowed capacity. The RCMP members were present for public safety and to support AHS, and did not go inside the church.”

“Investigation continues into the church by AHS and supported by the Parkland RCMP. These charges are now before the court and further comments will not be available.”

Last Friday, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn denied Coates’ bail on appeal, saying Coates’ imprisonment remains “justified” and “necessary.”

“Pastor Coates is bound by the rule of law. His refusal to the condition of release and multiple noncompliances with the stated intent to continue concerns public safety,” Michalyshyn said.

As the Edmonton Journal reported:

Michalyshyn said Coates and his congregation hold to a “strong and literal interpretation of holy scriptures,” which command that they meet in person and keep their faces uncovered during worship. Kitchen said his client is overall a law-abiding man, but that in cases where the law and his interpretation of scripture conflict, the latter prevails.

In an affidavit, Coates said the health orders “directly contravene the authority of the local church, and the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The affidavit cites, among other things, Premier Jason Kenney’s May 2020 references to COVID as an “influenza,” which critics argued downplayed the seriousness of the virus.

Coates’ wife, Erin, told Faithwire that he “gets about three hours out, in one-hour chunks.” She said he is able to be with the inmates on his unit during this time, but that she is still unable to visit him because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Coates’ case has been a source of controversy in the Edmonton area, and demonstrators have gathered outside his jail to protest his treatment. A statement on GraceLife Church’s website explains his reasoning in part:

Having engaged in an immense amount of research, interacting with both doctors and frontline healthcare workers, it is apparent that the negative effects of the government lockdown measures on society far surpass the effects of COVID-19. The science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective. In fact, there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus. We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called “pandemic” is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent.

Related: ‘A Little Too Soviet’: Grandsons Of Idaho Pastor Slapped With 13 Criminal Charges For Protesting Lockdowns With Stickers

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