The pastor and legal counsel for the church in Alberta, Canada, that was raided and physically barricaded by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on Wednesday remain defiant as provincial authorities clamp down in the name of COVID-19 precautions.
John Carpay, who is president of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, spoke to The Daily Wire on Friday about his client’s case against the Albertan authorities, which he presented as a fight for the “fundamental rights and freedoms” of the Western world.
“Courage To Actually Suffer”
At approximately 6 a.m. local time on Wednesday, RCMP and private security contractors erected a chain link fence around the building of GraceLife Church, which is about 15 miles southwest of Edmonton. A police checkpoint assembled to prevent congregants from going on the property.
I count thirteen vehicles as part of this police raid on a church. They’re erecting steel fences around it. Like China does when they uncover an illegal “house church”. Except this is in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The same church whose pastor was thrown in prison for 35 days. pic.twitter.com/qJlnHHGGdV
— Ezra Levant 🍁🚛 (@ezralevant) April 7, 2021
GraceLife Church first made international headlines in February when its pastor, James Coates, was arrested and jailed for more than a month after holding church services in defiance of Alberta’s Public Health Order, which limited congregations to 15% capacity.
The RCMP repeatedly flagged GraceLife for not abiding by the order and later slapped the church with more charges when they continued to hold services during their pastor’s imprisonment.
Coates was taken to Edmonton’s maximum security Remand Centre for breaching the public health orders, where he said fellow prisoners were aware of his situation and came to him seeking spiritual advice.
“Once I got into [general population], I would have guys often come to my door and want to speak with me and would share difficulties in their life with me, and I would share the gospel with them,” Coates told Rebel News. “We’d be talking through a door to each other, but I would share the gospel with them. That happened often, where guys would just come to me.”
Coates said the inmates cheered for him as he was freed.
Appearing before provincial court Judge Jeffrey Champion in an orange-and-black jumpsuit, Coates emphasized during his court appearance that he had no intention of being “a political revolutionary” and that he was simply trying to obey Jesus.
“I realized that’s the way society is going to perceive what’s happening here,” Coates said. “[But] I’m simply here in obedience to Jesus Christ, and it’s my obedience to Christ that has put me at odds with the law.”
Speaking of Coates, Carpay said, “It’s a small minority of people that have this level of courage to actually suffer for their beliefs.”
“Freedom of conscience and religion is the first fundamental freedom listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is listed first because it is one of the key bedrock principles on which Canada is built,” Carpay wrote in a press release.
“The government has so far refused to justify the limits on worship and gathering. Health orders are inconsistent, differing from province to province, and arbitrarily created by one public health official who is under no obligation legally to advise the legislatures of the science and rationale which supposedly are the basis of the orders,” he added.
The Alberta government is now seeking to delay Coates’ scheduled May 3 trial, to which Carpay responded with outrage:
We are now in our thirteenth month of Charter-violating lockdowns, in what was supposed to be a temporary two-week measure to flatten the curve. The government has had thirteen months to put together a scientific and medical basis to justify its violations of our fundamental Charter freedoms. By May 3, the government will have had fourteen months to assemble proper medical and scientific evidence to justify lockdowns. For the Alberta Government to request an adjournment of the May 3 trial of Pastor Coates is outrageous, while at the same time entering onto the church’s private property and putting up fencing with hired security.
“We Have Embarrassed Them Richly”
During a recent interview with radio host Gabriel Rench, who was himself arrested in Moscow, Idaho, last fall for participating in an outdoor psalm sing without a mask, Coates said the overreach of Alberta’s government against his church has actually induced “a little bit of excitement” in him.
“They are going toe-to-toe with the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “And that typically does not go well. It certainly will not go well in the end. But even now, they are taking on a fight that is way beyond them.”
“I think that we have demonstrated clearly that the threat to Alberta is not COVID-19, it is AHS [Alberta Health Services],” he later added. “We have demonstrated that the real threat to Albertans are the lockdown measures. We have shown them to be weak and incompetent. And the fact that they’ve had to close down our facility is ultimately for the purpose of ending the embarrassment. We have met for 37 Sundays without a single COVID-19 case, let alone an outbreak.”
“And so AHS is weak and incompetent, and I think we have embarrassed them richly,” he added.
Regarding whether Coates and GraceLife Church are being singled out by the government for especially harsh treatment, Carpay said it was “interesting” to him that some Alberta restaurant owners recently escaped imprisonment despite being cited for remaining open.
“I think the government was particularly offended by a non-compliant church, more so than non-compliant businesses,” he said. “So I guess you could say that is singling out, because there are other places that did not comply and they got tickets, but otherwise the owner was not put in jail as Pastor Coates was for a month and six days.”
Carpay highlighted an extensive statement on GraceLife’s Church’s website explaining why they had chosen not to abide by the provincial health order. The statement says 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.
“I suspect the government doesn’t like people using logic and facts to debunk the government’s narrative,” Carpay said. “So I think that could be part of the dynamic.” He noted Coates was arrested just a few days after the church posted that statement on their website.
Speaking recently with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who described Coates’ situation as “obvious tyranny,” James’ wife Erin lamented that she no longer recognizes her native Canada, where she claims rights have been stripped from citizens so gradually that it no longer bothers most of them. Unwilling to claim outright that government authorities were targeting her husband for his religion, she noted that spiritual forces of evil often work through them.
“I See A Repetition Of History”
In addition to the Coates case, Alberta received international attention earlier this week when video went viral of Pastor Artur Pawlowski forcefully ejecting police from his church during a Good Friday service. Pawlowski, who grew up in Poland behind the Iron Curtain, warned that such tactics reminded him of how the Communists behaved toward houses of worship in eastern Europe.
“I grew up in Poland under the boot of the Soviets, behind the Iron Curtain,” the pastor told The Daily Caller. “What I see right now, I see everything escalating and moving to the new level. They’re acting just like the Communists were acting when I was growing up when the pastors and the priests were arrested, and some were murdered. Many were tortured.”
“That’s why I say what I say,” Pawlowski added. “Because I see a repetition of history.”
Even so, Carpay noted that the restrictions in the Western provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia have been less onerous than those in their Eastern neighbors. He mentioned a client in Ottawa who was ticketed for playing basketball by himself. Other clients have been cited for walking their dogs outside or for participating in peaceful outdoor protests. Quebec has an 8 p.m. curfew in some places, he said, after which citizens are not allowed to leave their homes unless they are walking their dogs.
Carpay echoed Pawlowski’s warning that liberty must be fought for if it is to be maintained. “Violations of our fundamental rights and freedoms are going to last for as long as Canadians tolerate them and tolerate the violations and embrace the violations,” he said. “Liberty only lasts so long as it resides in the hearts of people. And if people don’t cherish and appreciate the free society, where we can exercise our freedoms and accept our responsibilities like responsible adults, if people don’t cherish that and fight for it, it will gradually wither and die.”
“And that is true in Canada and the United States and in every country in the world,” he added.