A Canadian pastor who was jailed for more than a month after holding church services in defiance of Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols was released Monday with a fine and a scolding from a judge.
Pastor 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 not abiding by public health orders that capped attendance at 15 percent capacity. The RCMP later slapped the church with more charges when they continued to hold services while their pastor was imprisoned.
Provincial court Judge Jeffrey Champion on Monday dropped all but one charge against Coates, according to The Canadian Press. The remaining charge against him alleges he violated gathering size restrictions under Alberta’s Public Health Act, for which he will stand trial in May. He was also fined $1,500, but Champion credited his 35 days in jail toward it and wrote it off.
Crown prosecutor Peter Mackenzie and defense lawyer Leighton Grey with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom had suggested to Champion that Coates simply be fined $100, but the judge pushed back, saying, “I question whether $100 is a proper denunciation of the conduct of Mr. Coates as well as proper deterrence for others that might feel that ‘I can violate the directions of the chief medical officer of health and get $100 fine.'”
“It is an issue when someone makes a decision that can affect the health and the lives of thousands of people,” Champion continued, who used Coates’ description of himself as the “shepherd” of his church to scold him.
Noting his church services could have proven to be super-spreader events, Champion said, “The shepherd ought to protect his flock.”
Coates, who appeared before Champion in an orange-and-black jumpsuit, stressed 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.”
Coates’ case has been a source of controversy in the Edmonton area, where demonstrators had gathered outside his jail in protest. 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.
Coates’ wife, Erin Coates, spoke recently with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who described the situation as “obvious tyranny.” Explaining that jail was hard on her husband, Erin said 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 did note that spiritual forces of evil often work through them.