Pastor Tim Stephens of Calgary, Alberta, who was jailed last month after a police helicopter found his outdoor church service, was released from prison Thursday after his case drew international attention.
Stephens’ jail sentence at the maximum-security Calgary Remand Centre had reportedly been extended to July 12 last week, but the court order under which he was arrested was rescinded on July 1 as Alberta enters into Stage 3 of its mandatory COVID-19 rules.
In an interview with Rebel News, which also captured footage of him as he reunited with his family, Stephens expressed gratitude. “Today is a very thankful day,” he said. “I’m thankful that the restrictions are done and rescinded, including the court orders that go along with that.” He also thanked his legal counsel at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, as well as those in the community who supported him and his family.
“But most of all, I’m thankful for God, I’m thankful that he’s built his church, that he’s sustained our church at Fairview Baptist Church. I’m thankful that he strengthened me, my wife, and our family, and that through this people have come to know the saving love of the Lord Jesus Christ through this. People have been strengthened in this country and around the world, and so for these many reasons I’m thankful.”
He added “there is still a road ahead of us for justice, for truth, for our province[.]”
As The Daily Wire reported, Stephens made international headlines when Calgary Police showed up at his house to arrest him a second time after a police helicopter found where his church was gathering outside after authorities locked his church building.
After blaming the pastor for creating the unpleasant situation, the arresting officer suggested that obeying Alberta’s lockdown order was like when Jesus said Jews should pay taxes to the Roman government. “Even God said, you know, ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ right? So we’re not getting into this philosophical debate,” he argued.
“And the gathering of the church is not Caesar’s,” Stephens retorted. “So that’s why we’re gathering.”
Despite his release and the repeal of the court order, Stephens faces another court date on July 14. Also facing an upcoming court date is Pastor Artur Pawlowski, who recently told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that he faces potentially four years in prison for holding church services in violation of Alberta’s Public Health Act. In addition to being found guilty of contempt of court order, Pawlowski explained that he has also been found guilty of “inciting people to come to church.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) recently urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to consider adding Canada to its watch list because of how the country has treated pastors and churches in the name of COVID-19.
“Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada. Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” Hawley wrote in part.