Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church had a hearing today to determine whether or not he’s spending the next two months in prison for the crime of being a faithful shepherd, with the judge hearing both submissions and then ruling Friday morning in the case that has garnered international attention and has highlighted Alberta’s tyrannical and schizophrenic coronavirus shutdown restrictions.
The hearing was to determine whether or not the conditions of James’ release might be modified or removed, as presently he will only be allowed to leave prison unless he promises to not step back on Church property again. The hearing was live-streamed on WebEx and was attended by nearly 450 people, many that failed to mute their microphone upon entry into the channel, causing frequent interruptions and chatter throughout, at one point causing both lawyers some difficulty hearing and needing to pause until the disruptions were muted.
Along with the online viewers, there were dozens of supporters gathered outside the Edmonton courthouse, protesting and praying for a favorable result.
The judge in the case, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn, noted that Coates did not want a publication ban on the affair, an unusual move as they are normally imposed on bail hearings.
In contrast, the prosecutor requested that she not be mentioned by name and rather simply by her title, on account of her personal safety and “some security [issues] that have arisen on this matter,” an unusual request, which was granted.
Though each lawyer was given 10 minutes to speak and argue their case, the entire hearing lasted not much more than minutes. With all their arguments already submitted, Coates’s lawyer, James Kitchen with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, spoke the bulk of the time and the prosecutor chimed in for less than a minute.
Responding to the Crown’s contention that there is a substantial likelihood of danger to the public if Coates were released, Kitchen retorted that since the church has been opened at near capacity since July and there have been no outbreaks or superspreader events linked to his congregation, that this is substantial proof that Coates is no danger to Albertans. “He’s not going to hurt anybody, the only thing that will happen is he holds church again.”
Kitchen said it should be determined whether Coates’s charter rights are being violated before he is jailed, remarking: “We are putting the cart before the horse, doing things backwards.” Further, even if he was convicted of what he’s accused of, it wouldn’t even be a jailable offense, so why would it be a jailable offense now?
While the Crown was saying that it would undermine the justice system if they were to release Coates without what amounts to a restraining order from his church, prohibiting him from pastoring his flock, Kitchen described that as completely inverted.
He said that for normal people, it is the incarceration of a Christian minister that undermines the justice system, not the other way around, explaining, “Imposing upon a pastor the condition of his release that he not pastor…that is an embarrassment to the courts,” as well as “a stain on the administration of justice.”
Kitchen told the judge that the undertaking Coates was asked to sign was a violation of his religious beliefs. He said his client didn’t sign the undertaking because of a basic “inability to agree to the condition of release that was imposed upon him,” and that Coates ought to be released without condition.
This is a matter of deep-seeded personal conscience and religious beliefs for Pastor Coates. He is unable to disobey the God he believes in. He is compelled to obey…as [are] his congregants.
As for the Crown, since most of what Kitchen was speaking against were previous submissions, she was generally inactive throughout the affair. She made a short submission saying the original justice of the peace made no errors, and again that releasing him would be a danger to the public, saying, “The one condition that was imposed is directly related to the behaviors that come under the prohibition of the Public Health Act orders.”
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