While James Coates made a triumphant return to his congregation last Sunday after spending over a month in jail, taking the pulpit to the joyous cheers of his congregants, some drama was brewing outside the church building.
While the mainstream media showed up with no fewer than six security guards and filmed across the street, having not been granted access to the church property, one reporter, Shelia Gunn Reid of Rebel news was granted access and filmed the sequence of events.
Just as service started, and as Pastor Coates was about to begin his message of thanks, which we transcribed here, two police officers and a Provincial Health Inspector approached and sought entry to the building, explaining that they needed to investigate what was happening inside the church. They insisted entering was necessary to determine whether or not they were in violation of the health orders by being over the allowed 15% capacity. This information was passed on to James.
It was also unique behavior from the police, who for the last 5 weeks did not step foot on church property, but only did so once James returned. As a result, Pastor Coates had to sit through the entire service fearful that they were to arrest him again as soon as the service ended, with that thought rolling through his mind the entire time. Thankfully, they were not coming for him.
Accordingly, the church denied both the officers and the inspector entry to their building, citing section 176 of the Criminal Code which says:
(2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction.
The police and the elders engaged in a bit of back and forth, trying to explain to the police that them entering walking around would disrupt the service. One of the elders in training (EIT. We know his name but choose not to share it) explains:
EIT: That’s why we can’t let you in. Because Criminal Code 176 makes it illegal for you to interrupt a worship service. And our worship service has begun, and we’re stating to you very clearly that your presence in this building will be interrupting our worship service.
Police: How so?
EIT: Because your presence intimidates our people.
Police: That’s your perception.
EIT. No. It’s not about perception. Our people understand that you guys, and again, we respect the work you do in the community, we respect police officers. In our worship services right now people are praying, people are singing, or they’re listening to the word of God be preached, and they can’t do that with your presence in the building.
OEIT: And with all due respect, the law has now put our pastor in prison. And so for the RCMP to come into the service is absolutely a disruption. We have seen the arm of law enforcement come against us, so to come into our building is absolutely intimidation at this point, that’s why we can’t let you in…You will be interrupting. That’s a fact. We are standing firm on Criminal Code 176 that protects these rights.
The police insisted they were not there to interrupt anything, that’s it was not their intent to do so, making the bold, laughable claim that it’s “all about intent” and that so long as they *don’t intend* to disrupt the church, then no disruption is possible.
The church members insisted they would be interrupted, regardless of their intent. This is true with how their church is laid out, with rows of people in the entrance as they spill out outside the sanctuary.
The congregants spoke to the health inspector and informed him that he did not need to enter the building to know that clearly, they were non-compliant based on the number of cars in the parking lot and the fact that some people just off to the side were not standing 6 feet apart. One of the volunteers to the inspector informed him that they had 614 people in the service, far above the limit, and that he was free to observe people leaving after the fact to make that determination.
An officer eventually resolved the situation by agreeing not to enter the building but informed them there was potential for criminal charges on account of their refusal to let them into the church.
At the end of the day, the Public Health act says we access to go into the building. If you don’t want us to go into the building that’s fine, but you’re accepting the fact you’re denying us access to the building. So if you deny access to the building, there’s potential for criminal charges or potential for additional terms. So that being said, we’re gonna respect the fact that you guys don’t want to split the church, we’re not going to go into the church.
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