Pastor James Coates took the stand behind a clear plexiglass barrier yesterday, choosing to affirm his oath rather than swearing on a bible that he would tell the whole truth in regards to his one count of violating the Public Health Act while leading services at GraceLife Church.
During the course of the day, Coates stated that the province’s shutdown restrictions which cap his church capacity and insist on a host of uncomfortable and onerous remediations were an infringement of his and his congregants’ constitutional right to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly. He further argued that that the threat from the novel coronavirus was exaggerated, describing COVID-19 as a “so-called pandemic” and told the court “I don’t believe that COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to our people.”
He said the government was taking advantage of the situation and drastically blowing it out of proportion: “The government was capitalizing on the crisis to usher in an agenda that would transform the society as we know it…The real threat is AHS and its public health orders.”
It was revealed that while two members of GraceLife caught the virus early on, they ended up fine. He said that for the last 37 weeks, they’ve had no cases that they are aware of, even as they added hundreds of new people.
During cross-examination the prosecutor challenged this claim, arguing that he couldn’t prove that no one had gotten sick in all those months “You wouldn’t know whether someone was sick or not?” She said that some cases were asymptomatic and that James himself had questioned whether or not these tests were even reliable to begin with, and so he could have no way of knowing if that were true.
One thing that was made clear was that Coates took exception government’s handling of the whole affair, venting:
It’s the government that’s practicing civil disobedience and, at this point in time, there seems to be no accountability.
The government has been able to essentially do whatever it wants and you’ve got the media that just fearmonger the people into believing the COVID narrative, and the supreme law of the land, the Charter, is being ignored. The long-term ramifications of that toward this promising country are deeply concerning to me.”
Coates took the opportunity to reinforce the commandment of Acts 5:29 that says ‘We musts serve God rather than men:’
We determined that complying with AHS meant non-compliance with God so we decided, ‘OK, well, who would you rather be (in) noncompliance with? God, or AHS?’ And I think the choice is pretty simple.
While Coates testified a large portion of the day, Crown Prosecutor Karen L Thorsrud called only one witness: Janine Hanrahan with Alberta Health Services. She testified that during several of her visits in November and December of 2020 she observed multiple examples of risky behavior, such as no masks and no social distancing. She further testified that she made recommendations to him such as to use sanitizer, wear masks, having proper signage, and separate doors for entering and exiting the church, none of which were implemented.
Hanrahan also testified that during one of her inspection visits she overheard pastor Coates telling an RCMP officer that Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, was a “dictator” and that “Premier Jason Kenney was hiding behind her.” [Fact Check: True]
While being questioned she sought to downplay how intrusive her presence was to the church, while Lawyers for Coates painted it as a distraction.
According to a press release by the JCCF
“Lawyer Leighton Grey represents Pastor Coates and Grace Life Church, and cross-examined Ms. Hanrahan, asking the AHS bureaucrat why she took RCMP officers with her to the church. Notes from an RCMP officer indicate that Ms. Hanrahan told police that she feared being harmed by going to the church, but admitted on the stand that she did not have concerns that someone from church would harm her. Ms. Hanrahan then said that bringing the RCMP was because of media attention.”
For the church though, they wish it had never come to this, despite the prosecutor’s hints that attendance had gone up since they took their stance, suggesting their defiance was self-serving in order to grow. Coates denied this completely, lamenting:
We never wanted this public position that we’ve been given. It came to us. We’d happily resign all of it to be able to worship quietly on Sundays without all this attention.
The trial resumes today.