A church service that took place at GraceLife Church on Dec. 13, 2020, in Spruce Grove, Alta., is shown in this handout image taken by an inspector with Alberta Health Services and provided by Alberta's provincial court. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Provincial Court of Alberta *

A church service that took place at GraceLife Church on Dec. 13, 2020, in Spruce Grove, Alta., is shown in this handout image taken by an inspector with Alberta Health Services and provided by Alberta's provincial court. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Provincial Court of Alberta *

The GraceLife Church trial concluded yesterday, with a big focus on day two being on whether or not Pastor James Coates was being punished and penalized by the province for making remarks critical of them, as well as whether the public health orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 violated the pastor’s charter rights to freedom of expression, to have worship, and to assemble.

During the trial, Coates’ defense sought to find a causal link between the initial ticket he received and the December 20 sermon he preached that was critical of the how Premier Jason Kenney’s government and Alberta Health Services (AHS) were handling the pandemic, with lawyer James Kitchen suggesting that not only did the COVID-19 restrictions infringe on his freedom to practice religion and the exercise thereof, but it violated his freedom of expression.

We know how important this is to Christians as soon as you look at any history in the Middle Ages or Roman times when the church was born…gathering in person was fundamental.

The defense argued that for weeks it was clear that their church was violating capacity limits and social distancing restrictions in the church, which were capped at 15%. During this time police officers and AHS inspectors visited the church on numerous occasions and stayed the whole time, but never issued any tickets.

It wasn’t until December 20th when Coates peached a sermon critical of the government that they received a ticket – something they find unlikely to be a coincidence.

“The purpose of the December 20th ticket was to censor, was to penalize. “Why? Because that particular morning he preached a sermon critical of government. It was to send a message that you better stop criticizing the government.”

Kitchen pointed out that up until that critical sermon, it was perfectly clear they were violating the shutdown laws, noting: “It was clear the 15 percent was exceeded long before he preached (that sermon). “Why issue the ticket after?”

He just preached a sermon that’s critical of the government, which is different than the other Sundays that RCMP and (Alberta Health Services) has shown up.

The best explanation for why that ticket was issued that particular Sunday after the sermon was preached because it’s meant to impose a chilling effect on pastor Coates. It was to send a message…’You better stop criticizing the government for what they’re doing.’

Prosecutor Karen L. Thorsrud shot back that there was no way they could prove that the ticket was granted on the basis of that critical sermon and that there was no evidence authorities interrupted the service or interfered with his ability to preach and pastor when they ticketed him initially. They had just simply had enough. In fact, she points out that he had live-streamed his services and was perfectly capable of doing it online, noting, “There are ways in which they can conduct all of these freedoms,” she said. “They chose not to.”

And thus concluded the trial, at least for the time being.

Now the judge has to determine if Coates’ rights were violated or not. If he determines that they were, he’ll have to decide what remedy the pastor is entitled to, along with forcing the Crown to prove that they were justified in violating his rights under Section 1 of the Charter.

The judge has over a month to make that determination, with the trial picking up again on June 7th where Judge Shaigec will give his ruling.

As the trial concluded, Erin Coates wrote on Instagram:


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