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After B.C. church fined for holding service, some question if order violates Charter rights

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Some B.C. churches defy public health orders' Coronavirus: Some B.C. churches defy public health orders
At least three Lower Mainland churches have defied the order by Dr. Bonnie Henry to shut down. As Sarah MacDonald reports, they argue their right to worship trumps the doctor's orders – Nov 30, 2020

A Langley church fined over the weekend for defying COVID-19 orders and holding Sunday Morning Service said that might not be an isolated event.

“We feel like if we have grounds to stand on then we don’t feel like we should close,” Cole Smith, a youth pastor at Riverside Calvary Church, told Global News Monday, reading a statement from the church’s lead pastor.

Click to play video 'Does religious freedom trump public health?' Does religious freedom trump public health?
Does religious freedom trump public health? – Nov 30, 2020

He confirmed lawyers are now involved.

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“We certainly are not looking for a fight, we just believe there has been many inconsistencies with what is essential and we simply decide to worship our Lord,” Smith added.

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The church was fined $2,300 as all in-person services are currently suspended until at least Dec. 7.

Click to play video 'B.C. churches defy COVID-19 restrictions by holding weekend services' B.C. churches defy COVID-19 restrictions by holding weekend services
B.C. churches defy COVID-19 restrictions by holding weekend services – Nov 29, 2020

 

“If there is data that churches relate to rising COVID cases then I’ll give it another thought,” Smith added on behalf of the lead pastor.

Last week, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there had been transmission in such settings.

Read more: Langley, B.C., church fined for violating COVID-19 restrictions

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Lawyer Marty Moore, with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said many are grappling with whether the provincial order suspending in-person religious services violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right of faith communities to gather in worship. Faith communities have gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with these new measures, they care about their members but of course, for many Canadians, it’s essential for their emotional and spiritual well-being to attend weekly services,” Moore said.

He added it’s confusing for many Canadians who are able to still go to a restaurant and attend a business meeting but can’t attend a religious service and said it is “discriminatory treatment.”

“For the government to justify that, I think it’s a steep hill for them to climb,” Moore said.

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. homeowner hit with $2,300 fine for hosting poker party

He said a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States struck down an order in New York to limit religious gatherings.

“The order that Dr. Bonnie Henry has issued is categorical across the province, it is not narrowly tailored to a particular situation or outbreak,” Moore added, saying there is a “serious constitutional concern.”

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