A Kelowna church remains defiant in its refusal to abide by B.C.’s COVID-19 public health order prohibiting mass gatherings and said it will fight fines in court.
Kelowna Harvest Fellowship pastor Heather Lucier said her congregation gathered at the Harvey Ave., church on Sunday, but declined to say how many people were physically in attendance.
“We know it’s our charter constitutional right to gather and to worship,” she told Global News.
Lucier said the church’s parishioners abide by physical distancing guidelines and can wear masks if they choose, although it is not enforced.
“These unprecedented times that we are in, there are so many people that are in fear, concerned, depressed, suicidal, we actually had a girl a couple of weeks ago that was suicidal, and we had a chance to minister to her and just pray with her and she is alive,” Lucier said.
A Kelowna RCMP officer could be seen speaking with Lucier outside the building, but she was not immediately issued a fine.
Police have visited the church on three occasions since early December after pastors held large in-person gatherings, contrary to the provincial order in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Lucier did receive a $2,300 fine on Dec. 19, but said the church’s lawyers will fight the violation ticket in court.
“Our job, we feel in our church as pastors, is to care for our people, and to care for the needs of the people, and that is all we are trying to do,” she said.
“I went to the mall on Boxing Day and it was full. If we can do that, it doesn’t make sense then that we can’t gather to simply worship God.”
The Kelowna Harvest Fellowship is one of 16 churches and individuals going to court to fight B.C.’s ban on in-person religious services amid COVID-19.
“We want to do due diligence for what we can for our church, so receiving the fine, having it sent to our lawyers, letting them handle that part of it, we are just trying to have church,” Lucier said.
Marty Moore, a lawyer with the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing the group, said the ban on in-person religious services violates worshipers constitutional rights.
Section two of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.
Section one of the Charter also states that Canadians’ rights can be limited subject to “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
B.C. health officials have been insistent that the restrictions are reasonable given the risk of COVID-19, and documented cases of transmission in religious settings.
At her Thursday press briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province was talking with religious leaders about “how we can work together to support faith communities over the next few weeks, and how we can best find ways to safely come back together.”
On Thursday, B.C. extended COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on all social gatherings, until Feb. 5.
-With files from Simon Little