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Rural church near Edmonton ordered to close for breaking COVID-19 rules after December warning

GraceLife Church of Edmonton, located just outside the city limits on Highway 627 in Parkland County, on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Eric Beck, Global News

A Christian church on the outskirts of Edmonton that has defied Alberta’s COVID-19 rules for several weeks in a row has been ordered to close, after ignoring a warning issued in December.

The closure order dated Friday was issued to GraceLife Church Of Edmonton, located just outside the city limits on Highway 627 in Parkland County, and Pastor James Coates.

The parking lot of the facility next to the Edmonton Corn Maze has been consistently full for several Sundays in January, even after Alberta Health Services issued a work order on Dec. 17.

The crowded parking lot of Grace Life Church Of Edmonton in Parkland County, on Sunday, January 17, 2021. Supplied to Global News

The AHS order directed the church to “immediately” ensure congregants were wearing face coverings when in the building, ensure members of different households keep at least two metres apart, provide AHS with information about the building’s capacity and to not exceed the limit of 15 per cent of total capacity at any one time.

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Read more: COVID-19: AHS inspection finds Edmonton-area church broke numerous public health rules

The December work order also required a Relaunch Plan Template to be filled out: outlining all activities that take place in the church, including meetings and other gatherings, details of risk mitigation measures to be implemented to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and the process by which they will monitor the number of people inside the church.

The church was supposed to do that by Dec. 19, but as of Friday AHS said one had not been submitted for review.

The crowded parking lot of Grace Life Church Of Edmonton in Parkland County, on Sunday, January 17, 2021. Supplied to Global News

A Court Of Queen’s Bench Order enforcing the December warning was granted on Jan. 21, and AHS officials inspected the church during Sunday service this past weekend, noting the following violations:

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  • More than 290 people attending the church service on Jan. 24, in excess of the 15 per cent total operational occupancy load as per the Alberta Fire Code
  • Church attendees, staff/volunteers were observed unmasked in the church lobby and in the sanctuary
  • It appeared that church attendees, staff/volunteers were not maintaining at least two meters physical distancing from other households
  • The Relaunch Plan Template had not been submitted

AHS noted the above violations were only what inspectors saw, and may not necessarily reflected all Public Health Act violations.

Read more: Rural Alberta businesses open for in-person dining, not following mask rules despite restrictions

The crowded parking lot of Grace Life Church Of Edmonton in Parkland County, on Sunday, January 17, 2021. Supplied to Global News

An undated notice on the church’s website and front door was still posted on Friday, saying due to the current Alberta chief medical officer of health order, the facility was open and available to members in good standing of GraceLife Church, regular adherents and those in process of membership, but access to general public, including visitors, was temporarily restricted.

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Grace Life Church Of Edmonton, located just outside the city limits on Highway 627 in Parkland County, on Friday, January 29, 2021. Eric Beck, Global News

On Friday, Pastor Coates was ordered to close the church to the public immediately, including to all congregants, church members or attendees.

He was ordered to keep the church closed until it submitted its relaunch plan detailing how it plans to comply with the public health order issued on Dec. 17.

At that time, RCMP issued a $1,200 ticket to Pastor Coates under Section 73.1 of the Public Health Act, which Parkland RCMP Const. Shelley Nasheim said the church has until March 25 to pay.

Read more: Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8

RCMP plan to attend the church with AHS officials on Sunday, RCMP communications Cpl. Laurel Scott said, adding the RCMP’s role will be to observe and ensure a peaceful interaction as it is not the lead agency on the investigation.

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Global News also called and emailed GraceLife Church, but as of publishing had not received a reply.

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