Advertisement

B.C. public health rules discriminate against churches, lawyer argues

Click to play video: 'B.C. Supreme Court hears arguments in church challenge of Public Health Orders' B.C. Supreme Court hears arguments in church challenge of Public Health Orders
A group of B.C. churches are challenging the B.C. Public Health Order prohibiting public gatherings, claiming those rules infringe on their Charter rights. Ted Chernecki reports – Mar 1, 2021

VANCOUVER — A lawyer for a group of British Columbia churches that are challenging the province’s COVID-19 rules prohibiting in-person religious services argued Monday the orders reflect a “value judgment.”

Paul Jaffe says the provincial health officer’s orders allow secular gatherings such as in-class education and food distribution for people in need to continue, while discriminating against the churches and their congregants’ right to freedom of religion.

Click to play video: 'More religious exemptions issued in B.C. amid possible health violations' More religious exemptions issued in B.C. amid possible health violations
More religious exemptions issued in B.C. amid possible health violations – Feb 27, 2021

He told the court his clients — which include the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — have been careful to adopt safety protocols similar to those approved by Henry in places that remain open.

Story continues below advertisement

Jaffe also argued the province has not provided medical justification showing that the virus is spreading through church services and posing a greater risk to the public than other activities that remain allowed, including outdoor assemblies over matters of public interest or controversy.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference last month that churches were operating with safety measures in place throughout the summer and fall, but as the pandemic worsened, so did transmission in faith settings.

Click to play video: 'Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders' Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders
Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders – Feb 26, 2021

Henry and the province have said they are confident the health orders are in accordance with the law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Hearings over the churches’ petition are set to continue Tuesday.

Jaffe works with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based legal advocacy group that’s also asking the court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for the alleged violations of the health orders by the churches.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: B.C. judge dismisses province’s application for injunction to stop in-person church services

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson dismissed an injunction request in February by Henry and B.C.’s attorney general, whose lawyers argued churchgoers who are breaking COVID-19 rules would be more likely to comply with a court order.

Hinkson said he did not condone the churches’ conduct and he was satisfied with the province’s argument that the public could suffer from transmission of the virus where people are unsafely attending gatherings.

Read more: Limited exemptions granted to some B.C. religious groups for in-person worship

But he said during a hearing that the province was putting the court in an “impossible position” before the churches’ own petition is heard this week.

Hinkson said he was also concerned that the administration of justice could be brought into disrepute if an injunction was granted but not enforced if the Crown found it would not be in the public interest to prosecute people who refused to adhere to it.

Sponsored content