Advertisement

Edmonton-area church charged for over-capacity services during COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Judge rules GraceLife Church pastor will remain behind bars' Judge rules GraceLife Church pastor will remain behind bars
WATCH (March 5): Pastor James Coates will stay in the Edmonton Remand Centre while he waits for his trial. A judge ruled the pastor at GraceLife Church is subject to the rule of law and the church’s repeated violations of capacity limits represent a threat to the public. Fletcher Kent has more. – Mar 5, 2021

Legal counsel for GraceLife Church was served March 4 with a summons to attend Stony Plain Provincial Court on May 5 in connection with COVID-19 public health orders.

The church, which is west of Edmonton, was charged “as an entity” for exceeding the 15 per cent allowable capacity for services held on Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, Parkland RCMP said in a news release on March 10.

Being over 15 per cent capacity broke section 73(1) of the Public Health Act.

Read more: How Canadian Charter rights are playing into Alberta pastor’s fight against COVID-19 charges

In order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, Alberta enacted restrictions on gatherings, including limiting faith services to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy for in-person attendance, mandating physical distance between households and mandatory face coverings.

Story continues below advertisement

“The Parkland RCMP supported the AHS investigation at GraceLife Church this past Sunday,” RCMP said Wednesday.

“The church was non-compliant with the public health order in that it was over the allowed capacity.”

“The RCMP members were present for public safety and to support AHS, and did not go inside the church.”

The investigation continues “by AHS and supported by the Parkland RCMP.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Alberta’s top doctor discusses situation surrounding GraceLife Church near Edmonton' COVID-19: Alberta’s top doctor discusses situation surrounding GraceLife Church near Edmonton
COVID-19: Alberta’s top doctor discusses situation surrounding GraceLife Church near Edmonton – Feb 18, 2021

 

“If you have any sort of legal status as a collective organization — corporation, a church, as in this case, a non-profit society, whatever it might be — you potentially face liability for the same range of offences that individuals face liability for,” explained Steven Penney, a law professor at the University of Alberta.

Story continues below advertisement

“You can’t put an organization in jail; that can only occur for individuals.

“Certain other punishments are only possible with respect to individuals, but other punishments such as fines or other orders or requirements to do things or to not do things, those are perfectly applicable to organizations as well as to individuals,” Penney said.

Read more: Edmonton-area pastor accused of violating public health orders to remain in jail until trial

The pastor of the church was charged with violating Alberta’s Public Health Act and with breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release, which is covered under the Criminal Code.

GraceLife Church has been holding services that officials say break public-health orders on attendance, masking and distancing.

On Friday, a judge ruled that James Coates will remain in jail until his trial this spring because religious beliefs are not above public health orders.

Coates had been in jail for more than two weeks and was appealing his bail conditions.

Click to play video: 'Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules' Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules
Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules – Feb 21, 2021

Penney explained the charges against the pastor and the church are separate and distinct, “even if you have sort of the same person who might ultimately be considered responsible for the conduct that’s been prohibited.

Story continues below advertisement

“In terms of proving that the organization — ie: the church — has committed this offence, has defied the order of the relevant authorities, that the prosecution will have to go about proving that through various forms of evidence, but any actual responsibility or liability or punishment will attach to the organization itself, and not to the individuals, unless of course, a person or persons is separately charged,” he said.

“You can take issue with the law, you can challenge the law, you could put up various defences — all of that’s legitimate,” Penney added.

“But, at the end of the day, if you have knowingly and willfully breached a law, then there’s potentially going to be consequences for that. That’s the way our society works.”

Sponsored content