Advertisement

Appeal of ban on in-person religious gatherings filed in B.C.’s top court

Click to play video: 'Churches considering appeal of court ruling upholding ban on in-person religious services' Churches considering appeal of court ruling upholding ban on in-person religious services
WATCH: (March 19, 2021) Three B.C. churches say they're considering an appeal of a decision by BC Supreme Court that upholds the provincial government's ban on in-person services. Nadia Stewart reports – Mar 19, 2021

B.C.’s ban on in-person religious gatherings is headed to the province’s top court.

Earlier this month, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the ban did infringe on religious rights guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that the infringement was reasonable.

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. Supreme Court upholds provincial ban on in-person religious services

Paul Jaffe, the lawyer for a group that includes a trio of Fraser Valley churches that continued to hold services through the winter, in violation of the order, said he filed a notice of appeal Wednesday with the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Jaffe said his clients never disputed that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was being reasonable in responding to a surge in new infections with stricter health restrictions.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'B.C. churches struggle with new government shut-down of indoor services' B.C. churches struggle with new government shut-down of indoor services
B.C. churches struggle with new government shut-down of indoor services – Mar 30, 2021

“What was at issue, though, is that the orders distinguish between religious and secular gatherings, a distinction which was an issue,” he said.

“And unfortunately, the judgment didn’t really address that.”

Jaffe said the province never provided evidence showing transmission was more likely in a church than in a school or a grocery store, and he said allowing people to continue to gather in those other places amounts to religious discrimination.

Read more: Lawyer for B.C. churches says in-person gatherings important to religious freedom

He also argued the ruling set a low bar for Henry’s office to show that its orders were reasonable. He said that could incentivize governments that seek to infringe on people’s rights to try and do them through bureaucrats offices.

Story continues below advertisement

“To give them a back-door exit from an effective constitutional challenge,” he said.

It was not immediately clear when the appellate court would hear the case.

Last week, Henry amended her order on religious gatherings to permit groups to gather outdoors with safety protocols in place.

Henry also announced plans to low limited indoor services for the major upcoming religious holidays — only to scrap that variance on Monday, amid surging new COVID-19 case numbers.

Sponsored content