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Alberta government wanted to censor GraceLife church pastor on trial: lawyer

Click to play video: 'Trial begins for James Coates, the GraceLife pastor fighting COVID-19 restrictions' Trial begins for James Coates, the GraceLife pastor fighting COVID-19 restrictions
The trial of GraceLife Church pastor James Coates began Monday morning in an Edmonton courtroom. On Day 1 of his trial for a public health code violation ticket, the pastor took the stand in his own defence and said restrictions violate his charter rights. Fletcher Kent has more – May 3, 2021

A lawyer for an Alberta pastor accused of violating COVID-19 rules says the province’s health agency decided to penalize the church leader as a way to censor him.

James Kitchen has told the trial of James Coates in Edmonton that his client was charged the same day he preached a sermon criticizing Alberta’s leadership on the pandemic.

Read more: ‘Compliance with AHS is noncompliance with God’: Alberta pastor testifies at trial

The congregation of GraceLife Church in Parkland County, west of Edmonton, on Dec. 13, 2020.
The congregation of GraceLife Church in Parkland County, west of Edmonton, on Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Alberta Health Services

Coates was ticketed on Dec. 20, 2020, under the Public Health Act after health inspectors said he held services at GraceLife Church that ignored capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

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The church in Parkland County, just west of Edmonton city limits, has been fenced off and guarded by 24-hour security for nearly a month, after AHS ordered it physically closed.

Security and police block the entrance to GraceLife Church as a fence goes up around it near Edmonton on Wednesday April 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Kitchen says it’s not a coincidence that Coates received a ticket on the same day he preached a sermon critical of the way Premier Jason Kenney was handling the COVID-19 crisis.

The lawyer says health inspectors had come to multiple services before that and had noted violations of COVID-19 regulations in their reports.

He says inspectors had also come on the morning of Dec. 20 before Coates gave his sermon, but it wasn’t until after he was done preaching that RCMP officers showed up to ticket him.

Read more: Large crowd gathers at GraceLife Church to protest closure

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Kitchen says public-health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 have violated the pastor’s charter rights to freedom of expression, assembly and worship.

Kitchen is a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, an advocacy group representing Coates.

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