James Coates is the pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Canada who was jailed for refusing to comply with COVID-19 mandates issued by Alberta Health Services. The preacher is in custody following a series of health department inspections and requests to comply with coronavirus regulations.
Coates is represented by an attorney with The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, James Kitchen, who said in a statement the arrest is a violation of Coates’ rights. The church suspended in-person gatherings in the spring and returned in June. GraceLife has a congregation of about 400 people.
Kitchen told CTV News Coates is willing to stay behind bars to do the “right thing.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Coates’ Arrest Followed a Series of Court Orders & Inspections by the Alberta Health Department
Alberta Health Services inspector Janine Hanrahan issued an order against GraceLife in December, ordering members of the church and staff wear masks on the property, maintain six feet distance and operate at 15% or less capacity. On January 21, the health department filed court documents to enforce the order through the court system. It specified AHS had the power to jail the minister if he did not comply. At the end of January, AHS issued another order demanding he close the church until it was brought into compliance.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police visited Coates following church services twice in February, and told him he would be arrested. He turned himself in the following Tuesday, according to his lawyer, James Kitchen of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
Coates appeared in court for a bail hearing this week, and refused to comply with bail regulations, according to Todayville. His next court appearance is scheduled for February 24.
“We’ve been consistent in our approach of escalated levels of enforcement with Pastor Coates, and we were hopeful to resolve this issue in a different manner,” Inspector Mike Lokken told the news outlet. “The Pastor’s actions, and the subsequent effects those actions could have on the health and safety of citizens, dictated our response in this situation.”
Coates’ Attorney & Church Staff Said They Believe Gathering at Church Is a Right & a Necessity
Church staff issued a lengthy statement explaining their reasonings for refusing to comply with the orders. It says they have monitored the coronavirus among church members, and resumed livestream services after two congregants tested positive for 14 days. There was no transmission in the church, and they returned to in-person gatherings, the statement said.
“Having engaged in an immense amount of research, interacting with both doctors and frontline healthcare workers, it is apparent that the negative effects of the government lockdown measures on society far surpass the effects of COVID-19. The science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective. In fact, there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus. We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called ‘pandemic’ is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent,” the statement said.
Kitchen described the situation as Orwellian in his statement.
The congregants of Grace Life refuse to accept the Alberta Government’s dystopian ‘new normal.’ Their first loyalty is to obey their God, not government. They are committed to gathering, as they always have, for in-person worship services. They will challenge this excessive and unlawful government oppression rather than turn their back on their beliefs. They also believe they are lawfully exercising their Charter-protected freedoms and that the Government’s restrictions are not justifiable.
Governments never destroy civil liberties without pointing to some reason that sounds good, such as ‘safety’ or ‘equality.’ The very reason certain rights and freedoms are protected by the Charter is so that government cannot simply ignore those rights by merely asserting its actions are for a good cause. By continuing to exercise their Charter rights, despite the potentially dramatic consequences, Grace Life and Pastor Coates and bringing democratic accountability to bear on a government that appears indifferent to the societal harms of lockdowns and the dismantling of civil liberties.