Alberta Premier asked to release jailed pastor, end religious persecution

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms today asked Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to rescind the health orders of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, which unfairly discriminate as between restaurants and houses of worship. 

The Justice Centre’s letter concerns Edmonton-area pastor James Coates, who is currently in jail for exercising his Charter freedoms of conscience, religion, association and peaceful assembly.

The letter also challenges Premier Kenney to assume responsibility for protecting the Charter rights and freedoms of Albertans, and cease allowing the Chief Medical Officer to violate them by health orders that are not reviewed by, or approved by, the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The Justice Centre is representing Grace Life Church (Grace Life), a large church near Edmonton, and its pastor James Coates. The congregants of Grace Life hold strongly to their religious beliefs regarding the necessity of gathering in-person to worship and to minister to each other through fellowship and corporate prayer and worship, exercising their Charter freedoms peacefully.  Alberta Health Services (AHS) has ticketed Pastor Coates, taken Grace Life and Pastor Coates to court, and even attempted to completely shut the Church down. Background information on Pastor Coates’ ordeal is available here.

On February 7, Pastor Coates held church as usual. After the service, RCMP presented him with an undertaking to agree to not contravene the public health orders of Dr. Deena Hinshaw by ceasing to hold church as he had been. He did not agree to the undertaking. At that point, the RCMP were supposed to take him immediately before a Justice of the Peace, but the RCMP did not do so.

Pastor Coates again held church on Sunday February 14. On Monday, February 15, the RCMP asked Pastor Coates to turn himself in, and Pastor Coates did so. The RCMP charged him with contravening the public health orders, and with breaching an undertaking, even though he did not agree to the undertaking. The bail hearing took place on Tuesday, February 16. The Crown Prosecutor asked the court to keep Pastor Coates in jail until his trial, which will be at least several weeks away. The Justice of the Peace ordered Pastor Coates released on the condition that he stop holding church services, a condition he could not, in good conscience, agree to. Pastor Coates is currently in jail, awaiting trial, as he will not be released unless he agrees to the condition, or the Prosecutor agrees to withdraw the condition.
The Justice Centre is appealing this imprisonment of an Alberta pastor to the Court of Queen’s Bench.