JUBILATION among Christians over the recent release from jail of a pastor who refused to comply with Alberta COVID-19 mandates turned to fury yesterday when authorities began erecting a barrier around his church.
Close to 50 people showed up to support the church throughout the morning while several others drove by shouting support for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the closure of the building.
AHS issued a statement Wednesday announcing it had physically closed GraceLife Church and was preventing access to the building. It said the closure will remain in effect until GraceLife can demonstrate an ability to comply with public health restrictions.
The church’s closure came after it held two packed services over Easter weekend, in violation of a closure order issued in January for previously flouting COVID-19 restrictions.
Pastor James Coates, who has led several services in recent months, was ticketed in December and then jailed in February for 35 days after refusing to follow court orders.
In its statement, AHS listed several steps taken prior to the physical closure, including an order issued on December 17 requiring GraceLife to comply with restrictions issued by the chief medical officer of health. A Court of Queen’s Bench Order obtained on January 21 required GraceLife to comply with the previous order.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which has been representing Coates in court, said in a statement it is “outraged” by the Alberta government’s decision to enter a private church and put up a double barrier around its exterior.
JCCF President John Carpay, above, said in an email:
Freedom of conscience and religion is the first fundamental freedom listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is listed first because it is one of the key bedrock principles on which Canada is built. The government has so far refused to justify the limits on worship and gathering.
Churches are allowed to open at 15 per cent of fire code capacity as long as masks are worn and people from different households stay two metres apart. GraceLife has been found in violation of each of these restrictions.
Between laast July 10 and April 6, AHS received 105 complaints about the church from the public. Inspectors conducted 18 inspections since July 10 and observed violations during each visit.
AHS said the church:
Has decided not to follow these mandatory restrictions, nor have they attempted to work with AHS to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. With COVID-19 cases increasing and the more easily-transmitted and potentially more severe variants becoming dominant, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans.
Coates received a $1,500 fine for violating a court undertaking, which was paid through time served. The church has been charged as an entity, and is scheduled to go to trial in May. Coates has one outstanding ticket before the court that he is planning to fight in May after other charges against him were dropped.
The closure came on the heels of Premier Jason Kenney’s Tuesday announcement that Alberta was reverting back to Step 1 of its public health restriction framework in order to curb the growing spread of COVID-19 and variant cases.
Far-right Christian website LifeSiteNews reported that Sheila Gunn Reid, above, an ultra-conservative hack working for Rebel News tweeted that:
RCMP and private Paladin security are here. RCMP have no documentation to present to the church re: closure, but are keeping members off the property.
In a Rebel News video she described the action, and the screening of the church with black tarpaulin as “one of the worst days in Alberta.” She suggested that the black barrier is intended to make the church invisible.
She then tweeted:
If only the cops dealt with crack houses as effectively as churches where Christians are trying to pray.
Reid also told LSN :
They’re installing port-a-potties on the site, which may be in anticipation of 24 hour survelliance.
Or perhaps they are there for those full-of-shit supporters of James Coates like Ms Reid.
Reid also tweeted :
The government is so hell-bent on enforcing the closure notice that they are now blocking the shared driveway access to a private landowner next door. The landowner next door cannot access their own property because the state raided GraceLife church.
And she wrote here that had Christ followed COVID-19 restriction, at least in Alberta where gatherings are restricted to just ten people:
the Last Supper would have resulted in Jesus and his apostles being issued tickets for $1,200 apiece.
In a lengthy statement, the church says:
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.
As such, we believe love for our neighbor demands that we exercise our civil liberties. We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along.
If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end – the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections. Our local church is clear evidence that governmental lockdowns are unnecessary. In fact, it is also evidence of how harmful they are. Without going into detail, we recently lost the life of one of our precious congregants who was denied necessary health care due to government lockdown measures.