Alberta Health Services closed GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton.
In an emailed statement to TBEN News on Wednesday morning, the RCMP confirmed they were on the scene, helping AHS shut down the church under section 62.1 of the Alberta Public Health Act.
At 8:30 a.m., police vehicles and unmarked SUVs blocked the entrances to the church parking lot.
In a press release, AHS said it has “physically closed” the church and has prevented access until the church “can demonstrate its ability to comply with the restrictions of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Alberta ”.
“ Draconian and aggressive application ”
Lawyer John Carpay called the closure of the church scandalous.
“I am very disappointed to see this kind of draconian and aggressive enforcement of health orders when those health orders themselves are challenged in court,” Carpay told TBEN News.
“It shows a very aggressive government that does not answer questions about its policies but wants to push its weight and try to make an example of GraceLife Church.”
Carpay said he had not yet spoken to Pastor James Coates and was not sure what would happen next Sunday. He speculated that there would still be a worship service held in another building.
University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle said she expects worshipers to stage some form of protest on Sunday.
She applauded the closure but questioned the timing.
“I think it is worrying that the government and law enforcement allowed two services to take place over the Easter weekend,” Hardcastle said. “Especially with the variants we now know circulating quite widely in Edmonton.”
Hundreds of services attended
The church has been at the center of a protracted battle over the application of COVID-19.
Since December, he has repeatedly defied public order, with hundreds attending services. Services continued despite a shutdown order issued by AHS in January.
Provincial regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 limit in-person church attendance to 15% of capacity and require caregivers to physically distance themselves and wear masks.
AHS said it had tried to work collaboratively with the church for months to resolve ongoing public health issues.
Actions taken before Wednesday’s physical shutdown include:
- An order issued by AHS on Dec. 17 requiring the church to comply with restrictions ordered by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
- A Court of Queen’s Bench order was obtained on Jan.21 requiring the church to comply with the previous order.
- A closure order issued Jan. 29 requiring closure until restrictions are met.
- On March 27, AHS sent a letter to Coates providing it with information on the continued spread of COVID-19.
- Last week, AHS invited Coates to meet virtually to discuss the risks presented by COVID-19, but the church did not provide a date to meet.
GraceLife Church “has decided not to follow these mandatory restrictions, nor has it attempted to work with AHS to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” AHS said in a press release.
“With the increase in COVID-19 cases and the easier-to-transmit and potentially the most serious variants becoming dominant, there is an urgent need to minimize the spread to protect all Albertans.”
Pastor previously charged, imprisoned
Between July 10 of last year and Tuesday of this week, AHS said it received 105 complaints from the public about the church.
AHS said inspectors had carried out 18 inspections at the site since July 10, 2020 and that violations were observed on each visit.
Coates was charged in February with violating COVID-19 public health orders.
After being charged, Coates was jailed for refusing to comply with a bail condition that he only held services in accordance with public health orders. In early March, his lawyers appealed, arguing that it would go against the pastor’s conscience before God not to lead the faithful.
Coates spent 35 days in custody before pleading guilty to a bail violation charge and was fined $ 1,500. He returned to the pulpit on March 28.
The church has also been accused as an entity of exceeding the capacity allowed during Sunday services in February.
Stay tuned for app changes: Kenney
Asked about repeated law enforcement breaches by Coates and the church, Prime Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday that stricter enforcement of restrictions may be needed to tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases.
He said Albertans who violate public health measures are undermining efforts to curb the spread of the virus, but changes to law enforcement would not be driven by political decisions.
“As you know, in our country, politicians do not and should not direct the operational decisions of the enforcement of police and law enforcement agencies,” the prime minister said in an interview. tuned to TBEN radio. “There must be a separation there.”
Kenney said many law enforcement officials had suffered “a lot of abuse” while trying to crack down on rule breakers.
“I think our law enforcement officers, whether they were arrests or arrested officers, the police force, have been very patient during a difficult time in trying to achieve compliance. through education, voluntary compliance and the use of sanctions as a last resort.
“But I understand that there may be some action ahead. And in some cases, I would just say stay tuned.”