FRASER VALLEY, BC: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is pleased to announce that the Crown has dropped 24 Covid tickets totalling $55,200, issued in connection with public health orders to the Justice Centre’s clients. Three Pastors of BC churches: Pastor John Koopman of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, Pastor James Butler of Free Grace Baptist Church and Pastor Timothy Champ of Valley Heights Community Church, participated in worship services with stringent safety protocols in place beginning in November 2020. Because of BC's total prohibition on all worship services, even where safety precautions were strictly adhered to, police began ticketing these churches for meeting weekly to worship starting in December 2020 and continuing halfway into 2021.
For participating in worship in accordance with their religious beliefs, while implementing the same safety measures applicable to other in-person settings that were legal in BC, such as indoor gatherings in stores, restaurants and gyms, Pastor Koopman was facing charges on 23 tickets totaling $52,900, Pastor Butler on 25 tickets totalling $57,500, and Pastor Champ on 18 tickets totalling $41,400.
On May 4 and May 6, 2022, approximately one year after the last tickets were issued, the Crown directed a stay of proceedings of the charges against the pastors as follows: Pastor Koopman saw 7 tickets dropped; Pastor Butler saw 11 tickets dropped; and Pastor Champ saw 6 tickets dropped, for a total of 24 tickets withdrawn. There are still more than 20 tickets issued against pastors and churches in the Fraser Valley that remain outstanding. The Justice Centre will vigorously defend pastors and churches against these charges in future appearances in Provincial Court.
Before the stays issued on May 4 and 6, 2022, the Crown had, prior to February 17, 2022, stayed 25 other tickets issued to BC pastors. To date, the Crown has dropped more than four dozen tickets issued to BC churches represented by the Justice Centre.
“All levels of government, including politicians, health officials and law enforcement, have the duty to respect the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians. In response to Covid, there has been a serious failure of government officials and authorities in BC to respect the Charter freedoms of BC residents,” says Justice Centre lawyer Marty Moore.
“BC discriminated against houses of worship, prohibiting them from meeting for worship regardless of the safety measures they implemented. Twenty-five people could attend an indoor workout class, 50 people could go to a support group, but not even five people were permitted to gather for religious worship in a church, masjid, gurdwara, temple or synagogue under the provincial health orders,” concludes Mr. Moore. “The Justice Centre is committed to defending the constitutional freedoms of all Canadians, including their freedom to worship and right to equal treatment under the law.”