GraceLife takes Alberta Health Services to court, seeking return of Church
EDMONTON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms today announced that GraceLife Church (Grace Life), Pastor James Coates, and three church congregants (the Grace Life Applicants) have filed a court application against Alberta Health Services (AHS), Health Minister Tyler Shandro, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, to force the government to return the building and grounds of the Church.
On April 7, 2021, RCMP entered the property of GraceLife Church, under the direction of AHS, allegedly under the executive order of Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro. With paid security and AHS in attendance, RCMP seized the building and put up three layers of fences and barricades around the building and the surrounding property. For over two months, the Alberta Government has possessed GraceLife’s church building and kept the doors guarded, preventing the exercise of Charter-guaranteed rights and freedoms to worship, associate, and assemble at the building.
Pastor Coates and GraceLife, which is southwest of Edmonton, are charged with violating the Public Health Act for having held normal church services from November 2020 through until Easter Sunday, 2021. Pastor Coates spent one month and six days in jail before his release on March 22, 2021, because he would not sign a bail agreement to stop pastoring his church according to the congregation’s belief that it must gather as an entire corporate body for worship services.
The congregants of GraceLife have continued to gather for Sunday morning worship, but now do so “underground” at different secret locations each week.
The GraceLife Applicants contend the public health restrictions on worship violate their rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, liberty, and security of the person as protected by sections 2 and 7 of the Charter. In addition to asking the Court to strike down the public health restrictions, the GraceLife Applicants are seeking the immediate return of their building and an order from the court prohibiting law enforcement and government agents from attempting to break up or disrupt worship services.
Three congregants of GraceLife Church, Dr. Donna Klay, Achnes Smith, and Allan Neil, have joined the Church and Pastor Coates in asking the Court to uphold their constitutional rights by reversing the government’s seizure of their church building.
Expert reports have been filed in support of this court challenge from medical professionals and scientists including: esteemed virologist and immunologist, Dr. Byram Bridle; an expert pathologist; in addition to a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist. These extensive expert reports include scientific evidence that asymptomatic transmission is negligible, that masks are ineffective and irrational, and that capacity limits of church gatherings are also irrational and have no basis in science.
The Justice Centre will also be appealing the June 7 decision of Alberta Provincial Court Judge Robert Shaigec, who ruled that the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of Pastor Coates did not violate his Charter rights and freedoms, and that ticketing Pastor Coates for leading a regular worship service did not violate freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, and association.
Meanwhile, dates will be set for the remainder of Pastor Coates’ trial on June 30, 2021. The remaining portion of the trial, which involves a challenge to the constitutionality and legality of Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s lockdown restrictions, would normally have coincided with the first part of the trial.
Over the objections of Justice Centre lawyers, Alberta Provincial Court granted an adjournment because government lawyers were not yet prepared to present any medical or scientific evidence in court, after more than a year of lockdowns. Government lawyers have now proposed that the second phase of the trial be put off for many more months, until after the Justice Centre’s lockdown challenge in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench proceeds to a hearing in late September 2020.
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes personal individual liberty as the default law in Canada, and requires governments to justify demonstrably – with compelling evidence – any law, policy or health order that violates any of our fundamental freedoms to move, travel, associate, worship, assemble, and express ourselves. This very basic constitutional requirement has been ignored completely by governments at every level in the past 15 months, who have acted as though they are accountable to no one. Unfortunately, Alberta courts have so far permitted the government to delay facing accountability in regard to Charter violations,” states lawyer Jay Cameron, Litigation Director at the Justice Centre.
“Barricading GraceLife Church has everything to do with punishing dissent, and nothing to do with public safety. The Premier wines and dines his Cabinet at the Sky Palace with impunity, but church congregants cannot peacefully gather to pray together and worship on their own property in accordance with their conscience and in exercise of their constitutional freedoms," notes Mr. Cameron. 'In four weeks, literally tens of thousands of people will gather in Calgary for a massive rodeo party, but no one is allowed to enter GraceLife Church because it is “too dangerous'. Alberta has become a four-alarm civil liberties dumpster fire, and we are asking the judiciary to put it out.”