VANCOUVER:: The Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms announced today that it will be challenging more than a dozen $2300 tickets given to different British Columbia individuals and faith communities, all for allegedly violating COVID public health orders.
The Justice Centre represents the following individuals and faith communities from across the province of British Columbia:
Free Grace Baptist Church
Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack
Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church
Kelowna Harvest Fellowship
Riverside Calvary Chapel
Valley Heights Community Church
100 Mile House Baptist Church
The Province of B.C., specifically Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, has made orders prohibiting people from organizing or attending “events” “except as provided for” in her Orders.
This has resulted in individuals being ticketed while exercising their Charter rights to peacefully protest because they did not comply with various requirements in the Orders, such as collecting the first and last names and contact information of fellow protestors.
Further, in-person worship services have been completely prohibited, regardless of the extra safety measures implemented by the faith community. Pastors and faith communities have been issued whopping fines for holding religious services despite having gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with health guidelines, including limiting attendance to no more than 50 persons, pre-registering attendees, rearranging seating to ensure physical distancing, providing hand sanitizer and masks and enhancing cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
Many members of faith communities cannot access online services. For these individuals, gathering in-person is essential to their spiritual and emotional well-being, especially to cope with the negative effects of lockdowns. Support groups have been allowed to remain open, yet the government of BC has warned: “Do not attend a service at a church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, temple, or other places of worship”. These severe measures are being imposed on BC residents, while the BC government allows hundreds of people to gather at any given time in a Walmart or Costco. The government allows residents to gather and seat six at a table at bars and restaurants.
On January 7, 2021, the Justice Centre filed a Petition challenging the BC governments' lockdown Orders on the basis that they unjustifiably violate the rights and freedoms of BC residents protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; and the rights to life, liberty and security of the person as well as equality rights.
The Petition also challenges the Orders on the basis that they are unreasonable and exceed Dr. Bonnie Henry’s authority as Provincial Health Officer.
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right of citizens to protest and to gather for religious worship and puts the onus on government to show that any infringement of Charter freedoms is justified in the circumstances,” notes Marty Moore, Justice Centre staff lawyer.
“Individuals across the province of BC have been issued significant fines for responsibly exercising their fundamental Charter rights and freedoms,” states Mr. Moore. “The Justice Centre’s legal team will be challenging each of these tickets in court. COVID-19 does not cancel Canadians’ constitutional rights."