By Elizabeth Prata
Imagine being detained for something you intend to do. Not that you actually did, but only intended. And that intention was to go to church. In British Columbia you could be detained by the police for this intention. Thought police comes to mind. But first-
Intro and Review
Many Christians were following the legal situation with Grace Community Church (GCC) in Los Angeles, led by Pastor-Teacher John MacArthur. It was one of the first major showdowns between a government that’s hostile to Christianity in wanting to limit and/or shut down churches, using COVID-19 as their excuse, and a church standing up to those restrictions and shutdowns due to biblical worldview and personal conscience. There were other churches resisting, too, of course, but the GCC issue was reported nationally and became widespread news. As such, it turned into a de facto test case watched by many to see what would happen in the clash between mediating COVID health threats asserted by Health officials vs. religious freedoms asserted by churches.
Then came the situation with Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, province of Alberta Canada. He was threatened several times with non-compliance of COVID health mandates. Yet since those mandates severely restricted his ability to perform his God-given duties, he continued to perform them according to his conscience. Last week, he was finally arrested and remanded to a maximum security jail in Edmonton, housed with murderers, rapists, and other offenders who’d been denied bail. Coates was offered opportunity to go free, on condition Coates would comply with the restrictions, which again, in good conscience, he could not do. So in jail he remains.
Many in Canada are also watching this situation. As one reporter said, Coates’ incarceration violates their governmental Charter which protects religious freedoms, and also stands as a hypocritical action since the Province has been releasing many non-violent offenders for fear of COVID spread in jail’s close quarters. Some provinces were reporting a 25% decline in housed offenders from month to month. Yet in max security jail Coates sits, a non-violent offender. His attorney is seeking an appeal to the conditions of release.
The Iron Hammer of British Columbia’s restrictions
Now we turn to a different province in Canada, British Columbia (BC). The city of Vancouver is in BC. COVID-19 restriction fatigue seems to be hitting British Columbians harder than anywhere else. “In a poll released on Friday by Insights West, 34 per cent of respondents from British Columbia says they follow the pandemic restrictions all the time. The B.C. compliance rate is far lower than the national average, were 48 per cent of people claim to be following the rules all the time,” reports MSN News‘. In fact, a “‘Significant’ number of Canadians planning on breaking COVID-19 restrictions for spring break” a study finds. This is because the restrictions in BC have been severe and draconian, in my (and others’) opinions. “Some of the reasons given by respondents for breaking rules were pandemic fatigue, a need to boost mental health and a commitment to keeping a small bubble of social contacts” says the same article.
Why the exhaustion, pandemic fatigue, and increasing rule-breaking in BC?
The British Columbia (BC) government and health authorities have instituted even more severe restrictions than James Coates’ next door province, Alberta. In BC, NO church may hold in-person services. In Alberta, churches were ‘allowed’ to gather at a limiting 15% capacity. The BC Provincial government has banned weddings, funerals, celebrations of life, baptisms etc. A “gathering” is defined as 2 or more individuals together “in any place”. The Order even denies any “gathering” inside a private residence. Under the definitions, remember, a gathering is 2 or more people. You can read the latest Order here (January 8, 2021) which contains a number of severe restrictions to personal liberty and life. There’s more than just what I’ve posted. I had no idea things were SO restricted in British Columbia.
The January 8, 2021 Orders – which have been in place, extended and even strengthened since March 2020, give Health Officers vast authority to manage and even micromanage people’s lives, movements, and decisions. See the following below, lifted as a SMALL excerpt. There’s a lot more. Health Officials seem to have more authority over personal liberty and micromanaging intrusion into lives than even the police.
a health officer may order a person to do one or more of the following:
(a) have a thing examined, disinfected, decontaminated, altered or destroyed, including
(i) by a specified person, or under the supervision or instructions of a specified person,
(ii) moving the thing to a specified place, and
(iii) taking samples of the thing, or permitting samples of the thing to be taken;
(b) in respect of a place,
(i) leave the place,
(ii) not enter the place,
(iii) do specific work, including removing or altering things found in the place, and altering or locking the place to restrict or prevent entry to the place,
(iv) neither deal with a thing in or on the place nor dispose of a thing from the place, or deal with or dispose of the thing only in accordance with a specified procedure, and
(v) if the person has control of the place, assist in evacuating the place or examining persons found in the place, or taking preventive measures in respect of the place or persons found in the place;
(c) stop operating, or not operate, a thing;
(d) keep a thing in a specified place or in accordance with a specified procedure;
(e) prevent persons from accessing a thing;
(f) not dispose of, alter or destroy a thing, or dispose of, alter or destroy a thing only in accordance with a specified procedure;
(g) provide to the health officer or a specified person information, records, samples or other matters relevant to a thing’s possible infection with an infectious agent or contamination with a hazardous agent, including information respecting persons who may have been exposed to an infectious agent or hazardous agent by the thing;
(h) wear a type of clothing or personal protective equipment, or change, remove or alter clothing or personal protective equipment, to protect the health and safety of persons;
(i) use a type of equipment or implement a process, or remove equipment or alter equipment or processes, to protect the health and safety of persons;
(j) provide evidence of complying with the order, including
(i) getting a certificate of compliance from a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or specified person, and
(ii) providing to a health officer any relevant record;
(k) take a prescribed action.
Three British Columbia Pastors resist this awful tyranny
Now with respect to a layman and three pastors who are seeking relief through the courts: Alain Beaudoin, (layman), and Brent Smith, John Koopman, John Van Muyen, Riverside Calvary Chapel, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church, and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack. The men brought a complaint against the Crown and Dr Bonnie Henry, Provincial health official, to Judge Hinkson at the British Columbia Supreme Court on February 10, 2021. The men legally complained about the restrictions on their worship and church functions and sought relief from those restrictions. They seek “(a) robust protection for religious exercise to include in-person corporate worship and sacraments, (b) equal protection for religious exercise, not disadvantaging it in comparison with non-religious activities that raise similar public health risk”, among other reliefs. The remark about “equal protection” is related to the fact, perhaps for example, that Ski Resorts are open. This mother said “I Took My Family on a Ski Weekend During the Pandemic—It Was a Good Decision” in British Columbia. But mind you, no funerals!
Link to the Pastors’ actual legal Petition is below-
The Chilling Part
Though the court hearing for the petitioners is upcoming March 1, Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry could not wait until then for the Judge’s ruling. No, she is hot to squash these guys and their worship. She lodged an injunction against the men and by extension, their churches, on 6 points. Point #4 terrifyingly states that the police can detain any person (specifically naming the pastors in question, too) even INTENDING to go to a worship service.
Here is the actual language of the injunction lodged by the Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry (BC Supreme Court Docket #S210209 in Vancouver) even before the Supreme Court could hear the pastors’ arguments in court:
“An order authorizing any police officer with the appropriate authority in the jurisdiction in question (“the Police”) to, in their discretion, detain a person who has knowledge of this Order and of whom the Police have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the person is intending to attend a worship or other religious service, ceremony or celebration prohibited by this Order in order to prevent the person from attending the worship or other religious service, ceremony or celebration.” (emphasis mine)
The judge denied the injunction sought by Dr Henry, saying that you can’t injunct against a process that hasn’t been settled yet. In effect he said, ‘Dr. Henry, either wait for my ruling after the March 1-3 hearing of the original complaint, or use your own authority in the meantime!’
Imagine being detained for INTENDING to go to church. And how would the police even have reasonable and probable grounds to believe a person was intending to attend church? Snitches? Cameras? They’re dressed up? Driving in the church’s general direction? Remember, this is next-door Canada, a First World country, with Constitutional freedoms in place, and of a population that had valued freedom and liberty.
Thought Police from George Orwell’s book 1984 comes to mind. “In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell, the Thought Police (Thinkpol) are the secret police of the superstate Oceania, who discover and punish thoughtcrime, personal and political thoughts unapproved by the government. The Thinkpol use criminal psychology and omnipresent surveillance via informers, telescreens, cameras, and microphones, to monitor the citizens of Oceania and arrest all those who have committed thoughtcrime in challenge to the status quo authority of the Party and the regime of Big Brother.”
British Columbia, meet your Big Brother. Pastors and church members, hang on. Pray for your draconian overlords to release restrictions. Pray that The Honourable Chief Justice Hinkson would rule that the Pastors would have legal relief to worship in person. Pray for the flu-like COVID virus to dissipate with no further harm to any medically vulnerable person. Also importantly, pray also for the businesses and households who have been affected by the restrictions but not the disease.
People are suffering in many different ways with these restrictions, the lost most of all. They need Jesus, in order to live with the current societal uncertainty, to inspire hope, and to be with people who have answers. Satan does his best to squash all that, but the true church of Jesus Christ will never lose ground to the devil, nor will the gates of hell prevail against it. We know this. Yet, living with the dramatic changes to our society takes adjusting to. Please be patient with those who are fearful, suffering, lonely, or questioning.
We can be sure of one thing though, God is glorified throughout it all.
James Coates of Alberta’s legal representation asking Hon. Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta, for remedy on behalf of his client, regarding the failure of their appeal on Feb 16 to allow bail and Coates’ return to society on his own recognizance. The trial is not scheduled to take place for several months. Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms Letter to Alberta Premier here.
Letter from West Lynn Baptist Church to Health Official Dr Bonnie Henry of British Columbia noting the disparity in treatment for religious gatherings and non-religious gatherings, and asking why, with examples. Here