"> Group takes B.C. government to court over COVID-19 ban on in-person church services – GLOBAL NEWS

Group takes B.C. government to court over COVID-19 ban on in-person church services

A group of 16 individuals and churches are going to court to fight B.C.’s ban on in-person religious services amid COVID-19.

The group includes the Langley Riverside Calvary Chapel, which has been fined $2,300 twice for holding in-person services.

Read more: Langley business owner frustrated with neighbouring church’s in-person services

It also includes three Chilliwack churches, believed to be those that are facing nearly $18,400 in fines for violating the COVID-19 Related Measures Act.

The Kelowna Harvest Fellowship and 100 Mile House Baptist Church have also signed on.

Click to play video 'Chilliwack churchgoers defy COVID-19 restrictions days after Mounties issue fines' 1:50 Chilliwack churchgoers defy COVID-19 restrictions days after Mounties issue fines

Chilliwack churchgoers defy COVID-19 restrictions days after Mounties issue fines – Dec 20, 2020

Marty Moore, a lawyer with the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing the group, said the ban on in-person religious services violates worshipers constitutional rights.

Story continues below advertisement

The group is also arguing that not everyone has access to live-streaming technology, meaning the ban discriminates by prevents them from participating in virtual worship.

“You and six of your five of your friends can go to a restaurant socially distanced, take your take your mask off while you’re eating, etc.,” he said.

Read more: Chilliwack RCMP issue $18,000 in fines to churches breaking COVID-19 restrictions

“But if you and anyone go to a religious building together for a service that is not allowed, regardless of any safety protocols in place at that place.”

Section two of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion.

Click to play video 'Despite enforcement threats, Fraser Valley churches again hold in-person services in violation of provincial health order' 1:53 Despite enforcement threats, Fraser Valley churches again hold in-person services in violation of provincial health order

Despite enforcement threats, Fraser Valley churches again hold in-person services in violation of provincial health order – Dec 13, 2020

Section one of the Charter also states that Canadians’ rights can be limited subject to “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Story continues below advertisement

B.C. health officials have been insistent that the restrictions are reasonable given the risk of COVID-19, and documented cases of transmission in religious settings.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

READ MORE: Northern Alberta prayer event linked to over a dozen positive COVID-19 cases in B.C.

But Moore says it will be up to the government to prove that in court.

“The government will have to bring that evidence to the table,” he said.

“We have clients have been meeting for nine months without incident whatsoever. The same protocols that are being and put in place in businesses are being put in place in religious services as well, even above and beyond.”

Moore said those precautions include limiting and pre-registering attendees, ensuring physical distancing, providing hand sanitizer and masks and enhancing cleaning.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders' 1:57 Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders

Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders – Dec 7, 2020

Global News captured crowds attending several services at the Langley Riverside Calvary Chapel on Sunday, a week after it received its second fine.

Story continues below advertisement

Most attendees appeared to be wearing masks as the arrived.

But last week, Deny Fyfe, who operates a neighbouring business, alleged she frequently sees attendees without masks, and can hear them outside her business calling COVID-19 a hoax.

READ MORE: Church elder ‘shocked’ by COVID-19 outbreak at his Kelowna church

In a live-streamed sermon last Sunday, which has now been made private, a pastor downplayed the virus, suggesting it was “possibly planned.”

Mike Zilla told Global News Sunday he was visiting the Langley church for the second time, because his church in Surrey is closed.

“I just come to visit with people, meet with people, and just socialize,” he said.

“The religious stuff is their faith and they just want to carry on with life and not have to be stuck in their house and not see anybody.”

At her Thursday press briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province was talking with religious leaders about “how we can work together to support faith communities over the next few weeks, and how we can best find ways to safely come back together.”

But she said for the time being the restrictions would remain in place.

Story continues below advertisement

Health Minister Adrian Dix went on to thank religious groups for their sacrifice in moving worship online.

“I understand your sacrifice, the sacrifice of losing the opportunity to come together,” he said.

READ MORE: In-person church services go ahead in Chilliwack again, in defiance of COVID-19 order

“We don’t want these orders to be in place one minute longer than necessary. But they are necessary now.”

As of Friday, British Columbia had recorded 988 COVID-19 deaths, while the seven-day moving average for test positivity was over eight per cent.

On Thursday, B.C. extended COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on all social gatherings, until Feb. 5.

Advertisement

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *