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B.C. court finds injunction against churches flouting COVID-19 rules unnecessary

Last Updated Feb 17, 2021 at 8:00 pm MDT

Summary

BC Supreme Court judge says he does not condone three churches' decisions to hold services


Judge questions what granting an injunction against churches would achieve


Three Fraser Valley churches have been holding in-person services, against provincial health orders


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – BC Supreme Court has denied the province’s request for an injunction against three churches defying COVID-19 rules in the Fraser Valley.

In his decision, BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said while he does not condone three Fraser Valley churches’ decisions to hold services against the provincial health order, he was “left to wonder what would be achieved by the issuance of an injunction in this case.”

“If it were granted and not adhered to, would the administration of justice yet again be brought into disrepute because the B.C. Prosecution Service considers that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute those who refused to adhere to the orders sought from this Court?” he continued.

The Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, the Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack have been going ahead with services, as they push forward with legal action to try to overturn the section of the provincial health order which bans large-scale church services. They argue the order infringes on their religious freedoms.

That case isn’t due to be heard until next month.

“We were grateful to have this decision and happy that our clients are not under the oppressive police jurisdiction that the government sought to have ordered by the court,” said Marty Moore, a staff lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing the churches in this case, after Wednesday’s decision.

Moore says they’re “encouraged” by the decision, adding “further government action … would have been quite invasive.”

“Giving police the power to judge individuals’ intention, whether they attend a religious service, and detain them to prevent them from attending a religious service. We’re pleased that order has not been issued,” he continued.

Moore says there’s been “an unprecedented assault” on Canadians’ Charter freedoms amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Telling NEWS 1130 no one is against safety, Moore says those his firm represents are supportive of “reasonable guidelines.” However, he argues some of the province’s orders go beyond that.

Hinkson told a hearing last week the provincial government is putting the court in an “impossible position” by asking for an injunction before the churches’ petition is heard. He said health orders already prohibit in-person religious services and it’s in Henry’s and the province’s powers to escalate enforcement.

During a hearing on Friday, Hinkson told a lawyer with the Ministry for the Attorney General there are “alternate remedies” to the requested injunction. He said the court is “rather ill equipped” to second-guess health decisions by people who have the expertise to make them.

“I shouldn’t be doing Dr. Henry’s job. If she wants police to have the ability to arrest people, the order can be amended, can’t it?” he asked.

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“Given the other remedies available to the respondents, I have reservations that an injunction alone, without enforcement by the B.C. Prosecution Service, would overcome the deeply held beliefs of the petitioners and their devotees,” Hinkson said in his decision Wednesday.

In a statement, Henry says she respects the decision.

“Since the very start of the pandemic, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and leaders across government have had ongoing dialogue with faith leaders and had many respectful and productive conversations with them on how best to protect their congregations,” she stated, adding public health orders are “one of many tools” used to protect British Columbians’ health.

“They are ones that we use judiciously and only as far as necessary. Based on the science and evidence, I put public health orders in place to protect faith leaders, their congregations and the communities in which they worship. These are legal orders that apply to everyone in our province, and most churches are following them. I thank each of them.”

She notes while the charter challenge from the three Fraser Valley churches is heard, “everyone must continue to follow the orders to protect themselves and their communities.”

“With the presence of new COVID-19 variants of concern in B.C., it is critical that we follow public health orders and direction to limit the spread of the virus,” Henry said.

“I am confident that all PHO orders are in accordance with the law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we look forward to the conclusion of the larger case that remains before the courts,” she added.