Protesters tear down then rebuild metal fences, denounce closure of GraceLife church

After getting shut down by Alberta Health Services for defying public health order, hundreds gathered outside GraceLife Church to protest.

PARKLAND COUNTY (CityNews) — What began as a peaceful protest outside GraceLife church — just west of Edmonton — escalated when protesters tore down some of the fencing surrounding the property on Sunday afternoon.

A couple of hours into the demonstration, dozens of protesters began tearing down the tall metal fences that were installed by Alberta Health Services (AHS) earlier this week.

But the scene quickly de-escalated and some protesters even helped police repair the fence shortly after.

“Stop it. This is ridiculous. What were you hoping to accomplish,” one protester berated another. “This isn’t proving a point.”

In a statement, Alberta RCMP addressed the situation at GraceLife.

“The Alberta RCMP will continue to act to preserve the peace and maintain public safety. The RCMP will use only the level of intervention necessary to ensure the safety of all citizens and to maintain peace, order, and security.

“The RCMP uses necessary measures to protect the fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, to promote the safety of all citizens, to enforce laws and to maintain peace and order. In turn, it must be recognized that while everyone has a right to peaceful freedom of expression; the general public, local residents and businesses also have the right to a safe environment.”

Lawyers representing the church and pastor James Coates said they appreciated “the public outpouring of support” but stated that none of the church congregants were actually involved in the protest.

“Grace Life Church has no control of our Church or grounds at this time,” said the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in a statement. “The Church grounds are fully under the responsibility and control of the RCMP and Alberta Health Services. The closing of the Grace Life facility has understandably resulted in significant public outrage and caused even larger crowds to gather in one place. Albertans have a constitutional right to assemble, associate, and worship.”

The protest began much more peacefully on the first Sunday since the church was closed down. An estimated 500 people gathered outside the church’s property.

RCMP officers controlled traffic around the grounds, blocking off entrances to the church. The north entrance was completely blocked off.

AHS said the church would stay closed until it complies with COVID-19 health rules.

The church has ignored public-health warnings for months, and its pastor Coates spent a month in jail.

Churches are allowed to be open at 15 per cent capacity, but officials say hundreds of people have attended GraceLife’s Sunday services for the past few months.

People began gathering around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday to protest the closure, which they say is unjust. A convoy drove up from Calgary to be part of the demonstration.

By 10 a.m. the crowd began to grow rapidly as more groups trickled in. At one point they played instruments and sang the Canadian national anthem.

Protesters held signs that read “Freedom Starts Here,” and “Enough Tyranny.”

One protester marched with a giant wooden cross.

Most people did not wear masks. They were not socially distant.

A handful of protesters berated police officers, who stood by and did not engage.

“Where is your voice?” one woman shouted at a line of officers. “Why don’t you stand up? You think what you’re doing is right? Just because you’re a police, you have to support this? You don’t have to.

“What happened to the days where people stood up for righteousness?”

A protester grabbed a megaphone and began reciting prayers. Several people stood nearby with open Bibles and read along.

“Let’s wake up the world to what’s happening,” said one woman.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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