The B.C. government and Dr. Bonnie Henry are seeking a court injunction this Friday against three Fraser Valley churches that have denied public health orders to cease holding in-person services.
Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, along with Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack took the government to court in January.
They have petitioned a judge to lift orders that banned or restricted public gatherings, “as they unjustifiably infringe the rights and freedoms of the petitioners [the churches] guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” according to the claim filed by lawyers for the churches.
The churches also asked that tickets issued against them, amounting to thousands of dollars in fines, be dismissed. The petition to the court characterizes the government’s health orders as an “abuse of government power” and “draconian.”
Lawyers for the B.C. government and Henry filed a response to the churches’ legal action on Feb. 2, opposing every action the churches asked the courts to take.
The health orders in question were put in place in November. They shut down a number of types of gatherings, including weddings and movie theatre showings, but allowed for some others to continue, including limited seatings in restaurants.
But by November, the number of COVID-19 cases was spiking in B.C., and the government response argues that the province “faced exponential growth in transmission. A number of the clusters were linked to religious events.”
The ban “does not apply to online services, drive-through services, individual meetings with religious leaders or to private prayer or contemplation,” the government noted.
Riverside Calvary Chapel noted that it did initially halt all services during the early part of the pandemic, and resumed them in late May under the 50-person rule that was in effect through the summer and early fall.
The churches are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. The conservative Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) has applied to intervene in the case to argue on Charter of Rights issues as well.
The Friday hearing on the injunction order is to be held at 10 a.m. in the Vancouver courthouse.
The majority of churches in Langley and around the Fraser Valley have switched to either virtual services via computer, or are holding “drive in” services in parking lots where families stay in their cars to hear the sermon.
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