Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church at 35063 Page Rd. in Abbotsford is among three Fraser Valley churches that sought to hold in-person services amid the COVID-19 pandemic while gatherings were banned by public health orders. (Google Maps)

Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church at 35063 Page Rd. in Abbotsford is among three Fraser Valley churches that sought to hold in-person services amid the COVID-19 pandemic while gatherings were banned by public health orders. (Google Maps)

B.C. judge dismisses churches’ petition against COVID-19 rules, lawyer says

Three churches in Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack sought to hold in-person services

A legal advocacy group that challenged COVID-19 rules in British Columbia says its argument that the restrictions unjustifiably infringed on religious freedoms has been dismissed by a judge.

The petitioners represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms included a group of Fraser Valley churches that sought to hold in-person services, which have mostly been banned since November.

The Calgary-based centre said the B.C. Supreme Court did find the orders issued by the province’s top doctor infringed on their right to religious freedom, but they were justified.

In a written ruling released Thursday by the advocacy group, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson says the question before the court was not whether Dr. Bonnie Henry struck the right balance between her orders and infringement of religious freedom, but whether she acted reasonably given the information available to her.

It said the dangers that Henry’s orders “were attempting to address were the risk of accelerated transmission of the virus, protecting the vulnerable, and maintaining the integrity of the health-care system.”

“Although the impacts of the … orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so. In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance.”

READ MORE: Injunction sought against Fraser Valley churches defying COVID orders

Lawyer Paul Jaffe said in a statement that the centre will discuss the decision with its clients, including the prospect of an appeal.

The ministries of Health and the Attorney General, as well as the office of the public health officer, could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Monday, Henry said she has received advice from an expert panel and will soon allow small outdoor religious services, including at Easter and Passover. The province is also working on a phased reopening of indoor services.

During hearings earlier this month, Gareth Morley, a lawyer for B.C.’s attorney general, told the court Henry believed accelerating COVID-19 cases last fall constituted a health hazard, allowing her to issue orders that she acknowledged may affect charter rights reasonably and proportionally.

Jaffe argued that the petitioners — which included the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — had been careful to adopt safety protocols similar to those approved by Henry in places that remain open.

In January, the province had sought a court injunction to stop the petitioners from worshipping in person, but Hinkson dismissed the application, saying the provincial health officer has means under the Public Health Act to enforce the rules without a court order.

The centre said it’s pleased Hinkson found the orders unjustifiably violated the right of an individual petitioner, Alain Beaudoin of Dawson Creek, to public protest.

READ MORE: No injunction against Fraser Valley churches holding services in violation of health orders

The petition to the court filed in January showed Beaudoin began organizing public protests last December over what he argued was an abuse of government power through COVID-19 restrictions.

The document showed the RCMP issued Beaudoin a $2,300 violation ticket after he helped organize a protest, which he petitioned the court to quash.

Hinkson declined to overturn the ticket, agreeing in the written decision with lawyers for Henry and the province that he should not rule on its validity without access to the factual background that resulted in the ticket being issued.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The public is being asked to use caution when doing backyard burning in the Cariboo Fire Centre. (File photo)
Caution urged with outdoor burning says Cariboo Fire Centre

Anyone conducting burning must ensure adequate resources are on hand to stop fire from spreading

Four defibrillators will be installed around Quesnel at the Bouchie Lake, Barlow Creek and Parkland community halls and at Alex Fraser Park. (Black Press file photo)
North Cariboo Joint Committee approve defibrillators, cycling trail maintenance

The committee held a brief meeting, approving projects in the Quesnel area

There have been four COVID-19 exposures in Quesnel School District facilities. (File Photo)
Northern health detects COVID-19 case at Kersley Elementary

It’s the fourth case detected in the Quesnel School district this school year

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among other ventilation measures

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

The music video for “Green and Blue” featured a Willington Care Centre in Burnaby as well as some of the volunteers and employees. (Screenshot/Todd Richard)
‘Green and Blue’: B.C. country musician releases tribute song for front-line workers

Richard’s new single has been viewed more than 3,000 times on his YouTube channel

An unidentified B.C. man said, in a human rights complaint, that he was refused a contract job after refusing to wear a mask when asked to by an on-site manager. (Unsplash)
Religious B.C. man lodges human rights complaint after fired for refusing to wear a mask

Worker’s claim that ‘to cover up our face infringes on our God-given ability to breathe’ dismissed by B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

This 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 was stolen from Black Creek Motors at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, April 11. Photos via blackcreekmotors.com
VIDEO: B.C. car dealer posts clip of thieves towing a truck right off his lot

Video shows one white truck towing another off Vancouver Island lot

FILE – People hold signs during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to request federal exemption for simple drug possession

Announcement comes on 5-year anniversary of B.C.’s first public health emergency

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Most Read