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

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Tri-Kon will be delivering concrete barriers on Friday afternoon for a patio space that will be shared between Soulfood Farm to Table and Sakura.Trevor Crawley photo.
Outdoor patios in the works for downtown core

Efforts already underway to set up outdoor patios on Baker St. from four local business

The BC Wildfire Service will be conducting an ecosystem restoration burn near the old Kimberley airport next week. BC Wildfire Service file.
Ecosystem restoration burn planned for old Kimberley airport area next week

Burn could begin as early as Monday, April 12, 2021

From wall hangings to plant hangers, keychains and shelves, Radiant Knots creates a variety of pieces to suit for any taste and style.
Cranbrook Arts is Looking Radiant

Cranbrook Arts Featured Artist for the month of April is Radiant Knots.… Continue reading

The Peach is adhering to the mandatory mask protocols put in place by the Provincial Health Officer on Nov. 19. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Interior Health doesn’t echo B.C.’s daily COVID record

80 new cases reported Thursday, April 8, compared to 91 the day prior

The new 6,300 square foot Cranbrook Food Bank facility is located at 1624 Industrial Rd 2 and is open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
New Cranbrook Food Bank officially open to the public

The new facility is located at 1624 Industrial Rd. 2 and open Monday, Wednesday, Friday

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read