An Alberta pastor has been charged with violating COVID-19 health rules after holding worship gatherings that had as many as 300 people in attendance.

Faith-based services in the province are limited to 15 per cent of capacity and congregants must observe mask and distancing rules.

But GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove, Alta., near Edmonton, has been holding Sunday services with as many as 300 people, and recently posted on its website that the pandemic is overblown and is unfairly restricting individual rights and freedoms.

"Having engaged in an immense amount of research, interacting with both doctors and frontline healthcare workers, it is apparent that the negative effects of the government lockdown measures on society far surpass the effects of COVID-19," the statement claims.

"The science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective. In fact, there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus. We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called 'pandemic' is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent."

RCMP say James Coates of GraceLife Church is charged with violating one count of the Public Health Act, and is to appear in Stony Plain provincial court on March 31.

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says in an online post "We cannot have open defiance of public health orders while the vast majority of Albertans do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19." She called on the current Premier, Jason Kenney, and his party to "step up and stop this."


With files from the Canadian Press.