An Albertan pastor who has been in custody for a month after violating public health orders is set to be released from custody, with all but one of the charges brought against him being dropped.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) says that Crown Prosecutors agreed to drop most of the charges against James Coates of GraceLife Church near Edmonton. The JCCF says he will be released from jail in the coming days, without any conditions, pending his May 3-5 trial in Provincial Court.
"The Justice Centre will defend Pastor Coates on one remaining charge of violating an Order of the Chief Medical Officer of Health by challenging the lawfulness of the public health order that he is charged with violating," the JCCF says in a release.
Coates and his congregation of around 400 have held worship gatherings in excess of gathering size limits of 15 per cent capacity. It has previously been reported that as many as 300 people have attended the services.
The Edmonton-area pastor has remained in custody since February 16, 2021, after refusing to adhere to bail conditions which included no longer violating gathering size limits. The JCCF says that Coates and his church viewed this as a violation of their Charter rights and freedoms.
"Crown prosecutors have now agreed that Pastor Coates can be released without conditions and will withdraw all but one of the Public Health Act charges against him," the statement says. "Prosecutors have also agreed to withdraw the criminal charge in connection with the condition imposed by RCMP on February 7, and instead have charged Pastor Coates $100 for breaching the condition, which Pastor Coates has agreed to pay."
The Justice Centre says that the remaining charge "has not been withdrawn, as the Justice Centre and Pastor Coates want the matter heard at trial, to determine the constitutionality of the public health order that churches only hold worship services at 15 per cent capacity, and to compel the government to produce scientific evidence that might support these violations of Charter freedoms." The trial is scheduled to take place beginning on May 3, 2021.
“The condition that Pastor Coates effectively stop doing his job as a pastor by adhering to unscientific and unconstitutional public health restrictions should never have been imposed on him by the RCMP, or by the Court. We are hopeful that he will finally be released from jail without conditions, and can resume pastoring Grace Life church,” states Justice Centre president John Carpay.
“We look forward (to) appearing in court in May and demanding the government provide evidence that public health restrictions that violate the freedoms of religion, peaceful assembly, expression and association are scientific and are justifiable in a free and democratic country,” concludes Carpay.
Alberta Crown Prosecution Service says in an email to CHVN, "As is the case in general for matters before the courts, it is not appropriate for the independent Alberta Crown Prosecution Service to comment."