Edmonton area pastor James Coates walked out of the Edmonton Remand Centre for the first time in 35 days on Monday.
Coates entered a guilty plea in provincial court Monday to breaching a court undertaking. He had originally been charged on Feb. 7 with violating physical distancing and capacity restrictions in Alberta by not limiting church attendance.
He was released on a promise to appear with conditions that he comply with public health orders. Authorities allege that a week later, on Feb. 14, Coates once again allegedly violated public health orders. He was arrested again and has remained in custody since, after refusing to agree to bail conditions stipulating that he no longer violate gathering size limits. He had been in custody since Feb. 16.
The Crown and Coates' lawyers gave a joint submission of a $100 fine for the charge of breaching a court undertaking. However, Provincial Judge Jeffrey Champion says that such a low fine was not reasonable for a sentence. He instead issued a $1,500 fine against Coates and credited that amount with his time served.
"Your decision could have been a danger to the health and safety of those in the community," said Champion. The judge called Coates' worship gatherings a "blatant violation" of Alberta's public health orders.
The judge pointed out that Coates could have been free at any time if he had agreed to the bail conditions which stipulated he not violate health orders.
“I am not a political revolutionary,” said Coates as he spoke before the court via video conferencing. “I am simply here in obedience with Jesus Christ, it is this obedience that put me at odds with the law.”
All charges from Coates' February gatherings have been dropped. However, he and his lawyers will go to court in May to fight a ticket for violating capacity limits in December. His lawyers say they want the opportunity in court to prove that restricting worship gatherings breaks the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Coates' lawyers had announced last week that he would be out of jail by the weekend, but the Crown later issued a statement saying Coates needed to appear before a judge first.