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

Wounded Warriors runners run along Beaver Creek Road towards the Beaver Creek Volunteer Fire Department hall. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni’s Wounded Warriors stage solo run

Vancouver Island-wide event was cancelled, but Maria Marciano and Dave Nesbitt ran anyway

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations celebrate legal victory in fishing dispute

Ha’oom Fisheries Society and T’aaq-wiihak Fisheries announce “major legal victory”

Winston Joseph, known as Mr. Positive Port Alberni, leads the 2019 Canada Day parade with his wife Sheila. Winston, who was integral in starting the July 1 folkfest, died April 11, 2021 at the age of 89. (PHOTO COURTESY SONJA DRINKWATER)
Community remembers Winston Joseph with Canada Day parade in April

‘Mr. Positive Port Alberni’ started Canada Day folk fest, lived a life of service and faith

Grade 5 Wood Elementary Students cycling on the powerline trail. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Wood School bicycles, equipment worth $8,000 stolen

Equipment was stored at Echo Fieldhouse in Port Alberni

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Kobe Assam battles for the puck despite being knocked to the ice during a physical first period against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on April 7. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs pick up second shutout against Cowichan

Braden Blace earns first BCHL goal and game-winner

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Lawsuit filed last summer accused Barney Williams of verbal abuse

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark. (Black Press Media files)
Former B.C. premier to testify at money laundering hearing today

Attorney General David Eby has been added to the witness list as well

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to table budget that’s expected to deal with COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Robinson released a fiscal update last December that said the impact of the pandemic on B.C.’s economy was uncertain

Paramedic Matthew Schlatter of Victoria is living a fuller life today due to the double lung transplant he received in 2019. He encourages B.C. residents to register as an organ donor and let their families know their wishes. (Instagram/Matthew Schlatter)
B.C. man living a full, active life after double-lung transplant

Matt Schlatter encourages people to register as an organ donor to help others live

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amounts from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

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

Most Read