Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A judge has ruled that an Alberta pastor will remain in jail until his trial this spring because religious beliefs are not above public health orders.

James Coates with GraceLife Church, west of Edmonton, has been in jail for more than two weeks and was appealing his bail conditions.

Coates is charged with violating Alberta’s Public Health Act and with breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release, which is covered under the Criminal Code.

GraceLife Church has been holding services that officials say break public-health orders on attendance, masking and distancing.

Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn said in his decision Friday that public health laws remain valid and the pastor will stay in jail for eight more weeks until his trial begins in May.

“The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him. Mr. Coates’s strongly held religious beliefs and convictions do not overcome those valid and enforceable laws,” Michalyshyn said.

Coates has said his religious convictions mean he cannot abide by a bail condition that he not conduct services.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor and said in a news release that it was disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“Pastor Coates is a peaceful Christian minister,” said centre president John Carpay.

“He should never have been required to violate his conscience and effectively stop pastoring his church as a condition to be released. Charter freedoms do not disappear because the government declares regular church services to be outlawed while allowing hundreds of people to fill their local Walmarts.”

Coates’s lawyer, James Kitchen, told the judge on Thursday that a determination on whether Coates’s charter rights are being violated should be made before he is jailed.

“We are putting the cart before the horse, doing things backwards. This is a matter of deep, deep personal conscience and personal beliefs. He is compelled to obey the God he loves … as are his congregants.”

The public-health prosecutor, who asked the court to address her only by her title because she is concerned for her safety, argued that the pastor’s release is a danger to the public.

The judge noted that Coates did not want the publication ban that is normally imposed on bail hearings.

The church has continued to hold weekend services, even though Coates is in custody. Many gathered for a service last Sunday, as RCMP and Alberta Health Services monitored the situation.

“Observations were again made that the church held a service beyond the designated capacity,” the Mounties said in a news release.

In an affidavit, Coates’s wife Erin Coates told the judge that since he was taken into custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre, he has lost weight and can’t sit for too long because of pain in his neck.

“The days since February 16 have been very stressful for our two sons, aged 11 and 18,” she said.

“Many congregants of GraceLife rely on James for counselling regarding marriages and personal problems such as addictions. I have observed that many children at GraceLife Church are heartbroken that James is in jail. They are confused and concerned about him.”

More than 50 people were gathered outside the Edmonton courthouse on Thursday and prayed for Coates. Some held a banner that read #freejamescoates. The judge noted that dozens of others had tuned into the bail hearing online as well.

Police fined the church $1,200 in December and a closure order was issued in January.

Coates had been addressing the province’s health restrictions in his sermons. He told worshippers that governments exist as instruments of God and there should be unfettered freedom of worship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Volunteers from the Rotary Club of Port Alberni collect garbage in the Scotiabank parking lot on Saturday, April 17 as part of a Community Clean Up. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Port Alberni’s community street clean-up a success

Alberni Aquarium and Stewardship Centre plans ocean clean-up for April 24 and 25

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

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to go forward with legal action

Club Phoenix Fitness in Langford is the first Island business to be ordered closed by the provincial workplace closure order put into effect April 11. It will be closed until at least April 29. (Google Streetview/Screenshot)
Langford gym first Island business to be closed by public health order

Workplace closure order can now close businesses with three or more COVID-19 cases

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial into 2016 Campbell River killing underway in Victoria

Ricky Alexander is charged with the first-degree murder of John Dillon Brown

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