A Canadian pastor remained behind bars Friday after holding church services in violation of COVID-19 public health orders.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police said pastor James Coates of the GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, was arrested after police and public health officials visited the church on Sunday and observed violations of the Public Health Act, which says the church cannot be at more than 15% capacity and congregants must physically distance and wear masks.
Mr. Coates had previously been charged on Feb. 8 with violating the order and was served an undertaking with conditions to comply, the CBC reported. He turned himself over to the police on Tuesday and is charged with two counts of contravening the Public Health Act and on one criminal charge for failing to comply with a condition of an undertaking.
According to police, Mr. Coates remains in custody because he has repeatedly refused to agree to the conditions contingent upon his release.
A judge’s order has been issued compelling him to attend court this Wednesday, police said.
“To be very clear, the RCMP’s objective is not to interrupt church services, prohibit services, nor deny peoples’ right to practice their religion — merely to ensure that public health restrictions are adhered to while doing so,” Inspector Mike Lokken said in a statement Sunday.
“We’ve been consistent in our approach of escalated levels of enforcement with this pastor, and we were hopeful to resolve this issue in a different manner,” Inspector Lokken said in a later statement on Wednesday. “The Pastor’s actions, and the subsequent effects those actions could have on the health and safety of citizens, dictated our response in this situation.”
An updated statement on the GraceLife website rails against government-imposed lockdowns and blames the “mainstream media” for convincing people to give up their civil liberties.
“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 church wrote, in part. “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.”
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