Alberta government shuts down church that defied public health orders

By Thomas I. Likness
EBC News Service

(Eagle News) — A church that has repeatedly defied Covid-19 health rules in the western Canadian province of Alberta has been closed down by the provincial government.

Crews erected a fence around the building Wednesday to prevent access to GraceLife Church, located just west of Edmonton.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing and the more easily-transmitted and potentially more severe variants becoming dominant, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans,” said Alberta Health service in a statement.

Since December, Alberta Health Services has been trying to get the church to comply with capacity restrictions and ensure other measures such as masking and social distancing were followed.

“GLC (GraceLife Church) has decided not to follow these mandatory restrictions, nor have they attempted to work with AHS to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said the Alberta Health statement.

Churches in Alberta can hold in-person services but are restricted to 15 per cent capacity and must comply with other health measures.

GraceLife has been holding regular Sunday services, with more than 300 people packed into the building, most of them not wearing masks.

In late February, James Coates, the church’s pastor was arrested.

He remained in jail for 35 days, refusing bail because he didn’t want to comply with health measures as a condition for his release.

Premier Jason Kenney’s government has been criticized for allowing the situation to drag on for so long.

But Kenney defends his inaction saying political leaders should not be directing law enforcement officials on when and how to act.

Church was an outlier

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley applauded today’s closure.

“I hope the members of GraceLife’s congregation take this opportunity to learn from the leadership of so many other communities that have continued to practice their faith in a manner that is safe for not only themselves but the broader Alberta community,” said Notley on Twitter.

GraceLife has been an outlier in the province’s faith community.

Leaders of other religions have said the church should respect the law and the people of the province, adding that other faith groups have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic.

But Coates has repeatedly said that governments have no right to interfere with the freedom to worship.

(Eagle News Service)