By: Thomas I. Likness
EBC News Service
(Eagle News) — A collection of anti-mask activists, conspiracy theorists and people opposed to the Alberta government’s latest public health measures protested outside a church near Edmonton that the province shut down last week.
About 400 people, many from far away communities took part in the demonstration Sunday morning outside GraceLife Church.
Last Wednesday, the government fenced off access to the building after the church repeatedly held large services in violation of public health restrictions.
Police blocked off road access to the church, located in a rural area just outside of Edmonton, but did not stop the crowd from walking to the site.
“The Alberta RCMP will continue to act to preserve the peace and maintain public safety,” said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a news release. “The RCMP will only use the level of intervention necessary to ensure the safety of citizens and to maintain peace, order, and security.”
The four-hour protest was largely peaceful but noisy.
At one point, some of the demonstrators dismantled a portion of the fence.
Indigenous community upset
A nearby Indigenous community was angered by the actions of some of those attending.
Chief Billy Morin, of the Enoch Cree First Nation, says about 150 protesters trespassed onto their land, parking their vehicles on private roads.
“Although I respect GraceLife protesters’ right to protest, right to worship, and right to free speech, I strongly condemn their illegal trespassing on our land, their vandalization of a Nation member’s vehicle, and their blatant disrespect of our sovereignty as a proud First Nation,” said Morin in a release.
Morin says a security checkpoint has been set up on the First Nation’s southern border for the next two weeks to ensure the community’s safety.
Church says no members protested
The church, in a statement, said while it appreciates the support of the protesters, its members were not in attendance.
It says it has no control over its property since it has been shut down by the Alberta government.
The closing of the Grace Life Facility has understandable resulted in significant public outrage and caused even larger crowds to gather in one place,” said the statement prepared for the church by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. “By taking these measures the Alberta Government has created an even more divisive situation.”
Grace Life had 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.
He will be back in court next month to face charges.
(Eagle News Service)