BC churches, pastors, lose appeal over COVID tickets | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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BC churches, pastors, lose appeal over COVID tickets

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A BC court has thrown out an appeal by two churches and four pastors, in their fight to have tickets issued for holding church services dismissed.

In an unusual move, the court heard all six cases at once and rejected their combined appeal of 19 tickets.

According to an April 20 Provincial Court of BC decision, the tickets were issued to Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, pastor John Koopman, pastor James Butler, pastor Timothy Champ, and pastor Brent Phillip Smith.

The decision says each party was found to have violated the Gathering and Events Orders issued by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during the pandemic.

Pastor Koopman, pastor Butler, and pastor Champ had originally been issued another two dozen tickets, but Crown prosecutors stayed 24 tickets, worth $55,200, in May last year.

The decision doesn't say what amount the current tickets are for, but previous rulings have put such fines at $2,300. The total amount combined would be $43,700.

The pastors and churches then launched a constitutional challenge arguing the limitation on their right to worship went against their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They argued the restriction on religious gatherings was arbitrary, irrational or disproportionate because worship services were prohibited when other types of transactional gatherings were allowed.

However, Judge Andrea Ormiston disagreed.

READ MORE: Kelowna anti-vax pastor loses appeal over church service fine

The judge pointed out that all the constitutional arguments the pastors were making had previously been dismissed by the BC Court of Appeal.

"This is a critical point to grasp in order to understand why it is not open to this Court to come to any other conclusion than the Court of Appeal regarding the constitutional validity of the Orders," Judge Ormiston said in the decision. "Despite emphasizing the individual nature of Charter infringements in submissions, the (pastors) have not pointed to any factual basis to find the breaches are materially different than (the Appeal Court ruling)."

The pastors put forward new evidence, including newspaper articles and parts of Bonnie Henry's book.

"The newspaper article and excerpts from Dr. Henry’s book, even if accepted as true, could not sustain the kind of weight the (pastors) ascribe to them," the judge said. "The newspaper article regarding actual incidents of Covid-19 infection having a higher variable range than data relied on by the Public Health Office at the time the Orders were made, does not advance the (pastors') position that the Orders were irrational arbitrary and discriminatory."

The judge goes on to say that some of the evidence submitted by the pastors actually emphasizes the degree of emergency that's needed when making public health orders.

READ MORE: B.C. pastor with 'troubling views' barred from seeing his Indigenous foster children

Ultimately, the court rejected the pastors' arguments leaving them on the hook for the cash.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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