Civil liberties groups side with Vernon councillor's push to lift ban on religious gatherings | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Civil liberties groups side with Vernon councillor's push to lift ban on religious gatherings

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
December 18, 2020 - 3:41 PM

A Vernon city councillor's motion put forward in an effort to overturn the provincial health order banning religious gatherings likely has the support of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that says the restrictions may be an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Scott Anderson told council's Dec. 14 meeting he would be drafting a motion asking council to write to the provincial government requesting religious institutions be considered an essential service and therefore be allowed to open with restrictions.

Days later, Canadian and B.C. Civil Liberties Associations wrote to Dr. Bonnie Henry asking her to reconsider the public health order which prohibited religious gatherings.

The move comes after three churches in the Fraser Valley recently broke pandemic rules and held services. The RCMP has since issued $18,400 in fines for eight counts of failure to comply with the public health order.

Anderson told iNFOnews.ca he was contacted by the Vernon Canadian Reform Church who requested his help in lobbying the provincial government and he will table the motion at council’s next meeting in the new year.

"It's an arbitrary closure," Anderson said. "(If) people can be trusted to use common sense, and that if bars and airplanes and junk removal companies are essential services why not houses of worship?”

And legally it seems the B.C. government may be contravening the Canadian Character of Rights and Freedoms – although it’s not that straight forward.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association lawyer Cara Zwibel said freedom of religion is something that is protected under the Charter, but the current health order restricts or limits freedom of religion.

“The Charter says we have certain rights, but it also says that all of those rights are subject to reasonable limits,” Zwibel said. “So the question we're posing is that it doesn't appear to be reasonable… based on the evidence that we've seen.”

To prove this the province would have to be taken to court and Zwibel said it was not her organizations goal to drag governments into court.

One church in Ontario has gone down this road though, and according to a CTV report filed an application in court Dec. 8, stating that province's COVID-19 response infringes upon its constitutional rights as it limited gatherings up to 10 people.

Anderson said he'd also spoken to two other Christian churches and a faith leader from another religion – who all wanted to remain anonymous – that supported his motion.

Vernon Canadian Reform Church Pastor Iwan Borst told iNFOnews.ca he would very much like to see the health order rescinded.

"This is a hard time for people's mental and spiritual conditions, being able to meet means a lot for many of our congregants," Borst said. "We do believe that worshipping in person, when we are able to do so, is what God calls us to do, that's what worship is about, gathering together to worship our God."

Borst stressed the church, with a congregation of roughly 240 people, would not disobey the public health order, and had complied during the summer with the maximum 50 person limit.

The Pastor say there is an appetite within the church to look at legal proceedings.

“One of the rubs (is) …restaurants are open, Walmarts are open, if there is an opportunity for the church to be open please let us be open,” he said.


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