Protesters gather in Kelowna to call for end to COVID-19 restrictions on churches | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Protesters gather in Kelowna to call for end to COVID-19 restrictions on churches

A protest against health orders stopping church gatherings was held in Kelowna today, March. 14.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Art Lucier
March 14, 2021 - 5:33 PM

People pushing for the re-opening of churches gathered along Highway 97 in Kelowna today to voice their opposition to public health orders.

“Pastors are essential… elders, church workers, Sunday school teachers you are essential ” pastor of the Harvest Church, Art Lucier said in a Facebook live video, highlighting the volume of people who gathered for several hours, March 14.   Some estimates peg the gathering at 250. 

Panning his camera around, Lucier showed some of the signs with different slogans being shown to motorists and pedestrians.

“Church is essential. Miracles happen” was written one sign. “Love is cure — Smiles are contagious,” read another. “Faith is Essential” and “Hugs over masks” were seemingly common on placards.

Lucier is the pastor of the Harvest Church in Kelowna which has already picked up several $2,300 fines for holding services since health orders came in banning large gatherings.

In the aftermath of those fines, the church found legal counsel with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, and they’ve argued the public health order is violating the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion, which is laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“(B.C.) is treating faith groups in disparate fashion…. You can go to a support meeting, a city council meeting, have a drink at a bar and regardless of all the things (the church has) done to protect its members, you can’t have a church service in B.C.,” lawyer Marty Moore said in January. The matter is now moving through the courts.

For those who gathered in Kelowna today, that was a common complaint, with several saying they found it upsetting to know that you could go to a bar but not church.

“It’s time to stand up. It’s in our rights.  Unfortunately, we have to play the rights call… we are Canadians, you can’t do this to us,” Lucier said to the camera at one point.

He also said the strain of the pandemic has made people want to join a church. In fact, he said 300 people moved through his church this weekend alone and his congregation has tripled in size since July.

“There are people lost broken and addicted … and they’re coming to church,” he said.

In court  March 5, Jacqueline Hughes, a lawyer for B.C.'s attorney general, told the court the orders by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry do not single out or ban all in-person religious services and Henry has invited exemption requests.

Hughes said the churches are now permitted to hold in-person services of up to 25 people, outdoors and with safety measures in place, through a "variance" to Henry's orders granted late last month.

Individual worship and drive-in events are also permitted under the orders, subject to conditions, she said, while weddings, funerals and baptisms may include no more than 10 guests.

Henry has the statutory powers during an emergency to issue orders she reasonably believes are necessary to prevent and mitigate further harm from a health hazard, including restricting entry to a place, said Hughes.

—With files from CP

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