British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Seeking Injunction on Churches

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Those churches in British Columbia, as reported in some previous more in-depth articles, that have been violating public health orders may be given an injunction. An injunction sought by none other than Dr. Bonnie Henry or the Provincial Health Officer.

The basic claim is restrictions on gatherings in places of worship is justifiable in a pandemic. If people gather in places of worship for religious services, and then people get sick, then the obvious conclusion is God does not protect believers from the pandemic. If believers follow the orders, then they understand, too, the impotence of God to protect us absolutely.

It’s a sort of a catch-22 situation of losing in either direction. In particular, Henry, who I respect as a public official and an intelligent authoritative person, seeks the injunction via the B.C. Supreme Court, Henry will be there with the B.C. attorney general on Friday – tomorrow (Pacific Time, so Vancouver Time).

The orders are sought against three churches’ leaders. The churches of Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church, the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack, and the Langley Riverside Calvary Chapel.

B.C.’s provincial health officer is seeking an injunction prohibiting gatherings by three Christian churches that are challenging her orders suspending in-person religious services.

Lawyers for Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C.’s attorney general will be in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday seeking orders against the leaders of Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, Abbotsford’s Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack.

Pastor Lou Slagter is the head of Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church. Elder Nathan Sawatzky, Elder Brent Muxlow, Elder Pete Jansen, Lead Pastor Brent Smith, Assistant Pastor Randy Dyck, Assistant Pastor Rob Lee, and Youth Pastor Cole Smith are the pastoral leadership of the Riverside Calvary Chapel. Pastor John Koopman is the leader of the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack.

Last week, the province applied for an injunction followed by a response to a petition by churches and some others who want to overturn the public health orders of Henry.

The claim from the court documents is the province of British Columbia is seeking a halting of elders and members from worship at places of worship for any event. The police could detain anyone on these grounds. The discussion seems to revolve around the absoluteness, or not, of the freedoms, the rights of Canadian citizens of British Columbia.

Henry issued an indefinite extension of the orders from November, 2020. This means stoppage of public events to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. The virus sets the timeline for us. Which is to say, as with many things, nature is far more in control. Our job is reduction of transmission via adaptation and vaccination.

Three pastors filed a petition on early January. These were not other faiths or the non-faithful, i.e., the secular, but the Christian in particular and coming from the Fraser Valley, not elsewhere. The petition argues for a violation of the Constitution of Canada, in terms of rights to expression and religious worship, while permitting restaurants and businesses to maintain operations.

The sole purpose is to invert the order for in-person worship, which means Zoom or recordings aren’t good enough. God needs a building and people in it; even though, he’s everywhere.

The province responded, “…no question that restrictions on gatherings to avoid transmission of (COVID-19) limit rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The province maintains the restrictions are justified. Indeed, “Rights and freedoms under the charter are not absolute.”

If the healthcare systems and infrastructure are unable to cope with the current numbers of patients and corpses having to be dealt with because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the province, then the protection of vulnerable populations – vis-à-vis health – should have protections from healthier populations.

Dr. Brian Emerson, the acting Deputy Provincial Health Officer, stated in an affidavit that the evidence shows COVID-19 spreads better in indoor settings. Those settings in which individuals may stay longer than 15 minutes.

The injunction application stipulated, “Clusters of COVID cases stemming from religious gatherings and religious activities have been noted since the onset of the pandemic globally, nationally and in British Columbia.”

Dr. Henry wrote to the pastors of the Riverside Calvary Chapel and the Free Reformed Church in December.  after she became aware of their intention to defy her orders.

Pastor John Koopman of the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack said the “offer to consider a request from our church to reconsider your order sadly rings hollow.”

However, and contradistinction to the posturing of the pastor(s) at select churches, the documents of the court state faith leaders were widely consulted prior to the suspension of in-person religious services.

Either the pastor(s) at these select churches are a) lying about lack of knowledge, b) claiming special rights and privileges based on their interpretation of the Christian religion over and above all others, or c) are simply malicious, privileged, and stupid. B) seems the most plausible based on public statements.

Under Section 43 of the Public Health Act, the churches can request reconsideration.

The most crucial foundation here is the science about the virus and its variants, insofar as these are known to us. The experts note 18 new variants known detected in the U.K. and in B.C.

The injunction application said, “By contrast, the Attorney General and Provincial Health Officer have provided evidence that transmission occurs in social settings … that there is evidence from British Columbia, Canada and around the world of transmission in gatherings, and in particular, religious gatherings.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the churches with their lawyer, Marty Moore, who wrote:

Our clients continue to diligently implement health guidelines and protocols to minimize any risk of COVID transmission, and will be providing the court with evidence attesting to the safety of their services

The actions of the government to seek an injunction against these three churches who have brought a petition for judicial review of the public health orders does not appear to reflect a genuine effort to advance public health concerns. 

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson will hear an application for an intervening through the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), which is a Christian advocacy group on the political level. ARPA represents reformed Christians – 165 in the country and 28 in B.C.

Their application stated, “The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the practice of in-person public worship (including celebrating communion) has been the top issue of concern for ARPA Canada’s constituency since March 2020… That constituency has been profoundly impacted by the orders under review in this proceeding — likely more so than certain other religious groups.”

With files from CBC News.

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

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