Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

COVID-19: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

A judge will hear arguments Monday through Wednesday

The lawyer representing B.C. churches that have continued to hold services in violation of health orders said that the rules were over-broad, arbitrary, and disproportionate in a hearing Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.

A lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing a group of churches and individuals, claiming that some of B.C.’s public health orders barring many gatherings are unconstitutional.

“Who are you saying is being discriminated against?” B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked as lawyer Paul Jaffe argued.

Jaffe replied that churches are subject to a different standard than other, secular gatherings. Later in the proceedings, he explicitly said that retail stores, schools, and pubs are allowed to have people in them but the moment a gathering becomes worship, it’s suddenly more dangerous.

“It’s entirely arbitrary,” Jaffe argued.

But Hinkson pushed back on some of Jaffe’s arguments later in the morning, asking whether the courts were equipped to rule on Dr. Bonnie Henry’s expertise as the province’s chief medical health officer.

“She recognizes the Charter must be applied,” Hinkson said. “She says, bearing that in mind, I think from a public health interest, only certain things can happen. Now, what’s wrong with that from a correctness standard?”

Jaffe continued to argue that there was an arbitrariness between the way the health orders were being applied to religious and secular gatherings.

“What business does this court have telling Dr. Henry how to make decisions about public health?” Hinkson asked.

The judge also noted that the change in policy in November that shut down in-person church services was not an “on-off switch.”

Churches can still hold virtual meetings, Hinkson noted, just as the court hearing was being held virtually.

He also questioned Jaffe about the lack of evidence of transmission of the virus in churches.

“If the churches have not been operating, the vast majority of them, how could there be evidence their operation is creating problems?” Hinkson said.

The churches can show there was minimal risk before the November shutdown, Jaffe said.

Also involved in the petition are a few people who were ticketed for holding outdoor protests in B.C., although the rules have now been changed to accommodate outdoor protests.

Jaffe and lawyers representing the B.C. Attorney General and Henry have already clashed in front of Hinkson, when in March the government sought an injunction to block or even arrest people from attending the services.

Hinkson rejected the government’s request, saying the health authorities and police had enforcement powers they hadn’t even used yet, and therefore the courts had no need to issue an injunction.

So far, police have issued tickets but prosecutors have not announced more serious charges against the churches.

READ MORE: No injunction against Fraser Valley churches holding services in violation of health orders

Last week, the government offered a limited in-person outdoor attendance option to the churches, but Jaffe said it didn’t go far enough.

It would allow outdoor services of no more than 25 members, with no singing, mandatory masks and no socializing after services, something Jaffe said was less than the churches were allowed during a brief period during the pandemic when in-person worship was allowed.

READ MORE: BC’s compromise on in person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

– More to come

BC Supreme CourtCoronavirusLangleyReligion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
Island Health says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most of its communities

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

Col. Bryn Elliott is the new wing commander of 19 Wing Comox. Photo submitted
New wing commander at 19 Wing Comox

The ceremony was presided over virtually by the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division.

The new childcare centre on Denman Island opened in April. Photo, Comox Valley Schools
New Denman Island childcare facility opens

The facility offers 20 new licensed care spaces

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Euthanasia not the only outcome for Fanny Bay cougar

Conservations officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial: Victim left to conclude out-of-court settlement on the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander in death of John Dillon Brown continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Most Read