Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A lawyer representing churches in their battle to fight B.C.’s COVID restrictions on in-person worship took aim at the province Tuesday (March 2), arguing that officials are singling out churches as being more dangerous than other spaces.

“Gatherings of people don’t become more risky based on the subject of discussion,” argued Paul Jaffe in B.C. Supreme Court. He pointed to bars, restaurants and stores that remain open, while in-person church services have been banned since November. Religious institutions themselves remain open for solo visits.

The three-day trial, expected to end Wednesday, is being brought by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents a group of church and individuals in the province.

Jaffe said that a very small number of cases have been connected to religious settings, citing churches that have taken similar safety measures as establishments that are allowed to remain operate.

That, Jaffe, argued, limits freedom of expression.

“You don’t target people based on what they’re saying,” he said.

But B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said that freedom of expression and religious freedom aren’t what is at issue in this case in his eyes.

“They’re free to have whatever religious views they wish,” Hinkson said. “No one is saying they’re not allowed to express their views.”

However, lawyer Gareth Morley, who works for the legal services branch of the Attorney General Ministry, said that comparable activities in religious settings are allowed to continue, including faith-based schools, Sunday school and limited religious marriage ceremonies.

Jaffe argued that the form of expression was also important. He said that while virtual church services exist for congregants, in-person gatherings are “absolutely integral to their faith” and that “it’s very painful to these people” to be separated from in-person worship services.

Morley said it is agreed that the province is in the middle of a pandemic.

“And measures taken to protect public health, to protect lives, to protect people from serious illness, and to protect the ability of the health-care system itself to respond, that those are the sorts of measures that can limit charter rights, including freedom of religion.”

Henry has a duty under the Constitution to “proportionally and reasonably” limit freedoms by preventing the gathering of people to ensure their health and safety, Morley said.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked who decides whether the limits are proportional or reasonable, adding that he wants to understand how the provincial health officer is making her decisions.

“Aren’t the churches entitled to know why if you go to the bar and watch a hockey game for an hour or two, you can’t sit in a church for an hour or two? It is a point I struggle with.”

Hinkson said he understands Henry has a difficult job, but she hasn’t explained why or how she is making the decisions.

“If she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight,” he said.

Morley said the decisions are made after careful review by health officials and experts.

So balancing religious rights and protecting people from an “out-of-control epidemic” is a matter of judgment, he said, adding that Henry met with religious leaders and health officials while making her decisions.

READ MORE: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

– with files from The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

The report prepared by Independent Investigations Office of BC said that no offence was committed by the police officer from Lisims/ Nass Valley RCMP detachment while responding to a stabbing incident that led to an in-custody death. (Black Press file photo)
Nass Valley RCMP officer cleared in October 2020 police-involved death

Independent Investigations Office of B.C. concludes no offence committed by police officer

Back Row, Left to Right: Laura Archibald, (teacher), Sarah Engdahl, Victoria Cho, Bronwen Bennett, Briana Simms, Jalynn Gibson, Sydney Harris, Braya Kluss, Valentina Protheroe, Isabella Gibson, Emily Hart, (teacher). Front Row, Left to Right: Collin Maillet, Hannah Hansen, Layla Loutitt, Isabella Kossler, Zadie Kietzmann, Izzie Croot, Deanna McDicken, Hope Misner. Missing: Brianna Onstein, Makenna Harris. (Submitted Photo/Tracey Hart)
Terrace’s Art in Motion Dance earns accolades at Prince George Dance Festival

The group earned a total of 21 trophies during the competition

A temporary fix to erosion problems on Lanfear Hill has been approved. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
City to spend $360,000 on temporary hill fix

Will restore pedestrian and cycle use of Lanfear Hill

Terrace Community Fund was able to set up the Dare to Dream Fund with a significant donation from Trumpeter Donnie Clark. (File photo)
Dare to Dream Fund set up after a large donation from musician Donnie Clark

The fund will provide financial support for the Dare to Dream music program in Terrace and Thornhill

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. sees 873 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, decline continues

Hospitalizations up to 377, two more deaths for 1,515 total

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

Most Read