Three churches that challenged the ban on public gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 will attempt to appeal their case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
A notice of leave to appeal was filed Feb. 14 on behalf of John Koopman, John van Muyen, and Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack.
The B.C. Court of Appeal recently ruled against the churches and individuals, who had challenged the province’s right to shut down in-person religious services during the second wave of the pandemic.
They lost their first case in 2021, and then were denied again by the Court of Appeal in a Dec. 16 ruling.
“The ban on in-person gatherings for religious worship fell within a range of reasonable outcomes and proportionately balanced the appellants’ freedoms with the attainment of critically important public health objectives,” the ruling said.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a socially conservative legal advocacy organization, announced that it will ask the Supreme Court to hear its appeal on four grounds, all of which touch on the Canadian Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The request for an appeal says that the lower courts’ rulings are based on administrative rather than constitutional law, and “severely degrade the Charter’s strength in protecting rights and freedoms.”
Lawyers for B.C.’s health authorities, and lower court judges, have never denied that the public health orders banning gatherings and group worship services didn’t infringe on rights. Instead, they relied on arguments that it was a necessary infringement to protect public health, lives, and the health system during a pandemic.
“In cases like this, it is the population that is the patient,” lawyer Catherine Reilly argued during the B.C. Appeal Court hearings on behalf of the province, Attorney General’s office, and health authorities.
To be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, lawyers have to file a “leave to appeal” application.
About 600 requests for the Supreme Court to hear cases are filed every year, but the court turns down most of those, hearing about 80.
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