B.C. government seeking court order so police can detain church-goers
VANCOUVER -- At least three Fraser Valley churches are expected to open their doors to parishioners on Sunday, as they have every week since in-person worship was banned under temporary COVID-19 restrictions announced in November.
Abbotsford’s Immanuel Covenant, the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack and Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel have taken the province to court, saying the public health orders violate constitutional rights.
"If there ever was a need for churches, really it's now. It's during this very difficult time,” said lawyer Paul Joffe, who represents the churches.
The case is scheduled to be heard over two days at the start of March.
In the meantime, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is seeking an injunction that would not only order an end to in-person religious gatherings, but would also give police the power to detain anyone suspected of intending to attend one.
A hearing on that request took place Friday.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson questioned Crown lawyers about why a court order would be necessary when the province already has a number of enforcement options.
Penalties laid out in the Provincial Health Act already allow for fines ranging from $25,000 to $3 million, and up to 36 months behind bars.
Hinkson also said he has concerns that if he granted an injunction, the B.C. Prosecution Service would find that it’s not in the public interest to enforce it.
He cited a recent example involving an order sought by the Port of Vancouver against protestors who blocked vehicle access to terminals.
Crown lawyers said they could not guarantee the B.C. Prosecution Service would choose to enforce the order.
"It's a difficult thing for my clients,” said Joffe. “If the judge was to grant an injunction it would be terrible for my clients and they would have to make some decisions."
Hinkson said he will announce his decision Wednesday, but stressed he was not advocating for people to attend worship services in person this weekend.