VANCOUVER -- A judge has dismissed the B.C. government's application for an injunction against three Fraser Valley churches that are breaking COVID-19 rules prohibiting in-person services.

The injunction request by B.C.'s attorney general and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry came after the churches filed a petition challenging the restrictions, arguing they violate parishioners' rights and freedoms.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the B.C. Supreme Court turned down the request on Wednesday.

Last week, he said the provincial government was putting the court in an “impossible position” by asking for an injunction before the churches' petition is heard next month.

He said health orders already prohibit in-person religious services and Henry and the province have the power to escalate enforcement.

The Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, the Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack filed the petition last month.

During a hearing on Friday, Hinkson told a lawyer with the Ministry for the Attorney General there are other remedies to an injunction.

He said the court is “rather ill-equipped” to second-guess health decisions by people who have the expertise to make them.

“I shouldn't be doing Dr. Henry's job. If she wants police to have the ability to arrest people, the order can be amended, can't it?” he asked.

Paul Jaffe, the lawyer representing the three churches, says his clients are pleased with the ruling.

“If the injunction had been granted, my clients would have faced the prospect of contempt of court if they didn’t shut down. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that very difficult decision,” he said.

Jaffe is also representing the churches in the larger court hearing about the restrictions next month.

“In March, the onus will be on the crown that these orders constitute a reasonable limit prescribed by law, demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. That’s the test that the crown has to face in March, and what we say is that they can’t meet that test,” said Jaffe.

In a statement, Henry said "I am confident that all PHO orders are in accordance with the law, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we look forward to the conclusion of the larger case that remains before the courts.”

Henry said while the legal challenge is heard, churches must follow health orders, adding that most of churches are.

Jaffe says his clients will continue to hold in-person services and won’t pay multiple $2,300 tickets that have been issued to them for violating Henry’s public health orders.

“The fines are only payable if they’re found guilty of the alleged infractions,” he said.  

With files from The Canadian Press