Some Fraser Valley churches may defy health order and meet in person again
VANCOUVER -- Most places of worship in B.C. have chosen to abide by provincial health orders restricting in-person services to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but a handful of Fraser Valley churches violated the order last week and have not ruled out defying it again on Sunday.
“Welcome everyone. We are most likely going to be reported so it is a requirement to wear your mask. So you have been advised,” Pastor Jim Butler said as he addressed the congregation at Chilliwack’s Free Grace Baptist Church last Sunday.
The service was also livestreamed online in a video that showed only Butler as he addressed people in attendance.
At several points in the hour-long service, he instructed people to rise and sing hymns, and a robust chorus of voices could be heard.
Chilliwack RCMP said they received complaints about two churches hosting in-person events last weekend.
“Officers of the Chilliwack RCMP attended and spoke with Church leadership. Initial discussions were aimed at education and voluntary compliance,” said Cpl. Mike Rail. “Despite this, both congregations did not comply with the Public Health Order.”
RCMP did not issue any tickets, but say that approach could change if more in-person events are held this week.
In Langley, RCMP did issue a fine to Riverside Calvary Chapel after church-goers refused to disperse when officers arrived and asked them to do so. Police attended the chapel after getting a complaint from a member of the public about a Sunday service.
“Personally, I believe it’s a direct contradiction towards our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Brent Mills, who was in the pews at Riverside Sunday. “And that’s not to cause trouble. That’s just what I believe. And it does state that.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does protect freedom of religion and assembly, but also allows reasonable limits if they can be demonstrably justified.
Former Chilliwack MLA and B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner, who continues to practice law, believes the pandemic is cause for Charter rights to be temporarily limited.
“I believe the courts would find restrictions on congregations meeting during COVID, and limits on personal gatherings, social get-togethers, would also be a justifiable limit on our Charter rights because we’re trying to prevent deaths,” said Penner.
Calls to Free Grace Baptist in Chilliwack were not returned Friday.
Staff who answered the phone at Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley said the church is consulting with a lawyer before deciding if it will again defy the public health order and host in-person services this weekend.