Bad ruling against a church’s charter rights begs for an appeal

 

John Carpay, Western Standard

The dismissal of the Charter freedoms of Pastor James Coates by Alberta Provincial Court Judge Robert Shaigec on June 7, 2021, is crying out to be appealed.

As any first-year law student can tell you, Charter claims are judged in two simple steps.

First, the court rules on whether a government action (law, policy, health order, arrest, charge, fine, prosecution, imprisonment etc.) violates one of more of the Charter freedoms to associate, assemble, worship, express oneself, travel, and move about freely without facing house arrest or prison. For the past 39 years the Charter has been part of Canada’s constitution, courts have ruled that charges, fines, tickets, arrests and prosecutions clearly qualify as “government action.” The moment that a citizen is charged with violating a federal, provincial or municipal law (whether the penalty is jail time or only a fine) is the moment when that citizen’s Charter rights and freedoms are impacted. The existence of a particular law, and being charged with violating that law, are one and the same.

Next, if the answer is ‘yes’ and some form of government action violates one or more Charter rights or freedoms even in a small way, the court must make a separate assessment as to whether the violation of that Charter freedom is “reasonable” and “demonstrably justified” with compelling evidence “in a free and democratic society.” At this second step of the process, the government is obligated to put forward medical and scientific evidence to try to justify its public health orders, or to justify whatever other law, policy, ticket, fine, arrest or prosecution is violating Charter freedoms.

The facts of this case are not disputed, apart from some minor details.

In early 2020, when Premier Jason Kenney compared Covid to the Spanish Flu of 1918, everyone in Alberta became terrified of the new virus. Governments across the globe believed the dire predictions of Dr. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College of London, who also warned that we were dealing with a virus as deadly as the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people at a time when the world population was barely one fourth of what it is today.

Pastor James Coates and the GraceLife Church congregation initially complied with all public health orders. However, as the “two weeks to flatten the curve” turned into the permanent violation of our human rights and Charter freedoms, the church members (like so many other Canadians) observed the politicians’ ongoing fearmongering was simply not based on facts.

In our 15th month of lockdowns, the government’s own data and statistics show Covid is harmless to 90% of Canadians, and has a 99.77% survival rate. Death rates in Canada in 2020 were in line with those of 2019, 2018, 2017 and prior years. Statistics show Covid has not had any significant impact on population life expectancy. This isn’t the Spanish Flu of 1918. Not even close.

To date, politicians have not put forward evidence to back up their repeated claims lockdowns save lives. Lockdowns harm the mental and physical health of millions of children and adults. The Manitoba government’s own expert witness, Dr. Jared Bullard, admitted in court under oath that PCR testing for Covid is not accurate 56% of the time.

Governments and media dishonestly use ‘case’ numbers to keep Canadians in a state of permanent fear. But children are as likely to die of lightning strikes as they are to die of Covid. Canadians under 70 should be more afraid of dying in a motor vehicle accident than dying of Covid.

After significant research, deliberation and reflection, Coates and his congregation eventually ceased to comply with Kenney’s irrational and unscientific public health orders. Since the fall of 2020, they have held normal, regular church services. The government has not presented any evidence in court that GraceLife’s full church services have caused any harm to anyone.

Judge Robert Shaigec has gone off the judicial rails, not regarding the facts, but in failing to apply a proper two-step Charter analysis.

Public health orders obviously violate Charter freedoms. This is further confirmed by the 35 days Coates spent in jail.

Limiting church attendance to 15% of fire code capacity obviously violates citizens’ freedoms of association, religion and peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the Charter. Public health orders that make it illegal for people to hug each other and sit next to each other obviously violate the Charter-protected freedom of association. A legal requirement to cover one’s face is an obvious violation of the Charter’s rights to liberty and to express oneself freely, and for many individuals this law also violates the Charter-protected security of the person. Whether these limits are reasonable, necessary, and producing more good than harm is an entirely separate legal question, to be answered at the second stage of Charter analysis: is the violation of the Charter freedom “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society?”

Unfortunately, Shaigec ignored the obvious impact of public health orders on the Charter freedoms of religion, association, expression and peaceful assembly. He instead embarked on a hair-splitting exercise that finds no support in 39 years of established Charter jurisprudence.

Strangely, Shaigec ruled the enforcement of public health orders did not violate the Charter freedoms of Coates. This is a mystifying finding, and entirely misses the point. The Coates case involves a constitutional challenge to the health orders themselves, not their enforcement. If a law is unconstitutional, that law’s enforcement is also unconstitutional.

Shaigec cites seven reasons for his conclusions, none of them supported by case citations from other court rulings: Alberta Health Services and the police were acting under the authority of the Public Health Act; GraceLife Church was not “targeted” by government; similar restrictions applied to “secular” activities and gatherings; health bureaucrat Janine Hanrahan acted reasonably and professionally; the RCMP did their best not to disturb church services; the police acted on reasonable grounds in issuing the ticket; the police did not obstruct a religious service (prohibited by section 176 of the Criminal Code.)

None of these seven reasons shed any light on the judge’s outlandish and bizarre thesis that law enforcement does not qualify as “government action” to which the Charter applies.

Shaigec suggests that citizens’ Charter rights are not violated when they are threatened, intimidated, ticketed, fined and jailed; he seems to believe that as long as the enforcement of a law is carried out in a reasonable manner, there are no Charter violations. Amazing.

It will be interesting to find out whether the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench agrees upon hearing the appeal that will be filed by the Justice Centre.