Day 2 Pastor Coates Trial Update

The second day of the trial commenced with an application by Justice Centre lawyers to have the February 17 bail hearing transcript admitted into evidence as an exhibit. The purpose of this is to help establish that Charter Section 7 (liberty and security of the person) rights of Pastor James Coates, of Grace Life Church, were violated by the 35-day imprisonment. The Crown Prosecutor, who cannot be named (although her name has been widely reported on by media), opposed the application. The judge ruled against her, and the transcript was entered into evidence

Justice Centre lawyers for Pastor Coates proceeded to submissions and argument on the Charter rights violations affecting Pastor Coates. James Kitchen argued that the Charter freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were violated by the 15% capacity restriction on houses of worship, and by the ticket issued on December 20, 2020 pursuant to that restrictions.

Specifically, Mr. Kitchen argued the restriction violates the freedom of expression of both Pastor Coates and the Grace Life congregants. He also argued that the ticket given to Pastor Coates on December 20 (as opposed to other previous dates that Alberta Health Services (AHS) was also in attendance at the church), appeared to have been motivated by his sermon given earlier in the day, criticizing the Alberta Government. Mr. Kitchen argued the ticket was issued to punish, censor and intimidate Pastor Coates, by indirectly penalizing him for preaching such a sermon.

Mr. Kitchen: “We know RCMP are not acting unilaterally. They are under the direction of Alberta Health Services. The evidence at trial establishes that AHS bureaucrat Janine Hanrahan directed the RCMP to ticket Coates after he gave the sermon critical of the government.”

Mr. Kitchen discussed the church, full of families and babies and other peaceful people getting together and praying and singing hymns, noting it was “unheard of in Canada for the state to break this up.” He noted that: “The world sees the fences around Grace Life, and that people cannot enter that building.” We are seeing the violation of the Charter right to peaceful assembly like we have never seen before. Even though it is a forgotten freedom, it is the core of this case,” stated Mr. Kitchen to the Court.

Mr. Kitchen noted that the Charter protection for freedom of expression extends not only to virtual communications but in-person communication as well.

Mr. Kitchen argued that the 15% capacity restriction infringed the freedom of peaceful assembly of Grace Life congregants by excluding 85% of the congregation. Similarly, the 15% capacity restriction infringed freedom of association, another guaranteed fundamental Charter right.

Lead Counsel Leighton Grey argued that the 15% capacity restriction infringes freedom of religion as protected by Charter section 2(a). He also argued that Pastor Coates’ Charter rights were violated by the bail condition that required him to violate his conscience and his religious beliefs into order to gain his liberty. Further, Pastor Coates’ Charter-protected liberty was violated because he was jailed for 35 days, this because the Alberta Government made his liberty dependent upon him agreeing to refrain from exercising his Charter freedoms. His Charter-protected security of the person was also violated because of the psychological turmoil caused by the imposition of the choice to violate his conscience or stay in jail, and the separation from his family and church. Jail also caused physical harms, the food being such that he lost ten pounds. Mr. Grey concluded by saying these violations were perpetuated in an arbitrary manner.

Lastly, Mr. Grey argued that if the Charter section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person was violated, the Court should grant Pastor Coates a constitutional remedy in the form of a judicial stay of proceedings, which would put a stop to the prosecution.

The Crown prosecutor then made her argument, mentioning that the government did allow singing at one point last year, and claiming the church could worship adequately online. “They just had to modify their behavior a bit,” she said, and they could “have had many services.”

Mr. Grey replied: “The Crown’s insistence that the congregation could have proceeded with these Charter limitations sounds to me like an admission by the Crown that there were limits placed on their freedoms”

The Judge said three legal issues remain to be determined:

  1. Were any of Pastor James Coates’ Charter rights violated?
  2. If the Charter section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person was violated, is Pastor Coates entitled to a stay of proceedings on that basis?
  3. If the Court rules that these Charter rights were violated, then the next stage is for the government to provide medical and scientific evidence to attempt to justify its violations of Charter freedoms, and prove that the violations are reasonable, necessary, beneficial, and only a minimal impairment of the freedoms in question.

The Judge reserved his Decision and adjourned the trial to June 7, which will take place in Stony Plain. The Judge will then provide his decision on the Charter breaches and potential remedy. The case still has a further hearing where the Alberta Government will be forced to produce their evidence for lockdowns.