The Crown prosecutor has sought and obtained a Court Order to withhold video-taping of the Court proceedings of the Alberta Government vs Pastor James Coates from the public, and to anonymize the name of the Crown Prosecutor. The Crown called its only witness, Janine Hanrahan, the Alberta Health Services (AHS) bureaucrat who inspected the church over many Sundays from November 2020 through to February 2021. Ms. Hanrahan told the Court she saw sanitization supplies, and congregants who did not wear masks. She said people in the Church were videotaping the RCMP on December 13, when they came with her to the Church during service. The AHS inspector reported she saw people talking to each other in the lobby.
Ms Hanrahan stated she went to the church balcony to count how many people were in the sanctuary, and video-recorded church members singing in worship. She further testified that Grace Life Elders told her and the RCMP it is an offence under the Criminal Code to disrupt a church service.
Lawyer Leighton Grey represents Pastor Coates and Grace Life Church, and cross-examined Ms. Hanrahan, asking the AHS bureaucrat why she took RCMP officers with her to the church. Notes from an RCMP officer indicate that Ms. Hanrahan told police that she feared being harmed by going to the church, but admitted on the stand that she did not have concerns that someone from church would harm her. Ms. Hanrahan then said that bringing the RCMP was because of media attention.
Grey: you’ve described some of these activities as risky (people singing re: asymptomatic spread of covid-19). Were you told by your employers (AHS) that singing was a risky behavior?
Ms. Hanrahan: yes
Mr. Grey: You took that as face value?
Ms. Hanrahan: the science made sense to me
Mr. Grey: you said something odd in your notes. You said clapping/cheering for RCMP at GL could lead to covid spread.
Ms. Hanrahan: yes
Mr. Grey: did AHS tell you that?
Ms. Hanrahan: no
Mr. Grey: so that’s your own theory?
Ms. Hanrahan: yes
Mr. Grey: did you read that in any studies?
Ms. Hanrahan: no
In other words, Ms. Hanrahan simply believes whatever AHS tells her.
It was expected the Crown would call at least one RCMP officer, but none were called.
The Crown then made an Application to prevent the Justice Centre lawyers from calling evidence for the purposes of demonstrating that the government had violated six different Charter rights and freedoms. The Crown said three of these were hopeless, and that we should not be permitted to call evidence in support of the defence position that the Charter had been violated.
Judge Robert Shaigec ruled against the Crown, saying that it has to be very clear that no Charter right breach could possibly be found, and that the rule is to permit evidence and argument regarding alleged Charter breaches. He completely denied the Crown’s application, saying all of Pastor Coates’ alleged Charter rights violation arguments are fair game, and the defence can present evidence of them.
Ms. Hanrahan confirmed that she received no additional training at all from AHS once the pandemic hit. She has been provided with no scientific data or even a basic understanding of the risk of contagion. She testified that she simply follows what she is told by AHS because it is “the law.” She also testified that she does not trust any other sources of information besides AHS. She further admitted that her calculations concerning the total capacity of the church were based upon assumptions, and therefore could be wrong.
After a break for lunch, Justice Centre lead counsel Leighton Grey called Pastor Coates to the stand. For over an hour, Pastor Coates testified as to his birth in Ontario, and how he came to be a Pastor. He detailed how the restrictions violate his rights and those of his congregation. Pastor Coates explained in great detail the Church’s Theological Statement, which calls on the congregation as a whole to gather together in worship (“corporate worship”) in person and as one body of Christ.
Pastor Coates also notes the congregation is “commanded to sing” as a critical means of expressing their “worship” and “love”. Pastor Coates describes that the Church sacrificed many of their additional programs due to Covid, to focus all of their attention in the last year on meeting once a week for Sunday Service, which was essential and something that could not be compromised.”
Virtual services would alter what worshiping is, and would constitute a major interference in their specific beliefs, he testified. He described that some congregants were forced to choose between keeping their jobs or their church life.
Crown counsel then cross-examined Pastor Coates, who demonstrated impressive knowledge of facts and science in relation to Covid and lockdowns. At the end of the court hearing, the Crown opposed the Justice Centre application to enter the transcript of the 16 February bail hearing that led to Pastor’s detention. The basis for her objections were irrelevance, and the fact that she was the Crown who sought to remand Pastor. This point will be argued fully tomorrow, but Judge Shaigec made it somewhat clear that he is inclined to admit the transcript unless she can persuade him not to do so.
The trial resumes Tuesday, May 4, 2021.