EDMONTON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms today announced that the trial of Pastor James Coates, of GraceLife Church, will proceed on May 3, 2021 at 9:30 AM in Provincial Court in Edmonton, in courtroom 514 of the Edmonton Law Courts.
The trial will proceed for up to four days initially, but will then be adjourned because government lawyers are not yet prepared to present any medical or scientific evidence that might support the health orders under which Pastor Coates is charged. Pastor Coates’ Charter challenge to the constitutionality and legality of Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s lockdown restrictions will be heard by the Court at an unknown later date.
The Provincial Court has determined that the first part of the trial will proceed in Edmonton, instead of Stony Plain, specifically so it can take place in a courtroom that has the infrastructure to permit the expected audience of hundreds to observe the trial virtually.
Earlier this afternoon, Judge Robert Shaigec decided that up to 1,000 people will be permitted to attend the trial virtually through the court’s virtual software. However, the Court has decided that those people will only be able to hear the trial, and not be able to watch it. There will be no video feed. The Judge’s Decision follows a request by the government prosecution lawyer that the trial not be viewable virtually. The prosecution lawyer did not want any images or video stream of her to be viewable during the trial. The Court additionally granted the prosecutor’s request that her name not be used during the trial.
Virtual access to the trial is important as the court has limited the number of people able to attend inside the courtroom to a total of 12 people (of which eight are directly involved with the trial). The Court is allowing two Alberta Health Services (AHS) lawyers to attend personally or via Webex. The Court is allowing two of its own legal counsel (lawyers representing the Provincial Court) to attend. The Court is allowing four members of the media in the courtroom during the trial. Although the Justice Centre is pleased that up to 1,000 people will be able to listen to the trial, it is our position that restricting video access to the trial goes against the open court principle and removes the Crown Prosecutor from public accountability.
Judge Shaigec ruled that a link to access the audio of the trial will be made available by the Court, on the Court’s website prior to the trial. The Justice Centre does not have this link.
Pastor Coates and GraceLife Church, near Stony Plain, Alberta, are charged with violating the Public Health Act for having held normal church services, which were commenced after many months of lockdown restrictions. Pastor Coates spent one month and six days in jail before his release on March 22, 2021 because he would not sign an agreement to stop pastoring his church according to the congregation’s beliefs. The GraceLife Church building has been seized and barricaded by the government for over three weeks such that the congregants have gathered for worship at secret locations these last three Sundays.
Representing Pastor Coates and GraceLife Church, the Justice Centre intends to argue at this Monday, May 3 trial that Pastor Coates’ Charter rights and freedoms have been violated, and the court should therefore throw out the Public Health Act charge against Pastor Coates. One expert witness will be called by the Justice Centre during this first part of the trial.
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires governments to justify demonstrably – with compelling evidence – any law, policy or health order that violates any of our fundamental freedoms to move, travel, associate, worship, assemble, and express ourselves. This very basic constitutional requirement has been ignored completely by governments at every level in the past 14 months. Unfortunately, the courts have permitted the government to delay facing accountability in regard to Charter violations,” states lawyer John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre.
“By May 3, the government will have had almost fourteen months to assemble proper medical and scientific evidence to justify lockdowns and the resulting violations of our fundamental Charter freedoms. Yet the government cannot or will not put that evidence before the courts. But, somehow, the Alberta government would have us believe that it has enough medical and scientific evidence to shut down hundreds of small businesses, pushing many of them into bankruptcy, and to cancel over 20,000 medically necessary surgeries, and to force Albertans into a third lockdown as of yesterday, with its resulting harms of unemployment, poverty and despair,” continues Carpay.
“The Charter requires Canada’s federal and provincial governments to support and justify restrictions on Charter freedoms whether a court challenge to those restrictions exists or not. The inability or unwillingness of the Alberta government to present medical and scientific evidence at this May 3 trial suggests that lockdown restrictions since March of 2020 are based purely on speculation, not science. If these measures were based on evidence, the government would be able to produce that evidence in court, after almost 14 months of lockdown restrictions,” concludes Carpay.