Trial today for Chilliwack Pastor charged for in-person worship service

CHILLIWACK, BC:  The Justice Centre announced that the trial of a BC Pastor charged for allegedly breaching a Covid-related government prohibition on worship gatherings will start today at the Chilliwack Law Courts at 9:30 AM.

From November 19, 2020 to May 26, 2021, the BC Government prohibited attendance at in-person worship services regardless of the safety protocols implemented, while simultaneously permitting in-person attendance at many other settings, including bars, restaurants, educational institutions and gyms.

The religious beliefs of many faith communities in British Columbia require in-person attendance at regular religious services.

One such faith community is the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack. As described in an Affidavit by its Pastor, Reverend John Koopman, in-person gathering as a congregation is an essential practice of the Church’s faith. To facilitate such in-person gatherings in light of Covid, beginning in the Spring of 2020, the Church carefully considered and adopted numerous precautions and recommended safety protocols, including:

  • limiting attendance in its sanctuary to ensure appropriate physical distancing was maintained between family groups,
  • adopting a detailed contact tracing system,
  • paying for professional cleaning and disinfecting of the facility,
  • taking measures to increase the ventilation in the facility,
  • discontinuing the passing of plates used to collect free will gifts from attendees,
  • cancelling “coffee time” for congregants after services, and
  • providing hand sanitizer and masks.

On December 6, 2020, a couple was denied entry to the Free Reformed Church because they were not on the attendance list for that service.  These individuals were later identified as RCMP officers, and they continued to surveil the Church from a distance. Rev. Koopman was personally issued a ticket at a later date for $2300, for allegedly breaching section 2(2) of the Covid-19 Related Measures Act.

In total, Rev. Koopman received 23 tickets for his alleged involvement in worship services, totalling $52,900 in fines. To date, the Crown has stayed 19 of the tickets against Rev. Koopman.

The Justice Centre is funding the legal defense of Rev. Koopman and several other BC pastors and churches facing charges for allegedly violating public health orders by holding in-person worship services.

“The Province of British Columbia is wielding the resources of the criminal justice system against BC pastors who were carrying out the dictates of their religious faith by participating in worship services that were in fact safer than many other secular gatherings the Province permitted, according to health experts,” says Justice Centre lawyer Marty Moore.

“With the Justice Centre’s support, counsel for Rev. Koopman will be seeking to have the Court uphold the legal and constitutional rights that protect the civil liberties of all Canadians, especially the fundamental and sacred right to worship according to one’s beliefs,” continues Mr. Moore.